Monday, 28 March 2016

Chicken and mathematics or how Chavismo's destroying my country

A friend of mine went shopping in Caracas. He was looking for some discount in the small poultry case of the local supermarket and while sifting through things he discovered, between a few chicken legs, an improvised ad:

"Maths specialist. Home lessons. Guaranteed comprehension and success.
Any day. Any time (Name and mobile number)"

Let's go to the chicken wings, though: the price is 1070 Bs a kilo. Instead of translating that into euros or dollars - very few Venezuelans earn either of them -, I'll translate that into a university professor's salary: that is equivalent to 1/19 to 1/39 of what she or he earns in a month. A school teacher earns less, of course.

Mind: you need more than a professor's full monthly salary to be able to rent a tiny flat in a working class area in any major city of Venezuela now.

My parents were a teacher and a professor in public - i.e. free- institutions before Chávez came to power and their salaries gave them a purchasing power that was much higher than anything teachers have in Venezuela of the "XXI Century Socialism".

I forgot to mention: my friend is also a professor. He was one of the very best at university. He would easily have a top job in Europe or in the USA. In Venezuela, though, he has to give maths lessons after his normal work at university in order to buy discount chicken wings.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Schon wieder verschwindet eine regimekritische Zeitung in Venezuela

Ab heute wird die venezolanische Zeitung El Carabobeño aufhören, als Druckausgabe zu erscheinen. Der Grund ist nicht, dass die Leute sie nicht mehr kaufen wollen. Die Druckausgabe wird es jetzt nicht mehr geben, weil die chavistische Regierung keine Dollars für die Einfuhr von Druckmaterial an diese unabhängige Zeitung geben will. In Venezuela entscheidet die Regierung wer wie viele Dollars und zu welchem Preis bekommt. In Venezuela, wo Internet so langsam und Internetzahlungen so beschränkt sind, bedeutet dies praktisch, dass diese Zeitung kaum Einfluss haben wird.

El Carabobeño war zwar eine Regionalzeitung, sie war aber die wichtigste in der Region zwischen Yaracuy und Aragua, mit Mittelpunkt in Valencia, meiner Stadt. Sagen wir das mal so: das war die wichtigste Zeitung in einem Gebiet, wo über 3 Millionen Venezolaner leben.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Chavismo jailing journalists

The publisher of one of the few remaining critical newspapers in Venezuela, Correo del Caroní, has been sentenced to prison for defamation after his newspaper denounced a very real corruption case at a state company.

Here you have (in Spanish) the position of Correo del Caroní.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

My founding fathers and mothers

Yesterday I read this post about the Bolívar cult by Mónica Correa. I liked it a lot, although I disagree with the details about when the cult started. Correa, like many other Venezuelans, consinders the personality cult around Bolívar started really when Guzmán Blanco came to power. As German historian Norbert Rehrmann and others indicated, it was rather Bolívar himself who initiated the mental cult.

Then it was Antonio José Páez who re-started the cult in the early forties of the XIX century, when the world price for coffee - Venezuela's main export back then- plummeted and popular unrest threatened Venezuela's stability. Páez needed a big event to gain popularity.

You should read this decree by Páez to understand how he initiated the cult to this figure.

Many Venezuelans now would find it hard to believe Antonio José Páez would have been the actual promoter of the Bolívar cult. Venezuelans were taught from early on about the very real conflicts that separated Bolívar and Páez once Bolivar focused on his idea of governing the Gran Colombia. The thing is that what happened between Bolívar and Páez didn't prevent the latter to use the myth of the former in order to gain popularity. That is how he brought Bolívar's bones to Caracas from Colombia, how he tried to call Caracas Bolivar (at the end people would rename Angostura Bolívar, but that happened a bit later), how he organised Bolivar cult ceremonies in every Plaza Mayor of Venezuela then - those Plazas Mayores are now called Plazas Bolivar. Páez was also the one who reverted a law that had been introduced in order to stop the cult of the caudillo in congress. Páez was the one who started bringing marble statues of Bolívar from Europe.

The post's comments ended up revolving around the idea of "founding fathers". I thought about that as well and I wondered why it was that I never had such a fixation with the military men that ruled my country. The reason, I realised was that my founding fathers - and mothers - were very different from what I got at school.

My founding fathers and mothers were Spanish settlers from the XVI to the XIX century fleeing poverty in Spain. My founding fathers and mothers were the native Americans who lived for so long before around the then beautiful Valencia Lake, people who produced those petroglyphs and who cooked those arepas and wove those cotton clothes we hardly know about. My founding fathers and mothers were the black slaves who came from Western Africa with nothing but chains and humour and music and energy and probably many other things in their minds that we are no longer aware of because that is how history works.

My founding fathers and mothers were my great-grandparents and grandparents who worked very hard in their humble conucos,  their small land plots, to grow corn, beans, tomatoes and cotton, to raise chickens and pigs to feed their family and others.

My founding fathers and mothers were those who taught so many children to read and write, to count, who helped young adults to think analytically about economic issues, who introduced modern health practices in Venezuelan villages that until then were in conditions similar to those of Europe's Middle Ages.

If there was the need for any other kind of "founding fathers", my father and mother brought me to public talks of scientists Fernández Morán and Jacinto Convit and showed me - I was so lucky - the theatre work of poet Aquiles Nazoa. My sisters even took part in Nazoa's children theatre group.

My own founding father and mother taught me the magic of producing food and making something technical work.

My founding parents were actual doers, not military men.

I am convinced we can reshape what kind of myths and role models we need. Other countries have done so.