Fiction’s Got Nothing on Venezuela

Venezuelans are stripped of their individuality as the "masses" form endless lines at the supermarket.
Venezuelans are stripped of their individuality as the “masses” form endless lines at the supermarket. (Posta)

Español“Totalitarian domination, however, aims at abolishing freedom, even at eliminating human spontaneity in general, and by no means at a restriction of freedom no matter how tyrannical.” — Hanna Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism.

“Liberty is a precious good, but is not guaranteed, not to any country or person that doesn’t know how to exercise it or defend it. Literature, breathes and lives thanks to her, and without liberty, it is asphyxiated. This means liberty is not a gift from the sky, but an election, a conviction, a practice; ideas that must be enriched and tested always.” — Mario Vargas Llosa, The Civilization of Spectacle. 

When I read literature, it allows me to live other people’s lives. At the risk of sounding cliché, it makes my imagination fly and takes me to another world.

The journey can be entertaining and fun, or it can be difficult and taxing. One must be in the mood for certain books, since there are those that will test one’s spirit.

Lately, I cannot help but find similarities in these books and what is currently happening in Venezuela, especially the dystopian novels that have had a great impact on my life.

In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, for example, the pig Napoleon makes use of propaganda to denounce his enemies and distract from his efforts to remain in power. In Venezuela, the government claims private businessmen are “waging an economic war” against the country to distract from the government’s own hand in the economic crisis, soaring inflation, and widespread shortages.

In 1984, our protagonist, Winston Smith, witnesses the rise of a totalitarian regime that uses manipulative language with repressive ends. Meanwhile, Big Brother wants to be known as a benevolent protector, when in reality he’s part of an oppressive surveillance system meant to capture every action and every thought.

In Venezuela, the government manipulates language to distort reality and conceal what is really going on in the country. For instance, when the government refers to “expropriation” (which normally should entail compensation) should really be called pillaging, or when exchange rates are “adjusted,” what they are really talking about is inflation.

Another British writer, Aldous Huxley, takes us to a Brave New World, where there is no war, illness, or poverty. However, it comes at the expense of having a family, diversity, art, religion, and philosophy — at the expense of the individual, in other words. “When the individual feels, the community reels,” Huxley writes.

In Venezuela, the government is erasing the concept of the individual — one with rights and responsibilities — and replacing it with the idea of the “public,” an undefined mass with no real rights. The government has replaced the concept of citizens with that of subjects. There are no “people,” just long lines at the supermarket, homicide statistics, and increasing numbers fleeing the country in search of a better life.

While Ray Bradbury imagines a a world where books are banned in Farenheit 451, the Venezuelan government has no need for outright prohibitions. Because of the state’s exchange controls, books and the raw materials to produce them cannot be imported. The most popular titles are not available in Venezuela, and if you are lucky enough to find them, they are not affordable to the average consumer.

What do these works have in common? Besides being well-written, all of them reflect the aspirations and methods of totalitarian regimes.

So, what does it mean that each of these stories reminds us of Venezuela? Is truth stranger than fiction? Should we finally recognize that Venezuelans are living under a modern totalitarian regime, and that we should have stopped calling Venezuela a “populist democracy” years ago?

These are painful questions, but that’s the reality. Only by facing it can we make the firs step toward change. Venezuelans are tired of the government concealing the real reasons behind the crisis we face on a daily basis. We are tired of this government who manipulate language at their convenience.

We are tired of this government that has erased the individual, keeps basic goods out of reach, and restricts our freedom.

I choose to live free, and I invite you to do the same.

Translated by Adam Dubove.

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