Carrying the Memories of Venezuela on Our Backs
EspañolAfter looking back at photos from my childhood, I have come to one conclusion: Venezuelans who grew up under the Chávez regime carry the enormous weight of memories forgone. We not only grew up with things changing around us, like most people, we lost the opportunity to rekindle the treasured images of our childhood.
The arts became politicized; the names of mountains changed; friends left the country; plazas and parks were abandoned; the beaches became polluted; our favorite products disappeared; and items we once took for granted became luxuries. The only things that remain are distant memories from a childhood fantasy, as if it were another person in an unknown land.
When Chávez came to power, I was 10 years old. My family saw him as the president who would put an end to the years of corruption that preceded him. But it didn’t take long for them to observe his true nature.
Venezuelans saw the truth too late, despite the evidence before their very eyes, that a man who orchestrated a coup is not the right person to lead a country. And this truth may hurt for many people, especially those who labored hard to just get by. With the veil of populism over their eyes, they still voted for the candidate of misery; even some well-educated individuals took the bait. Years later, they would face the harsh reality of losing nearly everything they had.
Ultimately, that generation of voters had only lived through one of many chapters in Venezuelan history. The nation’s prevailing democracy was all they knew, and they wanted an easy way out of the very problems that would manifest themselves in a nastier form during the height of the Chávez regime.
In my generation’s case, we had to live through the two realities: pre-Chávez and post-Chávez politics. I ask myself, if none of this had occurred and another redeemer politician in the mold of Chávez were to appear, would I fall for the same trap? Should we be thankful that Venezuela has hit rock bottom, so we can finally learn to appreciate liberal democracy and its institutions?
But now no one can tell us, the Venezuelan youth, that we did not notice. We had the beast of totalitarianism right in front of us.
I would like for all of my generation have this lesson ingrained in our conscience. I am disappointed when I hear, for example, that a coup against Nicolás Maduro is necessary.
Then what? Will the next all-powerful Venezuelan leader actually guarantee us a stable democratic environment and legislative framework to allow for a prosperous economy to grow? It sounds contradictory to me.
Democracies function because all types of thinkers can live peacefully within them, and people assume their share of responsibility for their political environment. We will never gain liberty using the tools of tyranny.
Now, as the woman who lost her precious Venezuela, and not like the little girl in the photos, I listened to this song again — one of the various songs that we learned and sang with so much warmth and kindness in this country that once had fleeting dreams and opportunities for all. Now I must assume my responsibility for restoring my country’s democratic institutions.
I carry your light and your fragrance in my skin
and the cuatro in my heart
I carry sea foam in my blood
and your horizon in my eyes.
… My childhood was left between your beaches
enjoying the wind and lying in the sun
and that nostalgia creeping into my voice
unknowingly it turned into a song.
I want the immensity of the mountains
and the beautiful river water
and from you the children that will create
With the Venezuela that many of us carry on our backs, we must make sense of this massive, collective failure and make our example worthwhile.
Translated by José Niño. Edited by Fergus Hodgson.