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And there it was: my grandfather's house, empty and decaying. I had lived there while doing summer jobs. It was here that my grandfather had entertained Gabriel García Márquez and former US Secretary of State James Baker. Sitting outside the rusting gates, I tried to recapture my past for my new husband, and in doing so to explain what has happened to my homeland, Venezuela, in the 10 years under President Hugo Chávez. Today, more people die violently every week in Caracas than in Baghdad.

"You see," I said, "this is what has happened all over, this decay. Once, it was not like this." "Yes," he replied, "I see." But I wondered if he did, as he craned his neck forward to peer through the windscreen to read the words Perros Furibundos ("rabidly fierce dogs"). He watched me as I pleaded at the gate, pressing the buzzer beneath a smashed lamp, the electronic eye of the surveillance camera too exhausted to register me. No guard opened the security window; no one spoke over the intercom. The only response was the tired bark of a lone dog, more jaded than fierce, and I wondered when was the last time he ate, or even saw a human being.

We had arrived in Caracas to attend an old friend's wedding, a traditional affair held at the Country Club. "You'll love it," I had enthused. "The old Caracas, that not even Chávez can touch." What I found, though, was very different from what I expected.

Decay was unimaginable when I was a child basking in the tropical sun in my own personal Eden of our Country Club home. The Caribbean's humidity, only 30 minutes away, was soaked up by the Avila Mountains. My blue-eyed Prague-born father would drive his Mercedes coupé home through the poor Puente de Chapellín neighbourhood. He and the locals would wave at each other, for there was no class hatred then. The rich owned the businesses that provided the jobs, and my family gave back to the country that took them in when they fled communist Czechoslovakia.

Although the poor vastly outnumbered the rich, the entire country felt rich from the oil boom of the 1970s, which made Venezuela the world's largest non-Arab oil producer. Mocking the poor Americans, who had always treated us as their mascots, was a national sport. Every week, people tuned in to RCTV to watch their favourite skit: two Venezuelans fly American Airlines to Miami to shop for the day with the refrain: "Está barato; dame dos." ("It's cheap; gimme two."). Last year, Chávez closed the station, saying it was pro-opposition.

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June 9th, 2012
8:06 AM
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July 22nd, 2009
8:07 PM
Not a limousine libral, but a citizen of Brasil, I can imagine that what Lula is doing here, his comrade has done there, which is not democracy, in the sence that even if both win elections, by buying their respective votes with "Bolsa Familia" etc., that is subversion.

January 14th, 2009
1:01 AM
Ms. Neumann seems so much like the wellborn folks who are mystified by uprisings of have-nots and the political machinations that occur where the rich flout their affluence oblivious to the realities the majority must deal with on a daily basis. Witness the Russian Revolution against the Tsars and the rich who ignored their plight and exploited the poor. Recall the aftermath of the French revolution before that country found its way to equality. I was in El Salvador just before the war. The wealthy who jetted to Miami for weekly shopping sprees appeared to have no clue that the country was about to explode, though it was obvious to the foreign eye. To comprehend the origins of what you lament, look back with clearer eyes, Vanessa, and see what life was like for those who lived in your shadow.

January 13th, 2009
1:01 AM
thank you, David, for your "[w]ho is going to do the less harm?" Venezuelans are now voting the way Americans have been voting for decades: for the least worst candidate! We in the USA have the best Congress money can buy. I also thank you for your observation that "80% of the [Venezuelan] population had no minimal conditions of living while others were playing golf in the center of the city." Your observation supports my rhetorical question born of instinct, to wit, whether Venezuela has, or ever has had, a meaningful middle class? A poverty rate of 80 percent as you port suggests that Venezuela has had, historically, two classes: very rich and very poor, albeit with a relatively small "middle class". Moreover, the death of the middle class in the USA will be the end of our Great Experiment in Democracy begun in the late 18th century when brilliant leaders put aside concerns over acquiring great personal wealth and designed a sensible, pragmatic system that protects individual liberties (free speech, the right to worship, the right to habeas corpus, etc. etc.) from unwarranted intrusions by the government [i.e., in the form of dictators, fascists, imperialists] -- a system while not perfect [slavery was sanctioned by the government, for example] that has stood the test of time -- that is, until radical appellate judges have decided to create out of thin air their personal and "liberal" and ever expanding interpretations of the meaning of important provisions of the U.S. Constitution...

January 12th, 2009
3:01 PM
JHM and FJP: Your comments although far from being as naive and insulting as vanessas´, still are a bit sided in my opinion. Chavez is a complex figure full of contradictions as any true human persona. His personality is a mixture of impulsive attitudes backed by historical resentment (ratial, economic, social) and empowered by oil revenues and an extremely sharp mind which sways from historical facted arguments and utopical romantic visions of the Venezuelan should-be fair society. History, more than anything, keeps him in power. His skin color and his unshaped tight hair, highly contrast with his master control of Venezuelan history and his informal eloquency. The emotional attributes of this charismatical leader are unique for the Venezuelan people. Still, the whole "revolución" is just a embryonic project based on some german sociological theories that, honestly is failing more than succeding. The reason: the people. The venezuelan itself as an element of society, is a person who DOES NOT CARE beyond his personal affairs. This has a very intrincated historical reason as well. Anyways, Chavez (good or bad) is an interesting catalyst for a society that never cared for their own future as a colective nor dedicated to organize and develop itself towards stability and equality. The hatred was there. Just repressed. The division was there and it was obvious when 80% of the population had no minimal conditions of living while others where playing golf in the center of the city. The decay was there (devaluation, corruption, crime, ignorance, impoverishment) Chavez is the piece who channeled all these chronic factors into his idea of country. 10 years later things are worse and things are better. There are horrible deficits of every kind (like rampant crime and inflation), but there are also very important developments (base developments like education and health programs). Venezuelans when they go to vote don´t think about who is the best option. They think: Who is going to do the less harm.

Jorge Lopez
January 11th, 2009
10:01 PM
As a middle class venezuelan, living in Venezuela I am deeply offended by this article. Ms Neumann wrote lots of half truths and several outright lies: She dismisses poor class Venezuelans, calling them ignoramuses and alcoholics. I happen to know lots of venezuelan working class people, heck, that is my own background, and most of them are hard-working, honest people, as most people in every single country. People vote according to their preferences, if the power class does not like their choice, tough luck, that is what democracy is about. She conveniently forgot to mention that in last Nov 08 elections total votes for pro-Chavez candidates easily outnumbered the pro-opposition votes (56% vs 44%) so Chavistas are still a solid majority in this country. Venezuela is not a paradise of course, but that Pollyanna history of people living happy before Chavez, the "blue eyed rich" and the brown workers, the lions and the sheep, Superman and Lex Luthor is simply ridiculous , if that was the case why the unlawful Chavez coup against the Perez government received so much popular support, and why Chavez has won 9 of the 10 heavily observed elections? To my fellow commenters , I just want to ask you one thing. If you want to know the reality about Venezuela please visit the country and meet ordinary people, not just the middle/upper class English speaking folks but everyone. If you cant travel at least run away from the established media coverage and read common people blogs, pro and against Chavez so you can have a more approximate idea of what is happening in mi querida Venezuela.

January 11th, 2009
5:01 PM
FJP and Catire, thank you both for your comments. And thanks for the blog, Catire. I always like to learn more about what people are thinking about my country. As you said FJP, this has been a most interesting discussion and I am wonderfully gratified at how interested, and in some cases, well informed, people of other nations are of Venezuela.

January 10th, 2009
2:01 AM
Liberty and Justice for all Vanessa's Red-grave piece would have been far more effective if she had written it not as a "limousine liberal" but as a member of the middle class -- that is, if one ever existed in Venezuela. There are plenty of Venezuelans of non-elite backgrounds against Chavez. Check the blogs I cited, if you haven't already done so. Regarding the existence of non-existence of a middle class in Venezuela: in 1996, the gross enrollment rate at the university level was 28%,compared to 18% for Latin America and 60% for the OECD, which indicates that more than the top 5% were being educated.(World Bank Development Statistics.)

January 9th, 2009
7:01 PM
"My blue-eyed Prague-born father would drive his Mercedes coupé home through the poor Puente de Chapellín neighbourhood. He and the locals would wave at each other, for there was no class hatred then." Is this piece a joke, or a genuine appeal for feudalism?

January 9th, 2009
4:01 PM
"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act." George Orwell. interesting? (not really, there's nothing new under the sun!): the wealthy want to keep their privileged status while riding the backs of the poor, and the poor and the vast majority of peoples everywhere just want their freedoms and the ability to earn a fair standard of living to support their families without being exploited. Chavez is a fascist-communista megalomaniac who would exploit all people -- rich and poor -- to attain absolute power. He has quickly morphed into yet another corrupt, power-mad tinpot -- "Chairman Chavez" -- the world's latest left-right-your-military-left-right dictator -- following the lead of comrades Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Chairman Mao, Castro, Pinochet, etc. etc. History's Rogue's gallery goes on and on... Vanessa's Red-grave piece would have been far more effective if she had written it not as a "limousine liberal" but as a member of the middle class -- that is, if one ever existed in Venezuela.

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