Los poetas no fueron a Turiaca / Joaquín Marta Sosa

The Poets Did Not Visit Turiaca

More than twenty years have passed (twenty years is a long time, no matter what the tango might say) and the poet is slightly stooped, his legs give the impression they can barely support his body. But he remains the same self-absorbed person, affectionate in flashes, who listens to me as though he were scrutinizing each word with his serene eyes somewhat dimmed.

I tell him about Juan Carlos Zambrano, who was broken to pieces at a military camp, Turiaca, and in whose stomach the forensic doctors found human hair drenched in a kilogram of shit. I remind him that the same thing happened in his country and that it's always for the same reason, the regime's precarious loss of support.

"But the United States is conspiring here against the government," he tells me. "We're both too old," I allege, "to go around claiming the United States as the only reason for defending any government at random. I don't care what the American government thinks or plans in regards to Venezuela." He is not going to dictate my political morals, nor is he going to mark me along the line separating the acceptable from the detestable. "That argument," we look each other in the eyes, "already smells stale. One supports or opposes a government because of its actions, not because of the friends or enemies it might have."

"But the media," he replies, "are all in the opposition and they attack relentlessly."

"As they did with all the other administrations," I underline for him. "To a large degree, the media were responsible for the legitimization of the chavista coup against an administration that, like the current one, was democratically elected. And several very important newspapers and journalists were truly aligned with chavismo throughout its campaign for the presidency. And they tolerated the closure of Congress, the violation of the Constitution in place at the time, all within the pretext that only he could end the corruption and poverty caused by the political parties.

Corruption today is infinitely higher, and in regards to the political parties his own has been substituted by an appoint-ocracy. It's an old form of excessive and anti-democratic caudillismo, from which we've heard varied and horrible news throughout our national experience."

The poet looks at me, he remains silent. And I know that it's not that he agrees with me but that, instead, it must feel inappropriate to contradict me. After all, we haven't seen each other in twenty years. "And yet," he points out, "he has plenty of popular support." "Yes, that has never been denied," I say, "but today the opposition has more popular support. That's why, against all promises, he resorts to trickery in order to prevent a democratic referendum. This includes the current persecution against those who signed for the convocation of a referendum. With this referendum we all have rights, just as long as we have sworn loyalty to the government. Besides," I insist, "he has done nothing but enhance the ancient heritage of corruption and mismanagement, to which he has added a grim expansion of poverty. In this regard, he only exhibits a frightening disloyalty to the will of the people who elected him. Instead of into the future from a better present, he shoves them in a forced march toward the worst elements of our past."

He stops talking. I stop talking. Someone arrives to take him to another event.

"Well," he says in parting, "take care of yourself." He walks away between two ushers from the seemingly well-organized and efficient event. (I recommend its organizers be promoted to the highest posts in the administration, just to see if something improves, cultural affairs for instance.) The poets have been well-attended , in hotels available to very few people here. They have been generously paid, they have travelled first class.

Surely marvelous. But I wish this courtesy toward poetry were not reserved only for the faithful and for the foreigners who can be displayed like crown jewels. And I would like for a festival that aims to encompass the "world" to invite all the major Venezuelan poets, without requiring a political blood oath.

As I leave the hotel, I am thinking that the poets were not informed, nor was there a ceremony to take them out to Turiaca.

Here, the unarmed individual is murdered under orders from that military chief who has become an inaccessible darkness, thanks to the government's protection and complicity. A darkness perhaps reminiscent of Pinochet, although never of Góngora.

Meanwhile let us read Romeu, in whose caricatures someone says: "It seems odd to me when I encounter a leader who is not delusional, overbearing, ill-mannered and swollen like a globe." I don't even need to be here to know this.

Translator's note:

Joaquín Marta Sosa recently edited an anthology of Venezuelan poetry:
Navegación de tres siglos (antología básica de la poesía venezolana 1826/2002), Caracas: Fundación Para La Cultura Urbana, 2003. The writer that Marta Sosa refers to in this essay is most likely the Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal, who was in Caracas last week to attend the Festival Mundial de Poesía. This government-funded festival and conference was organized by the poet Luis Alberto Crespo, a staunch chavista, who is the director of the Casa Nacional de las Letras Andrés Bello. Important Venezuelan poets such as Elizabeth Schön, Rafael Cadenas, Yolanda Pantin, Jacqueline Goldberg, Eugenio Montejo, and Patricia Guzmán (to name just a few) were not invited to attend the conference.

{ Joaquín Marta Sosa, El Nacional, 1 April 2004 }

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