El año de la prudencia / Alberto Barrera Tyszka

The Year of Prudence

At two in the morning, like a flabby and confused ghost, as the smoke from the fireworks still floated over the sky of Caracas, I suddenly had a brief philosophical spasm. For a few seconds I felt like Baruch Spinoza, I was overcome by that classic ontological ebb that occurs after the announcement “Five minutes ‘til midnight” and, staring straight into the night, I asked myself at that moment what the hell we can expect from this year 2007.

Anyone knows that the future is an uncertainty. But to assume, on top of that, that the future is a Bolivarian uncertainty is too much, is already an excess: insecurity canned in the void, chemically pure uncertainty. Everything can happen: the gringos can invade us, the Government can take away the autonomy of the universities, we can buy Nigeria’s debt, the gringos can invade us, we can give away oil to the poorest ghettos of The Principality of Monaco, the revision of the concessions for citizens’ telephone airwaves can be proposed, the gringos can keep invading us, we can go invade Bolivia, the advanced Heinz Dieterich can go ahead already and invent XXII Century Socialism, the advanced Pedro Carreño can be named Cardinal, the National Assembly can stop wasting time and establish once and for all a governing period of 50 years, the gringos can invade us once again, like they do every day, with all their filthy dollars… Any doubt fits in this container we now call Venezuela. However, behind all the nausea that is the national landscape today, an anxiety seems to breathe with enough clarity: the singularity of Chávez as the social order. Singleness as a political project, as a way of life.

The non-debate over the proposal of a single party can function as an example. Except for the dissidence of the base of the communist party, who were able to stop their own leaders, all the other political activists, in all the groups that support the Government, seem to be happy with their own annulment. They say yes. They are willing accomplices to their own assassination. It is a subjugation more in line with military functioning than with the exercise of political pluralism. The President’s decree last Thursday, regarding the topic, is quite obvious and definitive: “I will not revert that decision.” It is a matter, then, of a singly personal process. Unfortunately, protagonistic and participatory democracy begins there and also ends there.

It is all part of a process that has slowly continued to decant. There is nothing hidden. It is the same anxiety for control, for the single and personal exercise of power, which moves within all of the Government’s actions. It is the red-really red [rojo-rojito] transformed into a demolishing machine. The red-really red administrating and organizing education, the media, political parties… After appropriating the institutions, the Government now wants to also invade and occupy any other space of social life. Little by little, any instance of the private, of the personal or the intimate, could become a liability for the revolution, for the Bolivarian utopia.

But it isn’t easy to find arguments that justify the advance and implementation of these politics. Chávez needs ideas, he needs theoretical operators, intellectuals of greater prestige, elements that can legitimate this transit. The idea of the single—as formation and as social representation—is always a step backwards. On the contrary, the history of civilization is, exactly, the history of diversity. What we call humanity is nothing other than a long and difficult story about the acceptance of others, about the exercise of tolerance.

There is not an only way to tell a story, nor an only way of dressing or an only way of cooking a chicken thigh. There is not an only way of combining the color red or of undressing with another person in bed. There is not an only way of thinking and living the homeland… Revolutions tend to want to sweep away all these complexities, always trying to impose their capital letters, their own work: a single and incorruptible new man.

We live among those who, full of gesticulations, have been announcing for years that Chávez eats raw children for breakfast and those who calmly murmur that everything is the same, that nothing changes. The rest of us, the majority, are in the middle. Clinging to an uncertainty but also obliged to adapt. The process has more submission than it does negotiation. In our own experience as citizens, all of us are being defeated. Including the Chavistas. And they know it. Each day they give up more. Each time, even they will become victims of a power that concentrates itself, that contracts into itself. That is the game of the single: more and more people always end up being left out.

Mark Twain, who was also a genius of journalism and of the short, biting note, wrote with all his irony: “It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have these three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence to practice neither.” Prudence. That is, perhaps, the new man of rearrangement, of dissimulation, of self-censorship, of passing by carefully and with his head down, of meanwhile and just in case… That is, perhaps, what awaits us in 2007. Prudence. Plentiful and frightening prudence.

Making Death

Anyone would end up thinking that the Government of the United States really believes reality is closer to Hollywood than to what happens on planet earth. The execution of Saddam Hussein comes to add itself to the tradition of fatalities of this war they also invented. In a great hurry, they tried to avoid the unavoidable: the international reaction of rejection against the death penalty. But, on top of that, they were able to turn the dictator into a victim and they reopened the wounds, once again leaving the country ferociously divided and in confrontation.

Making death has its consequences. It was so for Hussein already, who also made himself an expert in the industry of collective assassinations. He probably never imagined a conclusion with a rope around his neck. Perhaps the American President does not imagine that he too could be put on trial some day for war crimes. In a certain way, up until now, Bush is the only weapon of mass destruction that has appeared in Iraq.

Translator's note: Poet and novelist Alberto Barrera Tyszka (Caracas, 1960) is the co-author, with his wife Cristina Marcano, of the definitive biography of Hugo Chávez, Hugo Chávez sin uniforme: Una historia personal (Random House Mondadori, 2005). He was recently awarded the Premio Herralde in Spain for his novel La enfermedad (Editorial Anagrama, 2006).

{ Alberto Barrera Tyszka, El Nacional, 7 January 2007 }

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