El gobierno de El Dorado / Eduardo Febres

The Government of El Dorado

                  Instead of a river of gold, the capital of the country where we found
                  El Dorado has a river of shit.
(Photo by Caracas A Pie)

Enrique Bernardo Núñez saw two situations: this country was forged in the struggle with heroic stubbornness for “two big objectives called by some people myths or mirages”: El Dorado and freedom. Both of them equally bloody, having occurred, full of mosquitoes, illnesses, starvation and death, and in the utopian logic of a pilgrimage that when it stops becomes unnatural, becomes something else.

The crusade for El Dorado could join the series of precursors to Kafka that Borges imagined. But even more, a story about the search for El Dorado where freedom substitutes for gold: an encampment that lasts however long it lasts to find out there is no freedom there. Or that yes, there’s freedom, but not a city made of freedom, where the fountains and even the septic tanks emit freedom. And then we have to move somewhere else to keep looking for it, and the encampment is abandoned and we build another one.

The model of a portable country is a nation condemned to a pilgrimage, to wander rootless, with no limits, in search of a freedom that when it seems to have been found has already become something else and forces us to keep moving.*

Núñez saw in both chimeras two ways of understanding history, but also an image of two forces facing off in “the struggle developing on the planet” (June 1948, the end of WWII and the beginnings of the Cold War). “The struggle between man and gold. Between gold and the will or the spirit,” he wrote.

Slightly to the margin of the ideological and warring fantasies that gave order to that struggle as a war between the Western and Eastern empire in the second half of the 20th century, Núñez wasn’t proposing an easy solution to that tension. He reminded us that “all the treasures of the Americas weren’t enough for Spain to subjugate Europe. Nor did they serve to prevent its own decadence, and in our days we’ve seen great nations sink beneath the weight of all their riches. In contrast, others have resisted for their love of freedom.” But that didn’t prevent him from recognizing that “in man’s struggle for freedom, gold has won most of the battles.”

In that reflection, of an almost cruel honesty, I find a model for reading the wandering of a country-encampment which is simultaneously idealist but with a miner’s consciousness. Where we find verifiable acts even crueler than Núñez’s affirmation: the city where gold is born never literally appeared in Venezuelan territory, but it does have an immeasurable common pit of combustible fossils, that creates the conditions necessary to create money almost like a demiurge.

Our friend William Serafino published a few months ago an essay in two parts that provides a brief historical review of the mechanisms for generating profit-looting exponentially greater than production. And in the most recent version of the business world’s swindle, the image of the empty storage container, carrier of gigantic profits, is a consumation of the mirage of El Dorado turned into merchandise. But while the mirage of El Dorado opens bank accounts, large estates and a model for creating wealthy people without wealth, what happens to the mirage of freedom?

“This ideal of freedom is the very history of Venezuela. And this is why we should continue with it,” Núñez closed his speech after being incorporated into the Academy of History. I think that, despite all the dangers and disasters the ideal gives us, there’s always a common sense pointing in that direction in the Venezuelan imagination.

But if El Dorado found a formula to pass from a Medieval fantasy to a postmodern economic context, it seems that up until now all the formulas for freedom (an even independence) that are formulated in the political field can’t avoid strengthening the economic mirage, which at the same time does nothing but assault and impede and postpone the freedom and independence of everyone, while propitiating that of only a few.

Thus, in the government of El Dorado, the encampments (the ministries?) are taken apart and moved just when they’re about to stop being mirages, and while the great mirage of profit redoubles its density of unbearable reality.

* Translator’s note: Febres is alluding to the novel País portátil (1968), by Adriano González León (1931-2008).

{ Eduardo Febres, Contrapunto, 6 May 2015 }

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