Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Comments on Venezuela

OK, I recently returned from nearly a month in Venezuela. I was invited there to give an eight-day faculty seminar and a series of lectures on democracy, philosophical pragmatism, and globalization. I went as a Fulbright scholar with funding also from Andres Bello Catholic University in Caracas and the Polar Foundation, a terrific cultural organization funded by the Polar company. Apart from other academics, I met and had dinners with a number of important figures in Venezuela including former and present government ministers, the president and the CEO of Polar (the Mendozas -- Lorenzo Mendoza is the CEO), the greatest contemporary writers in Venezuela (Jose Balza, Rafael Cadenas, and others), respected artists, various opposition and government figures, students, and local people of all stripes. I did not meet "The Boss," Hugo Chavez himself, although Lorenzo Mendoza comes in second in VZ given that he's one of the richest men in South America. Many opposition figures revolve around Polar.

I have a lot to say about the trip, so comments will likely dribble out over the next week or two. I'm working these up and will have more to say very soon. For now, it's important to understand that absolutely everything is seen through the political lenses of anti-Chavez or pro-Chavez. The middle terrain is inhabited by only very few people and they can be ostracized by both sides at the same time. It is a highly polarized country, as I've said. I found myself in the straddle position there, given that I'm an outsider. This didn't do me a whole lot of good, especially with some of the opposition figures. The stories to come should show that the situation there is complex, Chavez is complex, the policies are complex, and absolutely everything has some successes and some failures. Nothing is easy about the place. Nothing is as clear as the internal polarization would seem to suggest or as American policy towards Venezuela makes it out to be or even as Chavista Cuba-lite anti-imperialist revolutionary Bolivarian rhetoric suggests. As an outsider, I found some interesting policies by the Chavez government and I found some legitimacy to opposition claims. But I also found myself constantly probed and mined for signs of which side I would take. There are only two sides, after all, and you are on one or the other. My conclusions at the end of the trip keep me straddling the middle ground. This is the luxury of the outsider, the person who does not have to live there and face the future of Venezuela.

So, all this said... more soon....


Asha Nair said...

Ok, you got me.
And then?



helmut said...

Thanks, Ash. It's coming. I just returned yesterday and have that post-travel buzz in which you're still trying to put things in a somewhat coherent order.

troutsky said...

I find that the bar is raised somewhat higher for a leader on the left (as a socialist I naturally have my bias)so that he or she must be the "perfect revolutionary" and that displaying any sign that he enjoys power, if only to the degree that Bush or Blair display it, sends people off screaming Stalin! I unfortunately have not had the opportunity to visit Venezuela or Cuba but see parallels in American perceptions.We on the left are dying for some inspiration but must not expect saintliness.I would love to hear more of your visit.

barba de chiva said...

I got mixed up the first time I read this post, thinking the link to Ablogistan appended to "Back to Iraq," below, was here. When I followed it, I was only momentarily confused. If one reads this post and visits the link (as I did), it appears a similar polarization is taking place here. It's inconceivable.

Anonymous said...

Your impressions of Venezuela remind me, strangely, of the country I have been visiting now for five months: Colombia.

Opposite side of the same tortilla?