This is Chávez Country: The Little Bully That Could

Our trip to Venezuela is winding down. For our last outing, our cousin, Marisol, has planned a day trip to the Hacienda Santa Teresa, where sugar cane is grown and used to make rum. It is in a pueblo called El Consejo, which is a 90-minute drive from Caracas.

I am told that El Consejo is the town in which my grandmother spent her childhood.  Tía Olivia says she visited the town a few years ago and found her mother’s house still standing, which I can believe, as El Consejo seems untouched by time. Row after row of charming little houses festively painted in bright hues of pinks, yellows and blues.

Sugar cane fields at the Hacienda Santa Teresa, which was founded in 1796

The heat is more intense here.  Once we arrive at the Hacienda Santa Teresa, we must wait for our tour time. We visit the gift shop where all kinds of rums are sold—orange-flavored rum, coffee-flavored, clear rum, premium rum, to name a few. For as little as $4.00 (U.S. funds) you can buy a bottle of rum.

Marisol tells me that when Venezuelans make a purchase of any kind—whether it be a loaf of bread or a new TV, they must present their “cédula” (a national photo ID). Even if they are paying in cash, they must show their identification. She is not sure why but assumes it’s just another way the government seeks to control the people, presumably by keeping track of what they are buying and even where they are making their purchases. I use cash to purchase a bottle of rum and the saleswoman asks for my cédula. When I tell her I’m an American and do not have a Venezuelan ID, she asks me for my passport number. I write down a fake number, and she doesn’t notice. The specter of Hugo Chávez hovers over everything.

While waiting for the rum tour to begin, my aunts begin an impromptu dance.

We spend the entire day at the rum hacienda, where there’s much to do—horseback riding, golf, listening to music at the bar, and even paintball. On the tour, we learn that the rum factory was founded more than 200 years ago. The tour lasts hours and multiple trolley rides across the hacienda.  By the time it’s over, we are all a bit exhausted and hot. Thankfully, our tour guides serve us refreshing, tall glasses of Cuba Libres.  We then head back to the city, trailed by a beautiful sunset. All that’s left to do, is pack and prepare for our journey home.

I came to Venezuela with apprehension and am about to leave, grateful for the time I was able to spend with family, yet also with a feeling of dread for their future. The U.S. State Department had unnerved me with its warnings about the country, and I came very close to canceling the trip.  The good times with family, though, were mired by the shadow of Chávez. His plan to transform education in order to raise a nation of socialist children is chilling. Victor says that this may be just the thing that will motivate Venezuelans to fight back.

For now, despite all the new rules and regulations, the essence of the Venezuelan people is still intact.  During my trip, I saw their determination to withstand any challenges or edicts thrown their way. They still go to nightclubs and take their kids to McDonald’s. They still like to shop and go to the beach. And I think of my aunt, Bertina. At the rum hacienda, as we listened to music from an outdoor sound system, she suddenly took Tía Olivia’s hand for an impromptu dance on the sidewalk.  Such genuine moments help to hold at bay the fear of what the future will bring.

But it’s a new year and for Venezuela, the future has arrived. Chávez has his new powers and the country holds its breath and waits. What will he do?  Like a little bully, he has been poking at the U.S., trying to push its buttons. For the most part it hasn’t worked. Largely ignored, he resents this country all the more. And to the American government, Chávez must seem like an annoying gnat. A silly nuisance.

Until now, perhaps. With his new powers, he’s become the little bully that could. So Chávez, take a bow. For you may yet have the last laugh.

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6 thoughts on “This is Chávez Country: The Little Bully That Could

  1. Okay, so he is falling out of favor with the people of Venezuela, but he still has a 47% approval rating, which is about what Obama has.

    In 2007, a majority of Venezuelans not only held positive views about Chavez’s foreign affairs’ abilities but also had a positive view about his general impact on their country. In 2007, six-in-ten said that Chavez had a good influence on the way things were going in their country, while 38% said he was a bad influence. Again, lower-income and less-educated Venezuelans were more likely to hold positive views about their president’s impact on the country.

    However, more recent polling indicates that views of Chavez have grown more critical in Venezuela. For example, a poll conducted from May to June 2008 by the Venezuelan polling firm Alfredo Keller y Asociados (AKSA) indicated that 47% had a positive opinion of Chavez, down from 59% one year earlier and 64% in 2006.

    Source

    • Thank you for sharing that data. I completely respect the work of the Pew Research center, but those results are now two years old. I’m certain, that if they did it now, the approval rating would be even lower, for a number of reasons. Two of which, Chávez has been messing with their primary food source, Polar, trying to put it under government control. But the most important reason, is the recently enacted decree giving him unlimited powers for the next 18 months. And we all know that 18 months is easily renewable for another 18 and so on. All we have to do is look at the tax cuts that Obama was trying to eliminate for the very wealthy when its time was up. But I think it was Ari Fleischer who said, Bush knew when he passed those tax cuts for a “limited” time, it would be difficult to let go, that they’d really stay in perpetuity. No doubt, Chávez is thinking along the same lines…

      But then again, I could be wrong. And I would so LOVE it if you could prove me wrong.

  2. What I love about your posts about Venezuela is that you have family there. You have lived there. You grew up with the countries customs incorporated into your daily life as a New American. You still have fond memories of the country and your family there. You remain connected to them and care deeply about their safety and livelihood. You have family here that has left the country because they don’t feel safe.

    Because of all this I’ll take your observations about the situation there much more seriously than someone who takes everything they here from the Chavez propaganda machine as word. Thanks for bringing us into the family!

    • Thanks, Trisha. Though I do hope people in this country will do their research, read up on the real situation in Venezuela before coming to any conclusions on the situation there. Chávez is convinced the U.S. is out to get him (he’s constantly looking for signs of this) and maybe he’s convinced his followers of the same. Who’s to say? Maybe it’ll be a self-fulfilling prophecy. One can only hope.

  3. The majority Venezuelans love Chavez. Why do you hate democracy? Oh yeah, you only like democracy if the elected leader is subservient to American Corporations. China’s authoritarian rule is fine with you right-wingers because they help increase American corporate profits.

    • Really? You think the majority of Venezuelans love Chavez? I’d like to know what you base that on. Is it on all the dead people he somehow finds to vote for him? Or is it based on the press releases his administration issues? Because if that’s the case, then of course you are correct.

      I’m not a right-winger but know that it would be so much easier if you were right, that people like me just want an elected leader to be subservient to American Corporations. Lol, if it were that simple! No, sir, what I want is an elected leader to be truly “elected.” To leave when term limits are up and he can no longer run, and not to change the rules so that he can stay in power indefinitely. Do you think that’s good? Would that be what you would want for the United States? An elected leader who never leaves office and holds what you say against you? Who shuts down media outlets and cancels soap operas on TV because he believes them to be against him? Should our president be allowed to control our media, our food, our way of living? No, what I want is an elected leader who treats his people fairly, who does not silence opposing views and who does not willy-nilly change the course of history. Thank you for your comments. I am grateful that we live in a country that is open to all opinions.

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