We’re approaching the twentieth anniversary of the rise to power of the Bolivarian Revolution.
Twenty years, something that’s easy to say, but those words convey a heavy toll on every Venezuelan. I can’t believe two whole decades have come and gone like a snap, and boy let me tell ya—it’s a really big toll.
I’ve often been asked what it’s like to have grown up during this ongoing storm, the answer will naturally vary per person, some have weathered the worst aspects of it more than others, but if I were to try and answer it growing up in Bolivarian Revolution means having lived through the entirely of your infancy, adolescence, and early adulthood in the middle of a perpetual state of strife marked by turmoil, incertitude, protests, strikes, marches, countermarches, divisionism, rumors, mistrust, entropy, and the decay of it all, just to name a few.
It means having grown up watching how every aspect of your life and the lives of those around you slowly worsens without being able to catch a break before the next big thing happens. I went through puberty whilst this political conflict was infecting everyone and everything in its wake, then I reached my adulthood and began to really notice the ongoing degradation of everything I had known or cherished in the past.
It’s been a life far from that idyllic vision you see and experience on other places; you eventually start to forget what things were when they were more “normal” because you lose grasp of a reference of what the “normal” state of things is supposed to be.
The next thing you know is that you now have some dude on speed dial that supplies you with contraband toilet paper and you’re trading beans for rice with a relative, I wish I was joking, believe me, I honestly wish I was joking.
It means having grown up seeing the same faces on television, the same actors playing the same political cat and mouse game that doesn’t seem to ever reach a climax, a wheel that keeps spinning but doesn’t seem to reach its destination; every single one of these politicians are more concerned about their very own parcel of power instead of the interests of the nation’s citizens, having no qualms in betraying them over and over just to keep the status quo going.
It also means having grown up in a place where over the course of these two decades everyone seems to have forgotten one crucial fact: that those that have bolted themselves to positions of power for so long are supposed to be there to serve you and not the other way around.
That being said, let’s put it in a comparison perspective: by the time Chavez’s revolution took power in Venezuela America was going through the tail-end of Bill Clinton’s second term, then came two terms of George W. Bush, followed by two terms of Barack Obama, and now USA is almost halfway through Trump’s first term.
That’s four different presidents across two decades; in that same timespan Venezuela has had: Chavez, Chavez, Chavez, Chavez, Maduro, and Maduro as Presidents, the latter being there only because the former died of cancer. The rest of the government’s politburo and opposition have rotated seats/positions of power over the course of the years.
The same faces doing the same charades and the same pantomimes for two decades now, its way beyond nauseating and exhausting.
Twenty years, that’s two thirds of my life, I’m not joking when I say this regime is basically all I’ve known, I was ten years old when the Revolution (back when it was covered in sheep’s clothing) ascended to power.
My first interaction with Chavez was the same as the majority of the country’s, it took place on February 04, 1992, the day of his failed coup attempt (which is now a national holiday for all intents and purposes).
I was barely four years old at the time, naturally, I was oblivious to what was happening in Venezuela that night as any four year old child would be. I do remember my parents talking about a “Golpe de Estado” (Coup d’état), however, “Golpe” literally means “Punch” in Spanish, so that four year old Kaleb thought that someone had punched a person or object called “State”, whatever that may have been, maybe the State was a cubed shaped box and someone punched, I don’t know.
And that should’ve been the end of it, but of course, it wasn’t.
The next six years contain the bulk of memories that I have of a life before the Revolution, while far from perfect they were the closest I had to a normal infancy, but that’s a tale for another time, then along came the 1998 Presidential Elections.
The Early years of the Revolution
Six years after he surrendered on national television there he was, winning the Presidency. He had promised a better way, the solution to our growing problems (now that you look at it, what flawed system we had in the 80s-90s was a paradise compared to the Socialist nightmare that we have right now), all under the banner of something that he called The Bolivarian Revolution.
I had no idea what a Revolution meant (I probably still don’t), as a kid I was more interested in my Vidya Gaems, Power Rangers, and cartoons; if you had told me all that stuff the same way he presented it I too would’ve believed it back then, I was eleven when he assumed the presidency. A cheerful hubbub that surrounded his victory is what I remember from those days.
Charisma, eloquence, a solid message that resonated with the masses—it all mixed up with the growing entropy of the bipartisan rule of AD and COPEI that had been going on for forty years following Perez Jimenez’s fall. Chavez’s victory was a consequence of these two center-left parties’ disasters, but this is something that the most diehard of what you could refer to as “Venezuelan political Boomers” will never admit; in any case, his efforts paid off, and was awarded the presidency as a result.
Little did we knew was that the remedy he offered would’ve end up being worse than the disease, much, much worse, but I do remember people being cautious and warning about it all when his rule started.
Me? I had other things in mind. We had just moved to Caracas, I had to finish sixth grade in a different school and seventh grade was around the corner (in a different school because that one only went up to sixth grade), add that to the heavy blow incurred by the news of my parents divorcing and everything else seemed secondary for that eleven year old me; your former school friends are gone, the places you loved to go are now inaccessible because you’re in a new city, new schools, new everything, thank God I had video games at least.
However, aside from that very unstable time in my youth I do remember the first years of the Revolution as relatively normal—healthy if you will. Disputes between the brand new government and the now jumbled mess of an opposition continued as Chavez kept going with his plans for a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the constitution and bring forth the Fifth Venezuelan Republic. I still have some of the cringeworthy jingles they used for the political campaigns burnt in my mind (Looking at you, Juan Barreto).
Boldly quoting Simon Bolivar’s “If Nature is opposed, we will fight her and make her obey us.” as his brand new constitution (along with the nation’s new name) was approved got him some karma, this crucial turning point in our history was obfuscated by the Vargas Tragedy. If anything, this is the last time I remember my country truly being united for a common cause.
After a few weeks had passed since those tragic incidents the political turmoil once again began to be the primary concern of everyone. “Cacerolazos” became a thing once more, for those that aren’t familiar with the term it’s a form of protest that consists on banging pots, pans, and other kitchen utensils. This was so outlandish but kinda fun for me, ask a twelve year old kid to make some noise and he definitely won’t refuse.
By mid-2000 the Fifth Venezuelan Republic had renewed all positions of power in an event called “The Mega-Elections”, one that was not without its fair share of controversy—I remember having missed quite a few school days as a result, not like I was upset about that, I was never comfortable in that school, I abhorred it; but for a time all was relatively well, things continued to work as before as the changes settled in and I was more acclimated to Caracas and my new reality.
The opposition and its supporters had been contemptuously called “Escualidos” by Chavez, a term he so eloquently coined, but even so it was harmless at the time; hell, you could even buy merchandise that carried it on as a joke but with pride; had meme magic been a thing back then it could have very well backfired for Chavez and his Fifth Republic Movement.
Today, that term is akin to a brand that excludes you from working in the public sector, one that hinders or limits your ability to access things that are well within your rights as a citizen whose only crime is to have a different political opinion than that of the government, that was the ultimate goal of it I guess.
By 2001 what little honeymoon period remained was over. New republic: check, New National Assembly: Check, New Powers: Check. It was time to shift things into overdrive; the abuses of power began, which were responded with growing protests, marches, and “revolutionary countermarches”, Cacerolazos became more often as time went on, by the time I was thirteen this was all normal for me, long gone was that peaceful and more normal life that I had in Maracaibo before this whole Revolution began.
Like many parents at the time, my mom wouldn’t send me to school on particular days because a march or protest was scheduled to happen nearby or somewhere along the way, the safety of children was and will always be more important than a missed day at school, it’s simple as that. All of those protests, strikes, and turmoils were but preludes or exercises of what would eventually become part of our normal lives as time went on.
Back then you’d say “look out, there’s gonna be a protest tomorrow!” and you’d be cautious and rightfully concerned. Today? If someone tells you “there’s gonna be a protest tomorrow” you just go “meh”.
These left and center-left fellas had gathered for a live tarot reading show, it’s like a bizarre prequel origin story.
One them needs no introduction, the other finally realized his dream of becoming the Prosecutor General of Venezuela. The woman? She’s the First Combatant (We don’t say First Lady here, that’s a Capitalist thing)
The other two? Both used to be mayors and big opposition leaders, one is neutralized on house arrest, the other guy is now so irrelevant that I have no motivation to check what is he up to these days.
I had two minor feet surgery on both my big toes between July and the end of August 2001, as a result I missed the start of 9th grade, we moved to a new place while I was recovering, once again, thank God I had video games with me.
On an unrelated note, being semi bed-ridden during those days is how I got to witness the events of 9/11 live on tv on this very same room that I’m writing this post at.
2002-2005: The start of the new normal
2002 was a very heated year, and a turning point for political aggressions in Venezuela.
I started my 9th grade late on a new school, one of the only two schools that I hold dear memories of, sadly it closed down years ago. I still couldn’t wear closed shoes nor engage in P.E. classes due to my surgery, it was hard for me to catch up in Math, Physics, and Chemistry classes because I was months behind, but I somehow managed to pull through.
The first three months were more of the same, protests here and there, marches, political rallies, but even as a naïve teenager I started to notice the growing divide and aggressive stances of the adults when it came to the Chavismo and opposition strife.
After a series of events and decisions (the firing of high rank oil workers, last minute sudden law enactments, among others), people had enough of this. A series of protests and a national strike began on April 2012 which ended up on a failed coup attempt on Chavez that got him off power for only ~72 hours, all that shitstorm got me a weeklong vacation from school.
The first major escalation of this ongoing conflict that amounted to nothing, the status quo went back to square one, mourn those who were murdered in the protests, and move on.
Tensions remained at an all high after that failed coup, the country was even more polarized as a consequence, even my teachers started to imprint their political opinion on regular classes out of the blue, something that we often exploited, let’s take for example, my Castilian and Literature teacher in 9th grade.
For the sake of keeping her privacy let’s call her “Mrs. E.” now, she was a great teacher, she definitely knew her stuff, it’s just that she was outright boring when it came to executing her class in an engaging manner. Mrs. E was very, very strong in her pro-government stance, like, absolutely passionate about the whole Revolution thing, sometimes I wonder if she still believes in this disaster or not, of if she fled the country already.
By having the usual suspects (not me, I swear) throw a bait or two at her before she started delving into the class’ subject, we’d ensure that she’d go on and on about the Revolution and how wonderful it was, how evil the Opposition’s plans were, America this, Yankee go home, blah, blah, blah. By the time she was finished with her long monologue ~70 of the 90 mins of class had elapsed, discussion of Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” would have to wait for next week—just according to keikaku (translator’s note: keikaku means plan).
If she had channelled that passion into her class then perhaps we would’ve been more interested in it.
This phenomena could be replicated in a myriad of scenarios and you’d get the same results, not just with teachers; the taxi driver taking you home? Oh boy you better not fall for his bait about the government being either good or bad—better talk about something else unless your opinions aligned, but in a country so divided it’s still like flipping a coin.
Now that I look at it, that innocent and collective teenage student plan was proof that the so called Bolivarian Revolution had started to change society for the worse…
I went onto different schools for the last two years of my high school due to reasons beyond my control, but by the end of 2002 the country as a whole was paralyzed by a national strike that ultimately also amounted to nothing, both the government and the opposition went into negotiations with Jimmy Carter as one of the intermediates, once again, keeping the status quo in check.
The remainder of 2003 and entirely of 2004 are a bit of a blur for me when it comes to the Venezuelan political panorama and the whole Chavismo and Opposition conflict, I had to be the new kid in school not once, but twice in a row before I finished high school, also throw in some teenage angst here and there for good measure because yeah. Once again, thank God I had video games with me—My beloved Jedi Outcast, Jedi Academy, and Ragnarok Online to be more specific.
But during those years Chavez consolidated his power both internally and externally, with a bunch of social programs (called “Missions”) establishing tighter foreign alliances with Cuba, and funding allied regimes and organizations through the region with our money.
2005 was the now normal but same old tale, protests, skirmishes, more marches more countermarches, more mandatory broadcasts, I was more concerned with adjusting to my new college life in all honesty, never been that much of a political person I just wanted to play my video games. The opposition failed to oust Chavez in 2004’s recall referendum and then bailed on the 2005 legislative elections, giving the government full reign (as if they didn’t had enough before).
2006-2007: The Socialism Bait and switch
And this is when the dreaded word came into play: Socialism.
For his reelection Chavez presented a new program, the brand new, and totally original XXI Century Socialism™, the next step in his Bolivarian Revolution. Yes, you heard it right, Socialism—but don’t worry, this specific, 100% pure distilled brand of Socialism is new and has never ever been tried!
The man that almost a decade ago had said that he only needed one presidential term (before the constitution was rewritten to allow a re-election), that same man that once called Cuba a dictatorship at the start of his political career because it helped his numbers was now taking a page of Castro’s book and using words like “US Imperialism” openly on his speeches.
As usual, the opposition failed to produce a leader figure that could oppose him, they’ve become exceedingly good at failing, it’s their specialty now; meanwhile, the government had played their cards through the years following the failed coup attempt, and lo and behold, Chavez was re-elected President.
Bolstered by this important victory, he started to enact a sort of revenge campaign against his most notorious adversaries. With the ability to technically close the biggest and most opposing TV channel now in his hands he didn’t hesitate to play that card, announcing it months in advance—December 2006 to be more precise.
2007 was almost a repeat of 2002, the imminent closure of RCTV and Chavez’s announcement of a large constitutional reform to rewrite crucial parts of the very constitution he had introduced less than a decade ago in order to cement socialist elements right into it gave way for massive protests.
Around the end of April 2007 I had nasal surgery to correct my deviated septum which came bundled with a nosocomial infection that almost killed me, by the time I was fully recovered from it RCTV had been closed down on May 2007. College during this time was as tumultuous as it could get, protests almost every day of the week, some were really violent.
What was once playful and innocent political discourse through high school was now a serious and often unavoidable subject among college chatter; pick a side and be ostracized by the other, chose neither, and risk being ostracized by all; in any case I was more interested in just doing my college assignments, going back home to my video games, anime, and tokusatsu—all those constant high school changes made it difficult for me when it comes to socialize, even to this day.
This is the year that saw the rise of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, key sectors got nationalized or expropriated, putting them in the hands of workers—we know how that ended up working out.
Ultimately, his attempt to rewrite the constitution failed by a very narrow margin, you can tell he was pissed off at the results because he told the opposition to enjoy their “Shitty victory”, not like it mattered to him because he found other ways to implement his Socialist policies through laws and enactments.
2008-2010: The Socialist darling years
There I was, I had made it all the way to my twentieth birthday, ten of which had been spent amidst this Revolutionary shitstorm, and like many times before, the status quo was returning to a relative sense of normalcy, the economy was stable-ish despite the growing controls and nationalizations courtesy of the massive oil bonanza. The government sure loved to denounce Bush and the Evil US’s middle-east antics but daddy USA was making the government rich beyond their wildest dreams.
“Stupid Imperialist America…it’s not like I like you or anything!” -The Tsundere Venezuelan Government.
We even got a new currency to boot that as of the time of this writing has less than a week left before it gets replaced due to hyperinflation.
Venezuela was now the socialist darling, at last, the global left had something to show with pride to those damned right wing evildoers. You could no longer have a normal day at college without having someone parrot Marx, Che, Lenin, Castro, Gramsci, et al when all I had in mind was trying to remember what the hell is a Hypothetical syllogism.
I remember people like Noam Chomsky, Eduardo Galeano, Michael Moore, Sean Penn, and others praising the wonders of this new Venezuelan XXI Century Socialism, all of them more pretentious than me.
Sean Penn is a particular case, that’s one I saw live on tv when he visited this wonderful Socialist country, I haven’t forgotten how he said he taught his children about Socialism at such an early age—yes, I’m sure he did, on his large American mansion.
Oliver Stone and Danny Glover got some of them sweet Socialist paychecks, Stone ended up making a documentary, and Danny Glover went onto stealing millions for a movie he never wrote a single line of the script. If you’re reading this, please tell Danny Glover that I want him to return all the millions he stole from us, we have sick people that could use it for their treatments, you know.
Even Naomi Campbell came to visit my man Hugo, he gave her the D for sure, you just know.
I was more concerned with passing my college courses, having a crush or two, and hanging with the boys, the usual teenage stuff, this is perhaps, the one period of time were people could catch a break from the political shitstorm that had been going for almost a decade now, a respite at last.
One of Chavez’s goals in his failed attempt to reform the constitution was to remove the two-term presidential limit, something he went onto doing through an amendment in 2009. Despite all that, everything sort of worked with relative normalcy.
2010-2012: End of the Chavez era
I graduated from college at the turn of the decade, had a brand new job, everything was alright and everyone kept going with their lives.
Venezuela was still the Socialist darling but the cracks in the system began to pop; this is, as far as I can tell, the point when our lives began to change for the worst, when shortages began—first sporadically and out of the blue—today part of our normal life. The government carried out as usual, giving out virtually free oil to neighbor countries in exchange for their eternal loyalty, power-trading key seats on international organizations, yadda yadda.
After Chavez announced to the world that he had cancer in mid-2011 the government became less aggressive in their narrative, I suppose that Chavez got a lesson in humility, a reminder that we all have to face death eventually, cancer is a thing that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, not after I’ve lost three people to it.
His health was the main subject of conversation for everyone everywhere at any given time, Social Media was ripe with “rumors” and unconfirmed hearsay, the government had neglected Social Media up until that point, and thus began to invest resources on it, once again, the brief “normalcy” if you could call it that way was gone.
For the 2012 elections Chavez proposed a “Program of the Fatherland”, a set of guidelines for the Revolution’s 2013-2019 period, it has the word socialism right in the cover and on the preface; it was praised by Marxists websites at the time, lefties in the region and across the globe adored it, the Ten Commandments themselves couldn’t even possibly hope to compete against the guidelines written therein.
Once again, Chavez won against the opposition’s candidate, surprising no one, what people seem to forget is that the election date was pushed ahead of schedule because of Chavez’s own health, not like it matters now.
2013-Present: Komm, süßer Tod
Chavez died, people cried.
We know the rest of the tale, Maduro rose to power, more protests, more deaths, more controls in the economy, more expropriations, hyperinflation, shortages of all kinds, more media and internet censorships, the complete collapse of the nation. The now Supreme and Eternal Commander of the Revolution’s program gets faithfully executed (the whole Fatherland Program became an actual law) and Venezuela is conveniently “Not real Socialism” anymore because of course.
And thus here we are, some of us now approaching or already having crossed the 30 year old threshold, we’ve had the “privilege” of seeing and experiencing the birth of one of the most disastrous stories in modern Earth history; we’ve been there from the beginning of it all, having been witness to how everything changed for the worse as Chavez’s Revolution continued to cement its control on the nation.
I still have some faint memories of how things were before all of this and the stories told by my mother and grandmother; what deeply saddens me is that there’s people younger than me that have not known nothing of the past, of how things are meant to be in any regular country.
This regime and its perpetual Revolution is all they’ve known—some of whom have been born in the unfortunate role of being but a pawn of their system of dependence, exactly as the regime envisioned it, growing up as nothing but disposable pawns, just as they want it.
“…It’s not like we are gonna take the people out of poverty so they become middle class and then turn into escuálidos…” -Actual recorded quote from a government figure.
Children are right now growing up in an environment where bread lines are normal, where you can only purchase regulated items on specific days according to your ID card number, where “Bachaqueros” contraband dealers are normal, where having millions in your bank account means nothing because they’re worthless, with marches of mandatory attendance unless you want to lose your job or benefits, a place where you now need to get your “ID of the Fatherland” in order to get access to the government’s “benefits”, a modern take on Chile and Cuba’s ration cards, except ours has fancy colors and a QR code.
It happened to Cuba, it happened to North Korea, it happened to the Soviet Union, and to so many other countries, all with their own particular twists and perks—and now it’s happening to us.
I’m definitely sure that the upcoming twentieth anniversary of the Bolivarian Revolution’s ascension to power in February 02, 2019 will be celebrated by the government like the start of something beautiful, with massive fanfare, a glorious and joyous celebration amidst a more crumbled Venezuela that will instead be celebrating the fact that they’ve seen the back of another black day.