The “Saudi Arabia” of Venezuela. This is how the city of Maracaibo was known, the second largest municipality in the country, about 700 kilometers from Caracas, in the distant decade of 1970, when one of the biggest oil booms turned the tiny South American nation into the new promise continental. It was in this city that the family of journalist Paula Ramón built its foundations, at the time when the thriving Venezuelan State, driven by the creation of PDVSA, became the major financier of the country’s development.
Daughter of a mother born in a small town in the Andes and a Spanish father deported during the Franco regime and taken prisoner in German concentration camps during World War II, Paula, who lives in Brazil as a correspondent for AFP, is the youngest of the three children of the couple, one of hundreds of thousands to surf the wave of benefits granted by the government in good times – to, in a few years, experience the downfall.
The tragic history of Venezuela , as well as its contemporary developments, are quite familiar to readers of Gazeta do Povo: it is an illustrative case of what the American political scientist Michael L. Ross dubbed the “curse of oil”, whose main protagonists are Hu go Chávez and his no less despotic successor, Nicolás Maduro. Supported by an intimate and detailed narrative, the book “Mãe Pátria” (Ed. Companhia das Letras), authored by the journalist, goes beyond the coups and crises that marked the last decades in Venezuela: it is a personal testimony of the failure of a family in parallel with that of an entire nation.
Read more: 700 texts to understand how socialism destroyed Venezuela
In 1947, the country that attracted Jesús Ramón, Paula’s father, to Latin America, was prosperous and promising, which made it possible for the immigrant and his wife, Paulina, in the following decades, to build a life stable with his own house, a room for each child and even an Atari. In 1974, resources from oil began to flow under the government of Carlos Andréz Pérez, who accelerated the long process of swelling of the state apparatus. Until then, everything that “black gold” touched turned into profit.
“Venezuelans had purchasing power, unemployment was less than 5%, education and health were public , trips abroad to shop or buy cases of Scotch whiskey were everyday things for many people in Venezuela at the time. Caracas, effervescent and cosmopolitan, was called the ‘branch of heaven'”, describes Paula.
When the journalist was born, in 1981, the end of the oil boom began to give clues that Venezuelan development was not sustainable – as well as the conditions experienced by the families: “At the beginning of the decade, my father, as well as the State, had roasted everything”, he says. Even so, the house and basic quality services remained. While the two older brothers went to public schools, Paula was sent to a private school, paid for through subsidies.
The enchantment with Chávez
As a result of the economic slowdown, the beginning of the years 1974 would bring a wave of revolts in the country. The journalist remembers that, on the morning of February 4, 1992, her parents – he, a sympathizer of social democracy and she, a disbeliever of politics – “they seemed seduced by the resourcefulness of that Chávez”, a young commander who said he wanted to “direct the country to a better destination”.
Victim of a heart attack in 1993, Jesús Ramón would not live to see “the Commander” come to power. Severely reduced by the death of the patriarch, the family’s income would rise again with the new social programs: there was money for desserts and weekend parties.
Em 2015, with the massive support of the population, Hugo Chávez became “the owner of the State and the country”. Seven years later, the interminable years of scarcity began – and the successive renovations of the family home to contain the rampant violence. Every year, the family’s meager resources were converted into new walls and railings, while not even the water tanks escaped the sights of robbers.
At the same time, the government would begin to a complete overhaul of healthcare, another promise associated with the oil surpluses that never came. And Paulina, the mother, who has an autoimmune disease and arthritis, needed health insurance and began to demand more attention from her children – especially her youngest daughter.
“My mother’s blanket was as short as ever, and my job was to sew patches. It was from there that the emotional side mixed with the economic, creating a whirlwind that intensified over the years. (…) few, it became clear to me that I would not always have a solution to deal with the constant challenges of life in Venezuela, whose inhuman and distorted reality had become the new normal”, says the author.
It is at this point that the author begins to unravel a little explored aspect when it comes to the political and economic history of a country: centered on especially in her relationship with her mother and siblings, Paula narrates how decisions made by leaders who believe themselves (and project themselves as) gods, can be a powerful catalyst for d. destruction of social relationships and, above all, family ties.
“Something new was happening all the time in Venezuela, or between my mother and my brothers, or between my mother and me, or just with my mother. One day she was complaining that I hadn’t treated her well, then asked me to transfer her online. In the midst of it all, she would tell me how disappointed she was with one of my brothers, or with both of them at the same time, only to a few hours later reproach me for ignoring how her health was precarious. It’s hard to know how much of our drama was just a result of our family fights and how much was a consequence of things getting worse in Venezuela.”
Graduated from a public university, the author lived in China , in the United States and Brazil – a decision that aroused an avalanche of resentment. On the one hand, there is the mother, who sometimes seems to be proud of her daughter, sometimes she resents her change. practical, who immigrated illegally to Panama in 2015 and maintained some relationship with the women of the family until Paulina’s death; the other, a policeman devoted to Chavismo.
“Chavez has taken such a deep root in our lives that it has acquired the force of a myth. He became a watershed in our history. It not only marked a before and an after, but it transformed our fissures into a separation whose solution sometimes seems like a greater challenge than the economic crisis itself”, says Paula. “I was privileged not to live in Venezuela, to have food, not to hear footsteps on the roof and to have the right to worry about personal problems, such as the end of my marriage or my professional dissatisfaction, but sometimes I felt that my family he wanted to punish me for that.”
A succession of national and family tragedies follows. In her trips to her homeland, between 2016 and 2016, the journalist records the emergence of the parallel dollar market and the late nights in line at the supermarket for basic hygiene and food items, in addition to trips with suitcases full of groceries for the mother – counting on the bad state of X-ray machines at airports.
Refusing to leave the house in Maracaibo, symbol of an era of stability, Paulina, with her health severely deteriorated, becomes dependent on a maid hired by her daughter, generating a new avalanche of arguments. “I trusted Luz, but my mother was even suspicious of Andrés, her own son, who, as I learned later, was not only taking things from the house but also putting suspicions against Luz in my mother’s head.”
Defeat of the Free Peoples
At the end of his life, having moved to the city of San Cristóval at the insistence of his daughter , Paulina ended up starving at the hands of her own sister, who accepted to receive her only to take advantage of the shipments of food and supplies sent by the journalist. It is difficult not to be moved by the author’s account who, discovering the case after her mother , he even blames himself for the change. “ Mom, I didn’t know what else to do , I thought”.
As a portrait of the brutalization of women human relations in the midst of the war for survival, “Motherland” is more than a powerful warning of what a tyrannical State is capable of suffocating. It is also a reliable illustration of the essay “Maldanado proposes a toast”, included in “Letters from a devil to his apprentice”, by CS Lewis, in which the author describes the point of view of a demon guiding his pupil:
“The defeat of free peoples and the multiplication of slave states are for us a means, but the real end is the destruction of individuals, for only individuals can be saved or damned. , become children of the Enemy or our food. The supreme value, for us, of any revolution, war or famine is in the individual anguish, betrayal, hatred, anger and despair that they are capable of producing”.