The Revolution Inside

From Latin American Odyssey, to a profound investigation of the Bolivarian revolution. Hugo Chavez says: Socialism or Death! Leftists rejoice, and Capitalists squeal. But what do the people of Venezuela think about all of this?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

I Just Have To Tell You This One Thing

I´m in San Cristobal, Venezuela, about an hour from the Colombian border. Alexander and I are here because I had this amazing idea that I would use some of the grant money to pay him to come with me to check out other areas of Venezuela. Fun and work at the same time... which reminds me of something I heard during this voyage: There´s play that is play, and work that is work. There´s play that is work, and work that is play, and in only one of these is the path to happiness.

We went to Valencia for a few days, and that was kind of like it was before, but with new people, and for a shorter time. We went to Barinas, a muggy agricultural center and drank too much before our interviews. And now we´re in San Cristobal, trying to find out what makes this different from other areas of Venezuela, con respecto a la revolution. And, I interviewed revolutionary city planners (yep, they exist!), and today, a local journalist to find out about why people keep getting killed here at the border.

That´s a little update. But what I wanted to tell you, we decided to head for the border, why not? It´s been months since I´ve been close to the border, I kind of miss the thrill. So we took a bus to San Antonio de Tachira, a lovely hour long bus ride. We got there, it was a sizeable border town, the kind of place that has everything except what you need: San Antonio tiene todo lo que no necesitas. So, I made a long phone call to Portland, and then we ate chicken that we didn´t like and decided to go back.

But what I forgot was that we were at a border town, and with the drug activity, immigration, and, the rarely mentioned gas smuggling (you see, gas is like $0.20 a gallon here - something interesting that needs to be mentioned in any analysis of Venezuela´s socialist revolution) - Colombian folks (who are not regarded highly in these parts) come over, buy cheap gas, and I assume, take it back and sell it. But that means there are a lot of Guardia Nacional people. And they check passports. And I´ve gotten used to not having mine with me, though I do carry a copy.

So, we all get off the bus, which is normal, but I realize I´m in a little bit of a bind not having my original passport. Shit, even if I did, it would be a problem, because I´ve overstayed my welcome here by about a month. That could be an annoying bug in my plans. The GN calls me over, and Alexander and I smile a lot, and GN tries to look mean, but he´s really not... and eventually, they let me go. Meanwhile, the camioneta (bus) I´m on has had to pull over to the side cuz I´m holding everything up. When we get back on, I apologize to everyone.

Alexander and I are sitting in the back seat where there´s usually a connected row of five seats... we had grabbed the window seats, and three amiable women were sitting between us, and had been chatting with us. They joked around about how I should carry my passport, and one mentioned how she lost hers one time in another country, and boy does it suck.

A little while later, we are stopped again, all quite normal, of course, and a GN gets on and asks for everyone´s cedulas (ID cards). And we all look at each other, "oh no..." He comes back and looks at everyone´s and I´m digging around again for my photocopy. While I`m doing that, he moves on, and ignores me. I start to wave my paper around, and they all hush me, and pretend to lean in front of me so that he won`t see me and come back. He gets off, and we leave, and sigh with relief, perhaps just as much so they don´t have to wait for me, as to prevent the hassle for me.

But think about this in the current context of immigration debate in the US, and the reality of Latin American immigrants in the US. How many of us would do the same thing for a Mexican guy sitting on the grayhound next to us? Playfully cover for him without his passport or expired visa anyway? Or even talk with him?


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