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Open letter to Laureano’s god

Dear and allegedly divine entity,

Your recent open letter to Nicolás Maduro took my virtual life by storm on the morning of January 23rd. It was published on numerous digital media, dozens of my friends and relatives posted it on their Facebook timelines, a bunch of people sent it to me via WhatsApp, and it all but flooded that precarious substitute of the Venezuelan free press we call Twitter.

Today, I sit down to write these lines to you—instead of finishing up an article on certain childhood remembrances of the Venezuelan hinterland I’ve been working on for a while—because your words truly resonated with some of my most tormented reflections about the sad fate of our country (by “ours” I don’t necessarily mean yours, naturally). I don’t have much to say in regards to the pertinence of the message your warm letter seeks to covey to Mr. Maduro (a.k.a. “a historical error,” Nicmer Evans dixit). It seems to me quite obvious that neither you nor any other real or imagined deity will provide anything that could rescue Maduro from his political labyrinth or deliver us, Venezuelans, from the dark days that await us. I concur with your words on this unreservedly. What I found distressing about your letter was the hyperbolic tone of the line of reasoning through which you attempt to show Maduro how much has already been divinely provided to Venezuela. I ask that you don’t take these words as agnostic. Indeed, faith rules over an imprecise but nevertheless important province of my soul. This, I admit to without shame. It is precisely because of the influence on my reason of such indeterminate faith—which compels me to consider the essential injustice of any suggestions that there could be among us a community of divinely chosen individuals—that I allow myself to openly disagree with the proposition that there are (or at some point in the past were) any deific hopes about Venezuela’s future, as you lament towards the end of your letter.

Your characterization of Venezuela as one of the most sublime works of divine creation makes me cringe. Not because you say it, however.  At the end of the day, I am not sure about whether or not you are just a literary fiction on Laureano’s part. What horrifies me about such senseless proposition is the fact—confirmed by the truly vigorous circulation of your letter—of how many of us consider it truthful. I am inclined to say that your words are almost as reckless as those by the late Hugo Chávez, a formidable prestidigitator whose trickeries always catered to his audience’s most irrational fears, convictions, and aspirations. In defense of your proposition, you offer Maduro a brief sketch of Venezuela’s geography: its rivers and beaches this, its snow-capped peaks and savannahs that. One has got to appreciate the irony that the substance of your purportedly heavenly argument should directly point to the soil—that is, to the million or so square kilometers of land under Venezuelan political sovereignty. In your letter, you make reference to the supposed fertility of virtually all of Venezuela’s territory, to the largest oil reserves on the planet, to gold, to aluminum, to bauxite, to diamonds, and to “so many other things.” It astonishes me that in order to call Maduro’s attention on the catastrophic consequences of the economic and political model he is accidentally destined to dismantle, you should resort to the very idiosyncratic shortcoming to which our lamentable situation is owed. I am referring to the preposterous belief—so deeply entrenched in our collective political conscience—that we have a right to sustained economic welfare as a result of the supposed (and supposedly providential) mineral richness of our soil.  In other words, that we have a right to something in exchange for nothing, simply because of an inexplicable act of generosity on your part. 

I don’t want to take issue with the geological basis of your argument, which in all honesty could not withstand the slightest degree of scrutiny. Passing consideration of the economic prosperity of The Netherlands—a significant portion of whose small and densely populated territory has been literally stolen from the North Sea—should make this crystal clear. I want to focus instead on the ethical essence of your proposition and reject it most emphatically. No, Sir (capitalized, just in case). Your alleged munificence gives us no right whatsoever to any degree of welfare. Do not suggest that, by your grace, we have become beneficiaries to a right to receive without giving. It is not fair that the powerful should continue to trick us into partaking in such ethical imposture—as the regime astutely does, as leaders of the opposition feel obligated to do, and as now you turn out to want to do as well. It is not fair because it prolongs the political embargo on what each and one of us truly has a right to—that is, to the individual and responsible management of our own lives, whether to let ourselves go with the inertia of things (“destiny,” as some call it) or to stubbornly resist it.  Turned into discourse, that falsehood has made it politically feasible for the militaristic, kleptocratic regime of Chávez and Maduro to hijack every institution of the Venezuelan state—to the colossal and almost exclusive economic profit of its nomenclature.   

Let us not fool ourselves, Sir. Something terrible has happened to us. And somehow, the explicit and tacit rules of our national coexistence have allowed it. We don’t owe you the explanation of how a prolonged oil bonanza has resulted in ruin rather than prosperity. We owe it to ourselves. Your efforts to stupefy us with clichés are not helpful. The richest soil, the most fertile lands, the most paradisiacal beaches, the most beautiful women, the happiest and most generous people, the extraordinary biodiversity, the miraculous convergence of every climate on earth, the example of Caracas and the glorious army that liberated all of America… all that nonsense. Surrendering to chauvinistic hallucinations will not help us get out of this mess. To care deeply for Venezuela, to be aggrieved by its fate, it is not necessary to believe that it leads in anything—and, least of all, that it does so by providential design. I care deeply for Venezuela and pain for its fate—perhaps more intensely than ever in the terrible certitude of our spectacular failure. 

Unlike Laureano, I am nobody—nobody famous, I mean. I am just a historian, academic researcher, and university instructor trying to pursue a modest life-plan that seemed unviable in my country of birth: Venezuela, that is, which I left fifteen interminable years ago. Up rootedness and the turn of events have forced me to face the absurdity of bombastic, nationalistic utterances—mine or anyone else’s. But that has hardly eroded my love for Venezuela: quite the opposite. It is wonderful to allow yourself to wholly embrace a cause without feeling urged to portray it as extraordinary. 

I have no way of delivering this letter to you or to Laureano. Perhaps a reader will be kind enough to help me on this. But that would surprise me—I confess—because I am afraid this letter will be read with much less sympathy and retransmitted with considerably less enthusiasm than yours.

Truly yours, anyhow.

Michel Otayek.

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