Original title in Spanish «Viajando a través del tiempo», from my book «Despertares»
Sorry, I don’t know how to refer to you, as a reader or a traveler. Anyway, before we get started, I have a couple of announcements to make: This ship will be moving at breakneck speeds; it will move in space and time; and this vehicle is not equipped with emergency doors. So, fasten your seat belts and here we go…
In the middle of a brave sea on October 12, 1492, where everything is chaos and despair; a rebellion is about to break out. Rodrigo de Triana remains disgustedly observing the infinite sea. Suddenly! Something in the distance caught his attention and from his guts he yelled furiously:
—Eaaarth…! —That scream saved the life of the captain of the expedition, who was about to be lynched.
—Ooh! —cried Cristóbal Colón, as his feet landed on solid ground.
I couldn’t tell if such a reaction was due to the observed beauty or to value the breath of life. At the edge of the sand she nailed his flag and knelt down to kiss the ground that gave her a home. That was an adventure recorded in history. Two months and nine days of sailing passed without a port in sight, at the limit of pessimism and on the verge of losing all hope. The rough swing to which they were subjected had reached the end of it and with it the nightmare of perishing in the middle of the infinite blue ended. Newcomers and residents alike were dumbfounded as they looked at one another. To the locals, the outsiders were peculiar looking and seemed to come from another world. For foreigners it was a surprise to look at those half-naked bodies.
The exhausted explorers had no idea where they had arrived. Between the natives and the foreigners, disagreements prevailed more than encounters. You could hear and even guess what the Europeans were talking about:
—Those females are like Eva in paradise —while they looked at them morbidly.
And about the males, they referred with contempt:
—»Those guys with those loincloths look like beasts.» We will have to bring slaves from Africa to farm these lands and exploit their riches for the crown.
People say that nothing is forever. The natives soon grew tired of caste rule, of the humiliation and extermination to which they were subjected. The roar of freedom awoke from the voices of the early martyrs. From the first independence movement of the conspiracy of Gual and España, the seed of freedom arose. These revolts spawned great leaders such as: Simón Bolívar, Francisco de Miranda, Antonio José de Sucre, José Antonio Páez, Francisco de Paula Santander, José Gervasio Artigas, José de San Martín, among other great leaders of the region.
Independence was achieved at the high cost of rivers of blood. The price of this feat is imponderable. Fierce, hand-to-hand battles raged for two decades. Entire towns were razed to the ground or displaced, as happened with the milestone of the Paso de Los Andes: an epic exodus. Chilling barbarities, invasions, stampedes, victories, defeats and a balance of some two hundred thousand dead; some fallen in combat, others tormented by hunger, cold and the consequent diseases.
With Bolívar, the dream of creating a great independent nation in South America «La Gran Colombia» germinated and died. This project ended up turned into a chimera, sunk by the pettiness of power. That ideal collapsed, giving way to five independent countries. In this journey we will continue along the roads from the nascent Venezuela.
The disillusionment and fatigue of residents, ex-combatants and even leaders arose. After so much sacrifice, blood and tears shed; many wondered. Was freedom worth it? Was the town ready to assume responsibilities?
Chaos reigned in the nascent Venezuela. In 1830 José Antonio Páez took the helm; to whom it corresponded to put the order and start the republican history. Páez became the new “Master of the Valley”, after banishing Bolívar. Some years of domestic wars went by promoted by shirtless rioters everywhere, with the intention of taking over the nation.
Traveling, on the route of time, we stumbled upon Guzmán Blanco. This referent character, distinguished by his Frenchified style and Enlightened autocrat, came with the intention of modernizing the country. He kept the government under his direct control for almost fourteen years and for an additional six years through puppet administrations, while he lived the good life in Paris. The architectural trail of this enlightened ruler still prevails in the center of Caracas.
The era of «los gochos» has arrived. From the Andean region, they settled in power for a long time. Between 1908 and 1935, Juan Vicente Gómez governed and swept away warlordism, which generated anarchy and instability. He chased each boss one by one until he defeated them. The transition, after his death, was led by Generals Eleazar López Contreras and Isaías Medina Angarita. In Caracas and Maracay airs of progress were breathed, people dressed elegantly. The few vehicles of the moment mixed with the carriages drawn by elegant horses.
Great advances awaited the country, politically, socially and economically. The relief of these promising leaders looked safe, in the hands of Diogenes Escalante. This character was an outstanding diplomat, who had high prestige in all national sectors. He was the consensus man to replace Medina. It was brought to him from Washington, where he was serving as ambassador of Venezuela to occupy the presidency of the nation. The issue of succession in government was already ready; but on September 3, 1945, Escalante did not show up for an appointment with President Medina Angarita, because he went crazy. Ramón José Velásquez, President Medina’s secretary, went looking for him at the Ávila hotel where he was staying but found him speaking incoherently.
This time traveler dares to infer that the country also went unwise after this event. The following facts occurred: the coup d’état of 1945, the “Acción Democrática” triennium presided over by Rómulo Betancourt, the very brief democratic period of Rómulo Gallegos, the assassination of Carlos Delgado Chalbaud and then the dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jimenez, which fell on January 23 from 1958.
In 1958 the transitional government of Wolfgang Larrazábal gave way to the democratic era with a more seasoned Rómulo Betancourt in the political arena setting the course. This period lasted forty uninterrupted years, from 1958 to 1998. In these four decades is the most outstanding period of this journey; in which, this land, reached its maximum growth and well-being. The illusion was created that the country had achieved democratic maturity and that dictatorships had been overcome. “gross mistake”, which was revealed with the passing of this trip…
On this tour I came across the work of Francisco Herrera Luque, who described, in one of his books, «The four kings of the deck»: in the figures of Páez, Guzmán, Gómez and Betancourt. With this representation, the writer and psychiatrist defined the most influential characters in the Republican era. The milestones marked by each of them testify to their footprints.
The journey from the 1950s to the 1980s is one of economic, social, cultural and infrastructure development. Large constructions and energetic advances in education, health and welfare. Reading the newspaper headlines of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s is to recall excellent news for the country. The discoveries of immense oil deposits were announced, and the construction of major works such as the Gurí dam, the bridge over Lake Maracaibo. Zulia state had a galloping evolution; in the south there was a gigantic mining, industrial and electricity generating complex capable of covering seventy percent of the national demand. In the capital city, complex road networks were developed, the subway, the octopus, the spider, the centipede (these are the names of the tangled superhighways of the metropolis).
Without a doubt, the eyes of all of Latin America were fixed on the frenzy of Venezuela’s progress. In the 1960s, communism threatened to spread from Cuba to all of Latin America. On May 8, 1967, Fidel Castro’s troops stormed into Machurucuto (beaches in eastern Venezuela) and were defeated by the Venezuelan army. The attempts to penetrate that ideology continued in various ways and in the shadows.
Till this point, this walk has an advantageous balance. Until a milestone of bad omen appears in the walk: the black Friday of February 13, 1983. With the sudden devaluation of the Bolívar; the once robust local currency begins the economic, moral, and political decline of this land. Long faces appear in crowds. The atmosphere became rarefied, people complained about the loss of quality of life. Would the trips to Miami, Spain, Portugal and Italy end? The howls of the charlatans and those who think they read the future: the prophets of disaster were heard. The scene was occupied by the cars nominated «Notable» who, with their analysis, caused an avalanche of frustrations in the public.
The circumstances were propitious, to start the era of the debacle. The avenging plainsman, the champion of justice, the opportunist “caza güire” made his debut: ladies and gentlemen, Hugo Chávez appeared. He debuted on the scene with a coup and then came to be considered a victim. The innocent people believed that it could not be worse and that with him we would have our endogenous Robin Hood. The nation still had immense material and intellectual reserves to get ahead, but the temptation of the shortcut tipped the balance towards the irrational.
This «Tropical Quixote» arrived in the electoral campaign offering to fry heads and announcing the destruction of corruption and the corrupt in the best positioned nation in Latin America. What he achieved was a catastrophe and his legacy is in sight. Here they say that he was like Covid 19 and his successor the new strain of this plague that has hit these lands. The Castro brothers rubbed their hands together. They were reaching the goal they had set with the assault on the coast of Machurucuto in 1967. This time they entered through the front door, without firing a shot, with a red carpet included and with projections to jump to the other side of the Atlantic. The communist project could become an intercontinental franchise.
We have traveled through this wild and sullied land, with its exuberant geography, full of happy, friendly, egalitarian and resilient people. We have seen a candid people move from the colony to freedom, from the village to the cosmopolitan, from abundance to misery, from hospitality to the terrified exodus, from joy to despair and death. What does the future hold?…
From that territory of talkative people only residents with ragged suits, walking slowly and with lost eyes on an uncertain horizon remain. Grief and indolence settle, like an imaginary cloud, over the heads of the citizens.
What a calamity! In this once abundant and generous territory for locals and strangers, today some perish on the escape routes. Crowds fleeing light luggage, leaving the soles of their shoes on foreign asphalt and planting their hearts in the land that gave them shelter.
How painful! Many of our people have had to experience Bolívar’s martyrdom: to die banned from his homeland, his loves and his customs. The OAS warns that the number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants could rise to 7 million in 2021, and by the end of August the figure rose to more than 6 million. And the trend does not seem to reverse in the short term.
You, dear reader, who have accompanied me on this fleeting journey; You will agree that at this point in the journey you see a country sailing aimlessly and desperately, while longing for a new Rodrigo de Triana who cries out for a port in sight and for a renewed Columbus who puts his feet on stable ground and kisses it with relief. The boat is, as at the beginning of the journey, right in the middle of who knows where and on the verge of collapse of its crew. By the way if I were the captain of this drifting ship I would be terrified of my fate. We have traveled, through this account, nearly 600 years and more than 5,000 miles; hoping to discover the deep traces of suffering of a people. And wishing that for some time, the hateful adage «no one learns in someone else’s head» is not fulfilled.
Cosme G Rojas Díaz
Tomado de mi libro escrito en español “Despertares»