Living in the past

Prodavinci has a mammoth, ummissable profile of blogger-cum-hero Yoani Sánchez. Set aside half an hour and read the whole thing. It’s great stuff.

The money quote:

“When the topic turns to the Cuba that their son has been forced to grow up in, [Yoani and her partner] speak in a single voice: “Of course there are positive things, the problem is the cost to the citizen”, says Yoani, “what we call the colateral benefits”, adds Reinaldo. “Exactly”, she continues, “our son has a school, but you don’t want to know what he gets taught there. Besides, we have to go over the material with him because more than 60% of the classes are televised. Elementary school has a bit more personal attention, but by God, it’s not enough. And in the countryside it’s even worse. In my son’s school there is nobody willing to clean the bathrooms, because cleaning wages are a joke. Just so you have an idea: it’s about ten dollars a month. So the bathroom stinks, and of course, he doesn’t want to pee there during the eight hours he’s in school. But education is mandatory until the ninth grade, because the number one goal is statistics. It’s always statistics: in Cuba, when a hurricane comes through, probably a single person will die, and then the hurricane goes to the Yucatán and it kills fifty. So sure, there is a benefit. But, what’s behind that benefit? The militarization of society as a whole. When the hurricane strikes, they go on TV yelling “We are in a stage of alert”, and everyone has to leave their home, because if you don’t they come and get you and they drag you out. Perhaps I want to stay in my home and take care of my belongings, or die with the hurricane, but they don’t let me. Behind every statistical achievement there is authoritarianism, and the citizen is always handcuffed. It’s the same story with the low rates of infant mortality. What’s behind that? Well, there is a program for early pregnancy care, but there is always incredible pressure whenever there is the slightest suspicion that the fetus has a problem. Even the slightest. Perhaps in another country it would be born,” “but perhaps it would die in its first year, and that would affect the infant mortality rate”, says Reinaldo, completing her sentences. “In Cuba, that baby is not born”, says Yoani, “in those cases the woman has to abort. Every year this happens less and less, due to the low birth rate in the country. Cuba has an awful combination: less children are born, and you see fewer people out in the streets.” Reinaldo interrupts, “As Yani always says, we have first-world birth rates and third-world migration rates.” “That’s right,” says a satisfied Yoani. And Reinaldo asks with a wink, “see how I quote you correctly?”

The piece is not an original Prodavinci piece, but a reproduction from a Colombian magazine called El Malpensante, which looks amazing.

Now, reading through this magazine got me thinking: where are the top-level reportage magazines in Venezuela? Where can we read stories like these written by and about our own people?

When I was in Venezuela I came across an excellent magazine I had never seen before, El Desafío de la Historia. For history buffs like my father, it’s a treasure. While the writing is not my cup of tea, the magazine itself has a lot of content, much of it interesting, printed in glossy paper, put together very nicely.

I guess we don’t have good stuff like Colombia’s Malpensante, or Semana, but we have El Desafío de la Historia. Because if there is one thing we Venezuelans excel at, it’s in history – making it, telling it, and re-living it.

We may not have good reportage on Jueza Afiuni, but we have brilliant people writing excellent stories about El Centauro de los Llanos.

We are living in the past.

11 thoughts on “Living in the past

  1. There have been good political or general newsmagazines in Venezuela. Semana (confidencial), Resumen… Even Zeta was pretty good at times. El Nacional tried “Primicia”, which was very good, but it did not survived the 2002-2003 crisis. Bohemia, perhaps?

    I recall other experiments: “Tribuna” (a spinoff of the Spanish namesake publication, where I worked briefly as a cartoonist; it had serious distribution issues but the contents were mostly good -too much opinion for my taste, but they were mimicking the Spanish original-) and one edited by Fausto Maso during 1991-1993 (it came as a widesheet glossy, folded in four, which made it horrible to read and hold).

    Perhaps we have no Semana or Caretas, but we have something close to Pagina13 to fill that gap: QuintoDia, SextoPoder and, of course, the dailies.


  2. My comment is about Yoani’s statistics in Cuba comment.

    What she essentially says is that the goverment is so aware of the weight of statistics that wants at all costs to *produce good ones*.

    Well, a few years ago there was a scandal in Quebec. There had been a campaign to induce truckers to drive better and with lower loads. The campaign seemed to have worked since that year fewer trucks were found not to comply with the rules.

    A curious reporter investigated the statistics and found out that there had been a mandate given to the road police to “let go” some trucks that looked too heavy to *help* statistics….


  3. It’s much worse than that.

    Cuba does not take part in the PISA programme for very good reasons: there is quite some monitoring there and even if it is far from perfect, the OECD people try to examine everything they can to see if tests have been tampered with.
    Cuba has the fame of providing good education for everybody, but it is just very basic education. One thing I have heard over and over again from people who deal a lot with Cuban specialists: analytical thinking is pretty much absent in these people. They simply “reason” completely differently, they draw conclusions out of things they simply cannot draw conclusions from.

    Cuba’s statistics on standard of living are so full of make-up that United Nations – UNITED NATIONS – stopped including it in their human development index. I wonder when they will stop including Venezuela in said index…it’s all a joke.


  4. Thanks for pointing that interview Juan, really good.

    I have had my encounters with Yoani: she does not strike me as special, in the same way that neither you, nor Miguel, FT, Daniel strike me as much. We are just regular folks that one good day, for whatever personal reason, decided to put pen to paper and publish our thoughts about this and that.

    What makes her special is that she’s has had to deal with a system that makes having a blog and publishing one’s thoughts online nigh on impossible. In that, what she’s done is simply extraordinary, for I have been to Cuba, a few times, and I know / have seen how difficult it is to operate when you’re a counter-revolutionary.

    As per Cuban statistics, well, in the same league as those of “Venezuela is illiteracy free…”

    But the bit that caught my attention from the interview, and with which I agree completely on a personal level as to what the future may hold one day for us in Venezuela, is this:

    Pasado el momento insistió en que, si bien no tenía ansias de poder político, había un proyecto que sí le quitaba el sueño y estaba programando ejecutar pronto: crear un medio de comunicación, digital o impreso, en el cual ella fuera la editora. “No quiero ser la dueña”, dijo, “ni creo que tenga recursos para eso. Lo haría junto a Reinaldo, y sus colaboradores serían nuestros amigos blogueros, fotógrafos, artistas y escritores, como ya lo hicimos en Consenso. Ése es mi proyecto personal, un nuevo medio de prensa en Cuba, basado en las pequeñeces, en lo comunitario y lo cotidiano, con una fuerte revisión del pasado y una necesaria proyección del futuro. Ya tengo hasta nombre y todo, pero no te lo digo. No te lo digo”.


  5. The author of the article is Leo Felipe Campos, a Venezuelan journalist and writer. He’s spearheaded various newspaper efforts like “Platano Verde” and Siglo XXI. They’ve been actively publishing underground writers, poets and essayists.
    Both are pretty much dead due to lack of financing.
    Nowadays, you can mostly find writers and publishers on the web, Leo himself has moved to virtual publishing.
    IMHO, that’s where you’ll find the real deal, because mainstream media like El Nacional or El Universal are very self-centered and not at all open to outside contributions. Same goes for many snotty, pseudo famous “websites” that publish based on “amiguismo”, connections and favours, and exclude a large majority of great, underground writers.
    It’s no suprise print publishing is almost dead in Venezuela. I get more insight from reading your blog than opinion columns in El Nacional. And I’d rather read El blog de los hermanos Chang, or Roberto Echeto’s blog, than the bad writers hand-picked by the mainstream to “represent” Venezuelan fiction.
    But don’t be deluded: There are many excellent writers in Venezuela undertaking a serious, ambitious project. It’s just that they don’t get published. For exemple, there are many writers in Maracaibo who’s talent and creativity is obvious once we read them. But I had to come across a book by Noberto José Olivar through a friend to realize this and witness a real maracucho force in contemporary Venezuelan litterature.


    • Nicely put, Carolina. There really is some relevance; I’ll bet Hugo is salivating over the idea of being able to punish people for “offenses” like this, and will have some people assigned to coming up with ideas within the day.

      And in some ways this already describes Venezuela. Take this: “La prensa surcoreana asegura que aquellos que intentaron escapar de Corea del Norte tras la muerte de Kim serán sometidos a un juicio público, en donde se les impondrá un castigo que está por establecerse.”

      They say “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” The punishment should be known, so people considering the act can weigh the potential consequences. North Korea and Venezuela are two places where new punishments become retroactive. It surprises the perpetrators on one level, but on another, it shouldn’t surprise them at all, since arbitrary is one of the best adjectives for decisions in those countries.


  6. “Perhaps I want to stay in my home and take care of my belongings, or die with the hurricane, but they don’t let me.”

    Now, that’s just plain stupid. Kinda takes away from the rest of the article which might make some sense. Incidentally, has anyone heard George Carlin’s take on “too many don’ts” its pretty funny.


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