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?”
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.