Once upon a Time in Venezuela

By Lowenstein, Roger | Newsweek, March 15, 2013 | Go to article overview

Once upon a Time in Venezuela


Lowenstein, Roger, Newsweek


Byline: Roger Lowenstein

A writer revisits the complex land that gave us Hugo Chavez.

On my first assignment for The Daily Journal, the English-language newspaper in Caracas, I found my way to the Venezuelan Congress, a gem of colonial architecture in a lush quadrangle of palm trees. Upstairs in the press gallery, the local reporters were hacking away at ancient typewriters as a legislator promised ... what? My Spanish was inadequate; my ear ill-tuned to the thick criollo accents. "What is he saying?" I implored of one of the locals. "Pura mentira," the journalist replied: pure lies. No matter, he didn't stop taking notes for an instant.

That was 1978. Venezuela before Hugo Chavez was true to the description of the 19th-century journalist Tomas Lander, who characterized his country as "a nation of accomplices." He meant that the ruling elites, the landowners, and the church were complicit in a corrupt system and silent in their acquiescence. By the 1970s, the net of accomplices had broadened to include state oil barons, politicians, and bureaucrats--and possibly my journalist acquaintance, who dutifully recorded a legislator's promises he knew would never come to fruition.

The more I acclimated to life in Caracas, the more I understood the wisdom of Lander's description. One afternoon an official of the PDVSA, the state oil monopoly, was entertaining a bevy of journalists. PDVSA was considered a sacred national trust. Every schoolchild learned that Venezuela's oil was not to be lustily consumed but, rather, to be "sown"--reinvested to create new local industries and jobs. Yet the Scotch was flowing freely. "How can you pay for all this?" I inquired. The oil official-accomplice gave a guilty shrug. "There's plenty of oil," he said.

Eventually I was invited to be an accomplice. Venezuela's president was traveling to meet his counterpart in neighboring Guyana, and the government paid for a planeful of reporters, as if their summit were a second Yalta. On the press plane, each reporter was given a packet of credentials and instructions. To my surprise, the packet included $500 in crisp U.S. currency. (To the astonishment of a clerk in the presidential palace, I returned the money when I was back in Caracas.)

Payoffs to the press were routine. Publishers relied on the government for the advertisements that kept them in business. No specific favors were expected--just an acknowledgment of who was boss. Press criticism was fierce, but certain protocols were observed. The military in particular was never criticized.

The systemic corruption burned away at a Venezuelan Army tank commander named Hugo Chavez. Muzzled in his barracks, he dreamed of a Venezuela liberated from American influence, which he imagined would mean liberation from poverty and corruption and from the control of elite accomplices.

Resentment of America had long been an undercurrent in national life (in 1958 Vice President Nixon's car had been attacked by a mob on a visit to Caracas, though Jackie Kennedy, a few years later, got a rapturous greeting). American support of various local dictators hardly helped, nor did the arrogance of oil companies--even though their capital helped to raise the standard of living. My native-born colleagues used to kid me; "Cia!" they would say as I approached, playfully accusing me of working for the Central Intelligence Agency. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Once upon a Time in Venezuela
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.