Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The lapse of Caracas

These days Caracas was celebrating its 438 birthday. Or was it?

First, the, literally, mayor at large of Caracas, Juan Barreto, decided that Caracas was not founded on the day tradition says it was founded. As if it really mattered. In 1567, the glorious "foundation" of Caracas was actually some kind of agreement between a few straw hut and mud dwellers to sort of cooperate in defending the hamlet against encroachment of the natives. Most of the hamlet dwellers being themselves native or mestizos, for that matter. As Manuel Caballero pointed out, the conquistadores had a knack to project their delirium in the names of the "cities" they founded: Santiago de Leon de Caracas or Nueva Segovia de Barquisimeto are such examples of pompous names for places that were scarcely better than rat holes for the first decades of their history (1). Caracas was no exception, though its favorable site and climate helped it to win the best position in Venezuela within little more than a century.

Why did Barreto suddenly worry about the exact date of Caracas foundation, something that has long ceased to be of any significant historical concern? Beats me! But it sure created a tide wave of criticism until it reached a humiliating red title on the front page of Tal Cual: Barre, Barreto (Sweep, Barreto). Indeed, Caracas has never been so dirty, so messy, so clogged with cars, trash, illegal vendors. There has never been as many street kids begging within the impossible traffic, both trying to avoid falling in the Moon like pothole coverage of the streets. At any rate if Barreto thought for a minute that canceling the festivities (until the "true date" is established) would distract us from the daily misery we must endure, he was in for a rude awakening. Better, no Caracas mayor intellectual deficiency has been exposed so crudely as it happened in the recent days. Barreto must be hurting these days as his absolute incompetence, his total lack of ideas on how to deal with Caracas problems (he as been in office for already 7 months) has been made pathetically obvious with the "birthday" affair.

Meanwhile, Bernal, the mayor of Caracas downtown (and historical) district showed this week end that even Barreto could not beat him where incompetence and nincompoopery is concerned. He decided that the birthday was fine and that he would go ahead and party. He even created a new medal for the city, to replace the old one named for Caracas founder Diego de Losada (though now Barreto thinks it is someone else). But the best part was his speech that I will try to translate as is, a difficult task as it is of the poorest Spanish, with cheap ideological pretensions:
For many years we gave medals with the Order Diego de Losada: founder of the city of Caracas, but in function that we are rewriting the history, revising and fortifying currents and specially relaunching the autochthon of the native, the blacks, the mestizos, today we decided not to give anymore the Order of Diego de Losada and we created the medal of Juan Francisco de Leon, who was a "compatriota" who in 1749 launched the first rebellion against the Spaniard Government... thus the Caracas municipality has decided to create this new order and from now on it will be given to men and women that for their contribution to the development of the city, of the arts, of the culture, deserve to get it

In front of such a crappy oratorical piece one does not know where to start. With the historical inaccuracy? With the historical misinterpretation? With the confessed wish to rewrite history to make the bolibanana revolution look better? With the list of this year awardees who reads as the who's who of revolutionary mediocrity requiring a new order so that finally they get to have a medal pinned on them?

Bernal, whose job is incidentally to pick up the trash in Caracas, has to be one of the very worst mayors in Venezuela's history. Amazingly, even though criticized by Chavez on more than one opportunity, hated by many chavistas, this corrupt ex cop has still been re-nominated for his job by Chavez for the October elections. Since then he has again been chastised by Chavez, and has been having his own little personal feud with Barreto while the city keeps sinking under the trash.

When one looks at Bernal one has got to wonder what is the card that he holds that forces Chavez to keep him even if his dislike for him is obvious, even if the polls are bad, even if his reelection is solely due to Chavez blessing, more than any other chavista holding office these days. Does he control Caracas death squads? Does he know who is corrupt and by how much? Does he know some dirty secret on Chavez? In some OpEd in November Milagros Socorro was wondering how could have Bernal been reelected. She could not hide her bitterness that so many people voted for him, knowing full well what a piece of work he was, voting for Bernal just because Chavez said so. Yes, indeed: of all the chavista office holder, Bernal is the yellowest of the dogs.

Meanwhile, while this insult to our common sense and intelligence take place, Caracas keeps adding a new layer of filth on it.

(1) In my very humble opinion the very best short story of Venezuela (and arguably one of the best historical commentaries on Venezuela) is: De la "Pequeña Venecia" a la "Gran Venezuela" by Manuel Caballero. Monte Avila Eds. 1996 ISBN 980-01-0985-4. A book that probably neither Bernal nor Chavez ever bothered to read.

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