Monday, March 13, 2006

Estrellado: a new star for the Venezuelan flag

Apparently there are a few people that worry about whether the Venezuelan flag should get a new star. I could not care less.

I think it is a red flag (speaking of flags) that Chavez has thrown our way and it has worked beautifully for him. Some sectors of the opposition are simply too stupid to learn to control their knee jerk reactions.

Today was the launching of the new flag and sure enough, instead of letting Chavez enjoy his new insignificant and “patriotero” show, hot heads in the opposition (namely Oscar Perez) had to call for a protest march. That march ended in Chacao where the chavistas had put up the new flag as a provocation, and sure enough a street brawl started. All the benefit going for the chavista side, no matter how wrong that eighth star addition might be. As we say in Venezuela, “se estrellaron”, they crashed, and never was this more appropriate to say than today. As long as the opposition allows itself to be led by people such as Oscar Perez, we are going nowhere.

But this blog is also a cultural blog and as such I feel compelled to explain the foreign audience that this 8th star business is actually a matter of some interest. But before I do that, let me reassure the reader: the addition of the 8th star, and the change in the national coat of arms, is strictly a Chavez caprice. What is sad is that his sycophantic followers were so prompt in abiding by the will of El Supremo and run to do all the changes he requested with barely a simulacrum of discussion, a discussion where no serious historian was convoked.

Venezuela has experimented with many flags, a couple of dozen almost, one per any major dictator we had it seems. Never, that I can find of, was there a true national debate as to which the Venezuelan flag should be. Thus El Universal today can present a total of 20 flags through Venezuelan history, ranging from 0 stars to 20 (not in the web page but I have a digital camera for the pic below).

In my little art work you can see that officially Venezuela had 8 stars between 1817 and 1821. Even better, the first time 7 stars appeared was in May 1817, for the seven provinces who signed the independence declaration (kind as for the US 13 colonies). The 7 stars were out from 1821 until 1859 when they came back in 1859 for 4 months only to be jacked up to 20 stars according to a new turn of the federalist civil wars. 7 stars only made it once and for all in 1863 until Chavez megalomania pushed them up to 8 again. And still the design changed through the years.

Why 8 stars?

It is important to remember that only 7 provinces signed the independence declaration. Coro and Maracaibo did not want to and remained loyalist to Spain until the battle of Carabobo. Guyana, a very backward area then, apparently could not get its act up together and was not represented in Caracas in 1811 (all of this if memory serves me well and if I stand corrected I will add it in a post script to this post acknowledging the kind reader willing to do the research work). Thus really, there were only 7 signatories that august day of July 5 1811.

But during the independence wars Bolivar run into lot of troubles. To make a long story short, at some point he made his way to Angostura (today’s Ciudad Bolivar) where to secure the support of the Guyana folks (pretty much all of the area Bolivar was barely able to control then) he came up with the 8th star scheme. Further governments wisely removed it as soon as possible. After all, what to do with Zulia and Coro once they joined in? Treat them as wayward parents? Kiss and make up adding a ninth and tenth star? I suspect that some in Zulia, under some autonomist stirrings never too far below the surface, are going to address this 8th star issue some day.

This, however, is yet again another sad spectacle. Nobody in Chavez entourage has reminded him that in Eastern Europe a lot of flags had gaping hopes in them a few hours after the regimes fell (Think of the Rumanian flag in particular). If national symbols become important it is because they are made as a consensus, not because Chavez in his delirium has decided to do one better than Bolivar (who I do not recall having lost sleep when the 8th star was removed in 1821). In fact, he has managed to make the event yet another divisive moment in Venezuela. Now, having 7 stars will become an opposition symbol. Eight stars was a foul way for Chavez to recover the flag, or a flag at least, that he lost in the million folks marches of the opposition in through 2002-2004.

And while we are at it, in the spirit of cooperation that characterizes this blogger, I have taken upon myself to add the eight star to the Carabobo State government billboard to thank Chavez from allowing Venezuela to win the Caribbean series. As if he had anything to do with it. This particularly tasteless sycophantic display can be found, road dirt and all (click for details), arriving in Valencia (Quico already posted another one of those tacky displays, one from Caracas I believe). And no, I will not discuss the cost of all of these new flags, after all the US goes through this anytime a state joins in (Puerto Rico soon?). Let's just say that the businesses getting the flag and stationery printing are certainly not from the opposition.

The coat of arms gets a face lift too

I do not know, but perhaps from my king guillotining ancestors I have never developed much of a love or care for coat of arms. So I really cannot comment much on the changes made by Chavez. I will criticize them strictly on aesthetic grounds. I have put together the old and new coat of arms. As you will see, there are only cosmetics changes that one must scan hard to detect (there is now a machete somewhere I was told). However the horse is different, and this really is a Chavez whim (though there is strangely a very similar coat of arms in Merida that was made 70 something years ago). There is some hot air emitted as to the horse running to the left being the symbol of the new Venezuela or some such nonsense. The only thing I can say is that the old horse had, artistically, much more personality than the new horse stubbornly running who knows where, and probably hitting a lot of walls. Did they not consult some designer somewhere to lighten up that horse?

But I will stop here. Contrary to the US where true civil rights and democratic values allow you to burn the US flag, just poking gentle fun on these cosmetic changes in Venezuela could cause me some legal problems. After all, a flag is a flag and people only put as much of their heart in it as they want, or are fool enough to do. I am proud of my old flag, it is the one that was always there for me, in particular when I lived for so many years out of my country. Chavez can do as he pleases, the flag of my heart is the one above, to the right of this blog, the flag of the people that marched against Chavez in 2002 and 2003, trying to stop him from taking away our liberties and do such things as what he did today, to change the flag and the coat of arms just because he said so. Nothing else needs to be added.

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