Friday, June 15, 2007

Should we boycott the Copa America?

Am I the only one offended by the logo on the right? This logo is now popping into many of state ads promoting the Copa America in Venezuela. That logo has become all but the official slogan of the Copa America to be held in a little over a week in Venezuela. That logo is a cheap uptake of the official governmental logo "Venezuela, ahora es de todos" Venezuela now belongs to all, a slogan with more hidden meanings than one would think of. The government who wants to believe that the country now belongs to all, wants us to believe that thanks to its actions the Copa America now also belongs to all. The crassness of this affirmation is pathetic, if not outright laughable for its ridicule.

Before I get into the insulting aspect of that Copa motto, let's revisit who does Venezuela belongs to. It belongs to Chavez. Period.

It certainly does not belong to the millions that are now in the Maisanta list, the brain-child of the Tascon list, an instrument used routinely to deny governmental services to those who had the temerity to express their political dislike to Chavez, a modern apartheid worthy of the sick mind of a contemporary McCarthy.

It certainly does not belong to the RCTV employees while the government tries hard to block its access to cable systems. It does not belong to all of those journalists who increasingly are forced to practice self censorship. And it will belong even less to those journalists that condemn the closing of RCTV.

It does not belong to the tens of thousands of students protesting in the streets these days. It does not belong to the hundred of thousand Venezuelan that had to leave the country since 1998. It does not belong to the hundred of thousand of people who have been killed, injured or maimed because of general violence in Venezuela.

It does not belong to these uncounted humble people who are increasingly complaining that the Chavez promises are not materializing.

This being said, now we can start wondering about who the Copa America will belong to. If we start looking at all the scandals already swirling around the ticket sales for the Copa, with their mysterious disappearing act and crude reapparition on the black market, we can already suspects that some were more equal than other in accessing those precious tickets. It is now quite clear that Chavez has been careful to pack at least whichever game he will be attending with public employees and supporters, probably wearing a significant amount of red clothing. Because the sad truth is that like any dictator of Latin America that had the good luck to chair some major sporting event, Chavez the wanna-be dictator will take as much mileage as he can from this South American. Think about the World Cup in its Argentina edition.

Chavez of course is a little bit more careful, times have changed. So for the time being he limits himself to the lavish inaugurations of unfinished stadiums in front of adoring crowds and sycophantic local officials who cannot find enough words to thank Chavez for bringing this Copa to Venezuela. I do not know if the Conmebol will be as tolerant of Chavez once the tournament has started, but expect a few abuses there.

But the worse offense as far as I am concerned is that the Copa America has always belonged to all. If it has not reached the high ratings of the World Cup, which might have half of the networks playing the games at the same time, it was usually easy to catch at least a game on Meridiano TV. If no more exposure was given to the Copa America is simply due to the fact that Venezuela is a Baseball country: soccer only comes second, and first only once every four year. If there is something that soccer has always been is democratic, a sport that speaks to the masses, no matter what Chavez wants us now to believe in his permanent rewriting of history. Or why doe she think that 80% of Venezuelans always supported Brazil? Because he is friends with Lula?

This soccer position in Venezuela has nothing to do with some international ploy against Chavez, but in his paranoia he thinks so. Soccer/futbol have always been a more important game in the upper social classes, in part due to their European immigration origin. For some strange reason, baseball, the game from the Empire, the hated Empire, is the game favored by Chavez and his revolution of the lower classes. Chavez has chosen to ignore this. However he cannot forgive the opposition to have a game of its own so I can only interpret this crass attempt at soccerising chavismo to some personal grudge of Chavez. It is an unnecessary and demeaning thing to do but when have such considerations stopped Chavez? Not to mention that the hope is that the country will forget about food shortages and protesting students during the games.

The pettiness of the whole thing even reaches inner segregation within chavismo. For example if you look at the list of the local committees you will find that all opposition is excluded from participation of the Copa supposedly "for all". But if you look further you will see inner chavista discrimination. In Zulia, the Maracaibo games are presided by the local very chavista mayor Di Martino. Governor Rosales does not appear. But look at Barquisimeto: there the governor Reyes Reyes is on top and the mayor of Barquisimeto, Henri Falcon is out of the picture. See, Falcon is perhaps the only chavista elected official who has worked intelligently for the betterment of the city. He is the kind of mayor that I hear opposition folks in Barquisimeto ready to vote for in the next Governor election in 2008. But Reyes Reyes, a totally lackluster governor, with so little personality that he has to resort to imitate Chavez ticks, want his son to succeed him at the Lara State Mansion. Thus expect Falcon to seat far from center stage, but get all of the blame if something goes wrong in the Barquisimeto matches.

So, should I boycott or not? Long time readers of this blog will remember my dedication to European soccer, to the point of opening a blog for the last World Cup. But that is also my weakness: I will never be able to gather the enthusiasm I could get in watching a Belgium Portugal game for a Bolivia Paraguay game. Outside of Argentina and Brazil I just cannot be bothered by soccer around here. Besides, for the Copa America many of the big country stars will not show up, too exhausted after their European season, and probably under some secret order of their clubs to rest and not risk life and limb in Venezuela where walking out at night is more, much more dangerous than a rough soccer game.

Thus boycotting will not be any heroic deed for me. I probably would ignore most of the excitement even if Chavez were not trying to manipulate the show. But when you add that even the broadcast rights have been manipulated by Chavez so as to give them to the brand new Tves, who forcibly replaced RCTV, a specialist on soccer and the network that I preferred to watch the World Cup games, I can only but boycott the games. I might try to catch a couple of games though, if they go through Latin FoxSports which is based in Argentina and has great commentators, but for that it would have to be a big game involving either Brazil, Argentina or USA, against each other.

Now, in spite of everything, I do not wish that the tourney fails (even though it has a great chance to do so). After all Chavez forgets something, the Copa does not belong to Venezuela only and it would be unfair to deprive fans of Uruguay or Rio of their team performances. Thus, rather than an active boycott, I will just simply ignore the games. Too bad, I could have tried to get seats to Barquisimeto games, but I will pass. Even if I could have afforded to get a seat, the idea of having Reyes Reyes around would spoil part of the fun.

-The end-

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