The people of my country are wonderful.
Due to facts of my life, I have the privilege to have many foreign friends that have lived there and have very fond memories of my land. All of them, no longer there, remember it fondly, always praising it and stating that us, Venezuelans, are very nice people indeed.
And that is not true.
I have been able to travel the world and meet many cultures. Almost everywhere I go, the people I interact with are joyful, heartwarming and peaceful. But I have to always remember the conditions of where and when I meet them: it is usually at work, and people with work are usually better behaved for the simple reason that money is coming into their lives. It is usually in a social gathering, when food and drinks are shared and enjoyed, and it is indeed very difficult to be quarrelsome when the roast is on the table, and the wine has been poured. I always have to remind myself that you do not judge a people by what they do at their best; the judgement must be done by what they do at their worst.
In Venezuela, we have a joyful disposition when the party is going on. But that stopped years ago and we can now see what we really are. I will only mention an example to pin-point the theme. During one of our recent bouts with shortages, the government imposed a rationing system so people could buy certain products. And the Venezuelans’ solution needs to be explained. In the country, we have this species of ants we call “Bachacos”. They are a very large species, composed of soldier ants that will de-leaf a tree or bush in one night, carrying everything that is green with them in a sweep of destruction (for the plant). So, when the government imposed the restrictions, Venezuelans organized into “Bachaqueros”, swarms of people that would swoop on the few goods, corral them, take them and then sell them for a profit to those that were not in the group.
So much for being nice.
The reality of judging people is therefore as stated before: you do not judge a culture for the nice things it does (their art, their crafts, their science) but by their behavior at their worst. And it does not have to be a collective action that groups the entire people; it only has to be a large portion that makes a verifiable difference. The examples are easy to find. One can be very sure that in the 1930’s there were many, many people in Germany that were nice, polite and decent. The country was certainly not short of scientific and artistic ingenuity, and it was a developed nation that had very recently seen the realities of what war can do. Yet, we do not remember the Germany of those days for those aspects; what we remember them for is clear. Cambodia, another country that I have visited, is populated by polite, helpful, charming people, some of the nicest I can think of. Yet, one cannot deny that these same people carried on one of the most heinous genocides ever recorded. We have to remember details like these when we measure people.
The reality that you are judged by what you do wrong more than what you do right reaches into the personal realm. You can lead an exemplary life but it takes one crime to send you to prison. Life is not some metaphysical accounting spreadsheet in which you accrue credits for your good deeds and get docked points for those of dubious nature. If it were so, any nurse that has led a life of dedication to the sick and needy would eventually reach enough goodwill to shoot somebody, steal a fortune or behave criminally, based on her previous actions. Sure, in trials and judgement your previous deeds may allow for some leniency to be passed when considering the punishment, but complete erasure of the crime simply should not happen. Menial actions may be forgiven, but serious ones must not. It is not hard to understand.
Which brings me to the core of this essay. What was seen during the events of January 6th in the American Capitol is being discussed and analyzed, and plenty of American voices have uttered a variation of the following: “This is not who we are”; “This is not what America is”. Many TV pundits have used phrases such as “this is what we see in third world countries”. Indeed, we have seen images like that around the world, but this time, we saw them IN DC. IN AMERICA. This was no Hollywood production, setting a mob on congress or any other American historical marker courtesy of doubles, stunts-people or special effects. This was real.
One issue that affects the countries of South America is the detouring of guilt away from ourselves. It is simply never our fault; nothing that happens in our countries stems from our actions, comes as a result of what we have done and what we are. It is always the fault of somebody else: the damn Gringos, the European conquerors of centuries ago, mysterious forces from a fictional empire that is bent in our misery. It is never our fault, and therefore we never recognize that our corruption is ours, our treatment of ourselves is ours, our state of being, wars and crimes are ours. It is the classical denial of the alcoholic, who must first admit to his issue before any progress can be achieved.
And now America is currently displaying the same behavior, reeling from these events but not talking about the fact that the reasons and sources for what happened do go deeper. The numbers are there, staring at every American: 75 million people recently backed the main reason for these events, regardless of the analysis and explanations given by the other side, still trying to explain the reality of what is happening. You also must link the full year of protests over disparate treatment of all people of colors, which yielded no real progress: no change in attitude by courts that pass judgement on obvious murders for which not even charges are pressed, no legislation nor laws have been approved to cure these illnesses in American society, showing cleanly the disparities that rule American populations. A real, veritable portion of America has been visible for four years now, and slowly every day it raises its head a bit more, more defiant, more violent, more arrogant and clearer in its intentions. And they ARE Americans. It is the same as in my homeland: the people doing this to our country are not Russians, or Cubans, or Colombians. No country has invaded us, taken away our identity. No army has rolled onto our streets, suppressing real Venezuelans from ruling their country. No, the ruling criminals running the country are US, as Venezuelans as all the rest. And America is now showing the same pattern of denial, blame-throwing and responsibility shunning. “This is not us” some people claim, despite the fact that is is, to the bone, YOU. Denial to its most extreme degree, and this path leads to darker places.
You, me, everybody is judged by what we do wrong. What we do right is praised and those that love us hold us dear for those actions. But society as a whole judge us by our bad deeds, and those alone. The world, as a whole, is nothing more than a larger society and right now, America holds a dubious distinction: it is the sole country where NAZIS march the streets proudly, where this language is used freely and incendiary, and not by just a few lunatics, but by a several-million-strong cadre. And these people are born and bred in your homeland. They are a real part of who you are.
Do not demise so easily what has happened with a simple “those are not us”. Because that is too simple a solution. And perhaps, this is defining of what you are. Perhaps, this is indeed who you are. And admitting it is the first step to stop being so.
The people of my country are wonderful.