I was amazed by how timeless this article is. I do not necessarily agree with all it says, but most of it. The answer of when it was published is at the end, but there are hints in the text.
By Aníbal Romero
Some former parliamentary members of the official sector have announced that the upcoming Constituent Assembly shall initiate “popular trials” against the alleged perpetrators of our national misfortunes. Is is worth noting, once again, the lack of understanding that our novel rulers have about what it means to have the rule of law. It should also be noted that those who ask for such trials, are self-proclaimed ‘human rights defenders’. Undoubtedly, Venezuela today lives under the sign of Orwell: here the truth is a lie and the lies are he truth; white is black and black is white; demagoguery is government and government is demagoguery.
Now, who will judge who? I would not be balanced to deny the failures of the misnamed ‘elites’ of the puntofijismo as they have a fundamental responsibility for what happened, good and bad, over these past decades. But: what about the people, does the community generally lack any responsibility, any blame? Ask yourself, for example, if it is perhaps that someone forced them to vote for Pérez in 1988, or Caldera in 1993? If I remember correctly, on both occasions many voices were raised to warn Venezuelans about what would surely mean the renewed choice of these characters as presidents. Many warnings were made, not that we lacked alternatives. However, the majority of people supported them. Does not this imply a degree of responsibility of the people in general of the national destiny? Do they not remember what we did? Or is it perhaps that we do not want to remember?
The idea that there is a collective responsibility for the fate of a community or country is not original. In our century, the reality of shared responsibility has been tested in specific cases, and the reason is simple, most especially if we are talking about a democracy: Citizens do not have the right to wash their hands of the sociopolitical processes that move history. At a minimum, life forces us to provide a balance of the outcome due to government we choose.
It is especially absurd to not attribute part of the responsibility to a community like ours, which for more than forty years has lived with a massively overvalued currency, subsidized all over the place, undergoing massive investments in health and education (and which we were not able to take care of in both quality and efficiency). A community that, when the time to face the harsh reality of the end of the populist-rentist model arrived, chose to take to the streets (27-F 1989), behead a President who had been democratically elected, support two violent coups and bring to power in 1993 the person who sent them the pathetic ‘Letter of Intent for the people’. And to round it off, the same people ended up exalting to the leadership of our destiny, the main character in one of those military coups, the crucial negation of all democratic value. What can we expect, then?
Not understanding that collective responsibility is equivalent to conceive the ‘people’ as an entity composed of mentally, legally and morally disabled individuals. Because that is not my idea of the Venezuelan people, I think that is composed of normal human beings, which is why I believe that we can not skirt the part that corresponds to us in the drama of the country. The sweet and complacent attitude towards the ‘people’ adopting an attitude which imagines them as pristine and the source of all virtue and wisdom, is nothing but a mask behind which they hide a deep contempt towards the people, which is seen as manipulable and even stupid, as people who you have to distribute cheat sheets to vote, which they aimed to deliver to electoral ballots decorated with berets, hats, caps and other playful symbols, so that they could ‘get it right’, because they are too stupid, and may not vote for the currents saviours.
I insist: Who forced those who voted for Pérez and Caldera to do it? Who forced those who voted for Hugo Chavez to do it? Also in 98 many warning voices rose, and nevertheless they again came back to take the easy road, that of the scapegoats, the messianic solutions, constituent illusions and other tricks of our incorrigible and systematic collective delusion. Now we claim to want to change everything, but really do not want to change anything. What we want is to go back, to that populism works, to that of a ‘strong man’ that makes decisions and leads us by the nose. Productivity? Competitiveness?? Long-term vision?? These are not the issues that beset us. Here are Danton and Robespierre emulating, retreating to the eighteenth century, minding if the Constituent Assembly will be ‘original’ or ‘derived’, happy to discharge our responsibility over any mirage that comes to mind. But it can not hide the truth forever: the Venezuelan people have given themselves the governments who they believed deserved. Nothing is left but to bear the consequences. Popular Trials? And who will judge the people?
This was Romero’s farewell article in El Universal on June 6th. 1999.