Letter to a friend
By Manuel Alberto
The processes of change,
though modest, strip away the social fabric. Venezuela is going through a moment
when, as the government promotes policies that give priority to the neediest
people, who are a broad majority of the population, the relationships between
the different sectors and classes of society are altered.
Distributive justice, the act of slicing the common cake more equitably, leads
to a smaller slice than usual for some people and causes friction. In the face
of such changes, contradictions arise, within families and in interpersonal
relations, that become radicalized to the same degree as the process. And even when
this doesn't happen, radicalization is created by the media as a virtual reality.
on the serenity with which the various stances are assumed, these positions can
either facilitate an enriching and tolerant dialogue that is the equivalent of a
healthy democratic coexistence or produce painful ruptures. History is full of
such examples, in different latitudes and countries.
Recently I received, through a network of friends, a letter that I consider a
model of how to assume, within friendships and kinships, the conflicts that the
Venezuelan process – with its dynamics of transformation/reaction – is
originating so as not to fall into old traps. I think about what has happened
among so many Cubans, and how those conflicts have been (and continue to be)
lamentably costly from a spiritual point of view.
I contacted Jorge Severyn, who wrote the letter, and asked him to allow me to
publish it. Here, I first reprint his answer and then leave you alone with this
example of rationality and tenderness, a rare combination in the current times.
“Dear Ramy: I am a mature man with a lovely family, all of them adults. I'm
professionally active and, in my late 50s, on the straightaway of my final run
and after years in the tangential world of exact sciences I've dared to dip my
pen into the inkwell in an effort to paint verbal frescoes and learn the
difficult craft of writing.
“To whom did I address this letter? To XX, a Venezuelan writer, a fact more than
a promise in our world and, to my joy, one of my most prized teachers. He's
still young and I'm still treading the roads, but teachers are measured by other
standards and I call myself lucky for having met him. If I didn't appreciate him
so, I would never have written to him the letter I'm sending here to you, a letter that attempts to smooth over,
through reasoning, the rough edges that political diatribe has created in the
relations between friends and brothers in our country.
“Because of my respect for my friend XX, and conscious of his desire for privacy,
I cannot allow his name to be published. I shall gladly give you my name, as the
sender and author, and my permission to publish this letter to a friend.”
Letter to a friend
Hello, XX. How are you?
I read closely everything you send me and I must confess that in many ways I've
tried to understand, and even assume, the position of people like you – intelligent
beings, with clear ideas and long-held positions, facile and richly seasoned
speech – who are fighting President Chávez to the death.
It is increasingly difficult for me to understand these things, not just assume
or share them, without resorting to profundities. I say this with the greatest
humility, from the fragile shell of human misery we all must wear to a lesser
or greater degree.
I have trouble detecting the hues of fascism
seen in Chávez by those who, for 47 hours, applauded the Ku Klux Klan-like
miniscule administration (thank God) of Carmona the Brief.
I cannot be scared by the threat of communism in a century when the increasingly
integrated global village and the technological escalation that facilitates mass
production render impossible the dreams of collective property once held by old-fashioned
Marxists. There is no future for such a retrograde process, discarded by those
who lived it: Russia, China, North Korea and Cuba (to the degree that the Blond
Omnipotence allows them to discard it.)
I cannot think about solutions without Chávez that do not contain huge doses of
the political concubinage that, for decades, placed the riches of all in the
hands of a few who rewarded the poor with a few crumbs to assuage their
There is no (visible) anti-Chávez option that doesn't place in the hands of the
Blond Omnipotence the only wealth that still undergirds a country burdened by
the stupidity of those who now wish to make a comeback.
I cannot join those who, far from understanding the revived hopes of those who
follow Chávez, soil those hopes with denigrating and alienating epithets,
clinging to the same positions they held for decades toward the people.
I find it impossible to hate the Cuban doctor who, with a spirit of solidarity,
places his knowledge at the service of Chávez's toothless mobs, just as I find
it difficult to love the doctor who ejects from his luxurious clinic a poor man
without credit cards, in urgent need of help, who then dies on the doorstep.
I refuse to again submit millions of children and adolescents to the
impossibility of studying and dreaming of a future.
I don't see myself hating the small-businessman who found his opportunity in a
Chavista credit account, and I don't love those who stole that man's lifelong
savings with the promise (never fulfilled) that they would create worthwhile jobs
and wages for his children.
I refuse to hate those who brought happiness to our dear Matilde (my building's
concierge), who saw a light at the end of the tunnel when she matriculated her
son Alex in a Bolivarian school where, as she puts it, “they even have
specialists to help him with his learning problems.”
I refuse to repudiate those who have given Raúl, the mechanic I've had for years,
the opportunity to become a naturalized citizen without having to pay the
“go-between” the $2,000 he charged for “facilitating” the process.
And what can I say about my sister-in-law, the retired teacher? She smiles
broadly when she says that the government has paid her some wages she was owed
since the 1980s, back-pay she had already forgotten, that the government ratified
her retirement, and that she feels well cared for and respected when she visits
her alma mater, the Ministry of Education.
When people scream that the budget deficit grew during this administration, I
cannot help thinking that likely it didn't grow but instead stabilized across
all social levels.
I cannot overlook the expression on the faces of all those retired old folks who
line up not for a monthly pittance but for a helping of hope that can solve
their problems. They have seen their pension payments rise from $52 U.S. dollars
a month (at the 1998 rate of exchange) to $124 a month (at the current rate.)
Populism? Just try to take that pension away from them.
I refuse to eject from their new table a people who have forever fed from the
crumbs of those who, while managing the people's home and sitting at the
people's table, threw their leftovers on the floor and said they were good
enough for everyone else.
I refuse to accept that the media have become the exclusive forum of the few who,
for far too long, bamboozled the many. These are the same media that today are
cynical enough to deny the government's achievements, such as its gains in the
overlooked infrastructure of development or, more recently, the granting of
EuroMoney to Venezuela, which has accomplished the most successful liability
conversion of 2003 (and, in my personal view, of the entire decade.)
And what can I say about culture? That's your bailiwick. You can teach me a lot
about it. All I can say is that Matilde, the concierge, told me last Saturday,
while I was washing my car, about her cultural adventure – reading
The Little Prince, one of the books
given to her by those awful Chavistas as part of their Family Libraries. I am
cheered by Matilde's candid eyes as she marvels through her cultural excursion;
I am not saddened by the wails of the lice who fed for so long from the nation's
I cannot reject the fervor of those who keep their hopes alive with a cry of
“Motherland or death,” just as I cannot side with the Barbie-land moneybags who
can only think of “Power or
And, finally, I cannot hate Bolivar and love Bush.
I cannot. I cannot.
Can you? Are you sure?
Manuel Alberto Ramy is the Havana correspondent of Radio Progreso Alternativa
and the Spanish edition editor of Progreso Semanal/Weekly.