10 February 2005

The real tragedy of Venezuela is the lack of common sense of its citizens

One day before the tragedy of Vargas shook Venezuela, as I was about to get indoors after having a haircut, my sister in law came rushing out the building's entrance screaming that a child was going to fell from one of the top floors of an adyacent building. We ran to the scene, my brother in law joined us, and saw a great deal of people gathered in awe, just waiting for the worse. Neighbours and onlookers of other buildings were paralyzed. I entered the building and almost literally flew up the staircase to the apartment where the child was trapped in the seventh floor. There were already some men trying to force the door open, however, as is the case with the majority of the apartments in Caracas, two doors separate the outside from the inside: one exterior security door and one interior which in most cases is equally difficult to brake. I stood there in the hallway for a few seconds analyzing the situation; I remember thinking "the child is hanging from a balcony (his head trapped between iron bars meant to prevent entrance of intruders) I should gain access to him either from adyacent balconies or from those above or beneath".

From the brief gaze I gave to him from the street he seemed to be hanging from his hands. I reacted very quickly I asked neighbours in the same floor whether they had open balconies, they didn't; then I went up to the 8th floor, no luck there; so I went down to the 6th and fortunately the apartment right underneath had an open balcony. As I opened the windows to climb to rescue the child from falling I remember vividly the facial expressions and screams of the people in the building in front "no, no, don't do it, you're going to fall too..." I was determined, so I did climb and asked the kid to rest his weight on my lap. Apparently he was playing with his sister (also in the flat), sitting on the balcony's window grille when his little body slipped through the bars and got stuck; the only part of his body that wasn't completely outside the grille was his head and so he hanged there.

He was about 5 years of age. To my 'comfort' there was a little edge in which I placed both my feet so that he could sit on my lap until rescue came. Incredibly, once I was up there with him, neighbours started yelling again "don't let go, hang in there..." and I kept thinking "these people must be fucking stupid if they believe that I'm going to from a 7th floor..."

All the while my wife was on the street. Emergency calls to the police and the firemen were made. The first to arrive were the Metropolitan police. There was a big crowd on the street but that did not impede them to drive their patrol jeeps to the front of the building. About 20 minutes after their arrival the fire engine came; but they couldn't park where they wanted for the police jeeps were blocking the street. From where I was I could see my wife having a heated discussion with firemen and police officers. They were, just like Chavez, 'appraising the situation' in order to come up with an action plan to rescue us. A big fat fireman came up, my wife told me afterwards, with the brilliant idea of utilizing the electric stair attached to the fire engine, the only problem being that it would reach, at the most, the third floor. So there I was trying to tranquilise the boy and watching the display of sheer incompetence of both police and firemen.

About 45 minutes after I climbed, the boy's sister, who had been asleep next room all along, came out. The 'rescue team' composed by inept police officers, firemen and ordinary neighbours hadn't succeeded at opening either of the doors so when I saw the little girl (about 6 years of age) I asked her whether they were on their own; she said yes. Then I asked whether she had any keys to open the doors; she said that she could open just the one inside, so I asked her to go open it. When she did the 'rescue team' shouted at her so much and so desperately that she was paralyzed, so I called her back and told her to sit next to us in the balcony.

The parents were out of reach, no one knew where they were or why they had left the children locked inside the flat. Please note that I'm talking about 5-6 year olds.

My brother in law, who had been talking to me from the window above, said that the firemen were about to brake the door locks. Once they did, well into one hour later, they rushed in. I almost ordered them not to abuse the children with unnecessary yells; someone came from the kitchen with cooking oil to be rubbed in the boy's chest and back in order to minimize the trauma of pulling him through the bars. They then got a saw to cut some bars and got me in.

The father of the children came; he went into their bedroom and hugged them; he was obviously shocked and embarrassed. Once 'saved' I told him not to leave his kids unattended and locked inside the flat ever again for next time it could well be the case that no one would be crazed enough to do what I did.

When I finally got out of the building everyone was so relieved, I remember that very many people congratulated me saying things such as "you're a hero man, I wouldn't have done that" and my answer was "if my children ever need some rescuing I wish that someone would do it without hesitation, just as I did".

Back in our building, one of our neighbours said "I got everything on tape mate, amazing feat, well done!".

The following day the mudslides of Vargas were wreaking havoc and calls for voluntaries were being made in the media. So my brother in law, a cousin of his and myself went to the cable car station in Mariperez to help, only to find that, there too, a great number of 'rescuers', with all sorts of fancy climbing equipment, were trying to 'coordinate' an operation to save some lives up in Galipan, but I guess that's another day's story.

The point of this one is to give readers an understanding of the lacking of common sense of ordinary Venezuelans, ergo it shouldn't come as a surprise that we have Chavez in the presidency...

PS: the parents of the boy never said a word of gratitude, not even once...


Anonymous said...

This is by far the single most self-indulgent crap I have read on the web in a long, long time. You spend far too long singing praises of yourself, only to end by criticizing the irrationality of the people of your own country. You're quite the man Mr. Boyd--surprising someone as brave as yourself couldn't stand to live in Venezuela like others and really tell Chavez what they thought of him.

AB said...

It may be self-indulgent; it may be crap but the take away message continues to be valid, regardless whether you like or not, that bo be frank, does not interest me in the slightest. I have said this before to other philochavistas "should Venezuela be inhabited by 25 million Aleksander Boyds Chavez, and those who created the phenomenom, would never had stood a chance at gaining positions of political power. On the contrary they would all be roting in an ADX type of facilities in Maripa".

One thing is to be brave and quite another to be stupid. Since I couldn't provide economic means for the sustentation of my family I had to live.

As per telling Chavez what I think about him, I do it on a daily basis where it hurts the most; i.e. before an ever growing international audience!!

Anonymous said...

Well, Venezuela is not inhabited by 25 million Alek Boyd's, as election results and polls seem to indicate. That may be a good thing--that many self-indulgent and selfish people would make the country no better off than it is now.

AB said...

Well anonymous, you seem to have a knack for deviating from the main issue, which in this case is that the direct action of this sel-indulgent piece of crap saved the life of a child, who was, need be stressed, totally unrelated to me. Perhaps you would have prefered to have the usual 'rescuers' save your kid in a similar situation but I digress.

The issue of 25 million Alek Boyds residing in Venezuela would, of course, be detrimental for those of your ilk; another territory lost for good to the forces of evil...

Election results provided by chavista CNE?

Polls by North American Opinion Research?

One thing is certain though, if I were the president, that supreme Cuban idol of yours would be considerable nearer his terminal day, together with those Colombian narcoterrorists you support.

Anonymous said...

A new anonymous here. Putting aside the pugnacious arguments as to whether your article was for the purpose of self-aggrandizement, or to illustrate a point about the collective and individual lack of common sense among venezuelans, I would like to add a few lines. First, congratulations on saving that poor child. If it happened as described, and the family cannot even be bothered to thank you, then you deserve a self-administered pat on the back.

About a lack of common senses among Venezuelans. It seems that this trait is fairly common throughot Latin America.

Let me stop here and address the obvious and true rebuttals which may arise from what I'm going to say. The U.S. is no longer the global hero we once were. Our president was elected by the people (well, the second time at any rate, after being placed in office by a politically-driven supreme court. All of this said to recognize that the U.S. is simply a different side of the same coin of radical fundamentalist bullshit leadership that has ruined or is ruining Venezuela, Iran, Afganistan, etc. Intolerance, a sick need for control, and the nazi-like identification of the evil "other" that is the base for persecution the world over. Squalid anti-chavistas in Venezuela, secular politicans in Iran (and the U.S. for that matter) and homosexuals in the U.S. Poitics based on the most profound human need of spiritualism (whether rabid southern baptists and catholics in the U.S., or the equally fervent/insane chavez-worshippers in Venezuela, or the mad mullahs of Iran. They are to a one, driven by illogical rancor against "the other" in their misguided deification of their leaders.

OK, sorry for the digression.

Without ignoring the culpability of my own country in the world's problems, yes, Venezuelans seem to have a systemic lack of common sense which affects every aspect of their lives. It is an obvious and self-defeating trait which has baffled me since i first started travleing to Venezuela in 1992. November of 1992, if you want to know about my first experience there. Then again, considering what I went through in Caracas and Cuidad Bolivar on that 27th of November, maybe I suffer from the same lack of common sense for moving to Caracas just a few months later, staying for 3 years, and purchasing a vacation home in the country.

When I would try to pursue a line of logic at my job in Caracas, I would attempt to bring a colleague (or conference room full of them) with me on a short journey of shared points of view which I naively believed--if taken step by step--would lead us all to the best conclusion...my conclusion based on my gringo logic. "Ladies and Gentlemen, We are here to determine the best course to take us from A to D, following the alphabet which we all share." A hearty chorus of agreement followed. "YES IT IS THE ONLY WAY TO ACHIEVE OUR GOALS. FROM A TO D TOGETHER." AT which point the meeting would disintegrate to receive the coffee brought in by the company's serving lady. Once caffeinated, we would resume. "OK" I'd say, "On our way from A to E, we must surely pass the letter B. Can we all agree to that?" Enthused and loud concurrence. "WHY HOW COULD IT BE OTHERWISE? YES OF COURSE WE WILL ALL AGREE THAT THE BEST WAY FROM A to E WOULD BE VIA THE LETTER B." This same agreement was displayed from A to B to C. "So in conclusion, after having passed from A to B to C on our way to E, the next logical step would to continue to D, verdad?" At this point, the most critical, penultimate step to the logical conclusion, instead of everyone being in agreement that D was the next logical step, there was a suddent cacophony of disagreement. "D?" are you insane? the clear answer is...BLUE." another would shout "BLUE, that's chimbo. The clear answer is 20!" more shouts "CORN!" "SHOES!" "WATER!" "TIRES!" ...whatever. nobody was focused on the problem any longer, and we would NEVER reach the letter E.

IF there was ever a clear right answer, and a clear wrong answer, it seemed to me that my Venezuelan colleagues would without deviation ALWAYS pick the answer sure to make matters worse. Another example, if you would indulge.

As director of some 30 people, I was responsible for their productivity. There are many theories and practices about noise in the workplace, but the most common one is that a calmer environment enhances productivity. We had what was then the forward-thinking OPEN ENVIRONMENT office layout, in which there were no office walls. (It bears pointing out that the people making these decisions were doing so from the quiet of their offices). Anyway, it was chaos. There were at least 5 radios and tape player at any given moment, blaring different music. People shouted over them, danced to them, and generally gave off a frenetic air of activity. but nothing was actually getting done. So I was going to install a "headphones only" policy, rather than deny them the right to music. I decided to by personal tape players and head sets for those who couldn't afford it. An expensive proposition, but my sanity has a high price tag.

Though I didn't need his blessing, I decided to inform the president of the company about it before i did it. He listened patiently (NOT a typical Venezuelan habit, but one he had learned to accommodate me with since I was clear to him that I found his constant interruptions to be counterprodutive to actually hearing me), and once he had heard me out, looked at me pityingly and said, :Señor, the answer is so clear, yet you have overlooked it. You make more money than they do. Simply purchase a stereo that is much bigger, and (looking at me like he was about to offer me the translation to the rosetta stone) LOUDER." see? that would solve the problem. But i purchased the headphones and radios, and tape players, and insisted on quelling anyone who tried to play music without them. productivity went up dramatically, though my colleagues and underlings never really enjoyed being cut off from their shared musically-driven professional dysfunction. I'm sure the minute I left that job, the headphones were trashed and the rock-salsa office party began anew.

but on a more serious note, there is almost no transaction--from a single coca-cola to a new roof--that transpires without someone ripping you off if they can. There is no winning it seems in Venezuela, unless someone else loses. Getting ahead is insignificant unless you can screw someone over in the process. Chavez knows this very well (again, as does Bush). and does an efficient job of exercising it to full potential.

the government is currently doing all it can to villify "the other" (oligarchs, imperialists, and most cynically considering the source: golpistas), and adopt policies that will JODE EEUU (like selling traditional US oil purchases to China, arming the FARC, illegally funding other guerilla groups and anti-democratic efforts across Latin America, etc) even though it means a continued slide to descrution in the areas of economy, human rights, and general quality of life for Venezuelans.

And Venezuelans continue to vote for this goverment (or remain doggedly disorganized in the opposition, rendering themselves worse than useless), shooting themselves in the collective foot.

My theory is that it all stems from the only way the vanquished Indians could negatively effect the catholic european tyrants...PASSIVE AGRESSION. If you can't beat them, at least you can do wrong what they make you do. So now it's in the culture. Even the salsa was developed as a dance of protest, as the steps take place OUTSIDE of the rhythm. And Venezuelans love the salsa. It is when they are at their most efficient--dancing outside the rhythm. making sure that "el patron" is not getting what he needs, not the way he needs it. Even if doing so ensures hunger and suffering for everyone, por lo menos estan jodiendo los demas.

Rememeber, the sure path from A to E is: A, B, C, SIXTY FIVE! BLUE! HORSES! ETc.

AB said...

Anonymous 2:

In essence I agree with most of the things you have said. One issue that bothers me tremendously about the foreigners opining in Venezuelan matters is the simplification of issues by reasons of race or ancestors for there is no such thing as single identifiable Venezuelan geno/phenotype. I am but one example in millions of how diverse Venezuelan's could be. Imagine that I were to argue that the entrepreneurial success of the US is based on the barter characteristics of American aboriginals.

The point of the self administered pat on the back is that if you extrapolate a few characters in there you get the picture, and the causes, of the current mess of the country, together with typical criticism from the usual suspects (Anonymous 1) who also make part of society and contribute only for the deterioration of things.

The problem with my fellow countrymen is that they are ever waiting for someone else to save the day. Everyone knows that Chavez is a failure and that under his rule we'll never reach levels comparable to advanced societies, but no one seems to be willing to risk it to save the child from falling. Crude and simple.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 2 again. of course i simplified the issues. i love venezuela and venezuelans, or i wouldn't still be there, and base my profession around the country, its people, and its culture. i know MANY venezezuelans who are deep thinkers, incredibly efficient workers, and others who are just the opposite, but dear friends none-the-less. i guess it's this complex diversity (much like the venezuelan landscape, which can be both mesmerizing and dangerous at the same time) that keeps me involved. but if there is one overriding truth to my experiences in venezuela, is that no matter the direness of the circumstance, and the complete rush to disaster, something happens to save the day. it is--unfortunately--- less often the efforts of those who ought to be responsible, than to divine intervention, coincidence, or the magic realism that pervades much latin american literature, and which i could never stomach until i had traveled in latin america. this magic realism (which could be a metaphor for the effects of petroleum in veneuzuela) seems to save the day so often that people have come to depend on it, and to transfer personal responsiblity to it. but that is a different subject. thanks for your response. i have read your blog often, but this one touched a chord of a subject i've never seen anyone address, and so promted my comments. i am no scholar, and certainly not a journalist. but there does seem to be an overriding..how to say this without undue harshness?...lack of common sense, that leads venezuela astray...over and over and over and over and over...ad naseum. here's to better days... salud.

AB said...

Anonymous 2,

the road to recovery starts from appraising the human capital that shall transit the road. Think Ellen McArthur here.

Once the idiosyncratic pros and cons have been duly recognised and established, preparations have been made, responsibilities assigned and risks assessed, the journey begins; not before.

We can make it to the end but will never get ther under the command of dysfunctional, deranged leaders.