Venezuelans still hope for change

The moment many in Venezuela had been awaiting for months came and went this weekend, and the nation, as well as the international community, is still asking, “what happened?” What many had called a democratically elected authoritarian regime was toppled, but somehow all the king’s horses and all the king’s men seem to be putting Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Last Friday morning, for the first 30 minutes of the accent reduction class I was teaching, we didn’t talk about voiced or voiceless consonants or stressed or unstressed syllables. We talked about Venezuela. I had not watched the news, so it wasn’t until my Venezuelan student told me that Hugo Chavez had been asked to resign and his Bolivarian Revolution seemed to have come to-at least-a temporary end that I found out . My student related to me all he had read online, seen on television, and heard over the phone the night before, and I sat listening with rapt attention.

This is how I have come to know this nation. This is how the teacher has over and over again become the hungry student of a country undergoing a revolution.

I have former students working with Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A., the nation’s oil company, and and DISIP, the national police, who claimed to have found explosives and evidence of the plotting of a violent coup. I have flown in a tiny plane piloted by a former Venezuelan Air Force officer out of La Carlotta, the tiny military airport in the heart of Caracas where my student told me a truck had blocked the runway late in the night to prevent Chavez’ escape, but also where reports say a Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. plane whisked the first lady and her daughter off to their hometown.

I know people who voted for this former coup leader out of rage or hope for change, most of them disillusioned with rhetoric and angry with radical reforms that threatened their way of life. I know the U.S. government only began to voice opposition to the president of this petroleum-producing nation when its leader held up photos of “innocent” victims of “fighting terror with terror” in Afghanistan.

I know no one who lives in the sad shacks that line the hillsides. It was the poor in the nation’s shantytowns who elected him, bolstered by the fickle support of a frustrated middle and even upper class.

Last week, it was the middle and upper class who forced his resignation, bolstered by the support of a remorseful military who ultimately threw its support behind the president once again.

It is almost impossible to argue that Chavez has promoted his vision for change in an efficient, effective, intelligent, or even particularly democratic way. The hope, however, that this charismatic leader has sparked, although it may have flickered, seems still a ways from dying out.

Last Saturday night, the voices of these same poor citizens reached the ear of a military and a middle class who began thinking twice when, in a cruel case of d