View of Caracas from Mount Avila
I was born in Caracas, Venezuela during the oil boom, born to American parents who arrived there in 1937 to work for Standard Oil. That made me an American citizen.Years later, I realized it was one of the few things that I shared with Senator John McCain, born in Panama to American parents.
Today, Venezuela is a a country in complete chaos. Rampant poverty. Not enough food, medicine, water, not enough of anything for survival. From the news I read on the Internet, it sounds like the birth of a Dystopian world that isn’t quite Dystopia yet because there are no set rules yet in place. In The Hunger Games, we knew early on what the rules were – 12 districts, and once a year, these districts were pitted against each other in the games that pitted children against children. In Venezuela now, there are no such clear rules.
Maduro, who inherited his position through the previous dictator, Hugo Chavez, when he died, declares that he won the presidency. Juan Guaido, president of the National Assembly – like our Congress – says he’s the prez. More than 50 countries, including the U.S., agree with him. But as long as Maduro is backed by the Venezuelan military – that drove back incoming aid from Colombia and the Red Cross- then he can do stuff like cut power to the country for more than a week.
During many of the years that I lived in Venezuela, went to school here, had a life there – it was under the dictatorship of Perez Jimenez. He was a despot who, like his dictator brothers around the world, did away with his adversaries, made deals with the king pins in various parts of the world, including the U.S. – and could do so easily because of the oil, the country’s greatest economic resource.
In fact, when my dad went there in 1937, he did so for a job. The U.S. was coming out of the depression and he, an accountant couldn’t find work in Tulsa, Oklahoma, answered a Standard Oil ad. He spent nearly 30 years in Venezuela, working for a company that helped to develop the oil industry in Venezuela – and really milked it for profit.
In the early 1960s Jimenez nationalized the oil companies and Americans started leaving the country in droves. I remember standing on the balcony of our apartment the night that Jimenez fled the country, watching the procession of government cars speeding down the mountain. He had embezzled $13 million from the Venezuelan treasury and ended up living in Miami Beach.
But that was the night, I’m sure, when my dad decided he’d had enough. He was going to retire, take his pension (meager, considering all the years he’d worked there), and move back to the U.S. I understand why he made that decision. But for me, the repercussions were huge. I loved Venezuela. Loved its diversity, its beauty, its strangeness. I loved my life there, enfolded as it was in all sorts of weirdness. When school was cancelled it wasn’t because of a hurricane; it was due to a revolution. But the process was the same – a run to the grocery store for water and other supplies and the shelves would be bare. No cell phones back then to record it, just that permanent photo in your head.
In the late 80s, we returned to Venezuela on a trip with my parents. In the city of Maracaibo, where we had lived in an “oil camp “ – housing for oil company employees – we were hurrying down a road in intense heat and my dad was trying to remember the address of the house in which we’d lived. When you compare the reality to the memory, that’s tough. Suddenly, he said, “57, we lived at 57!”
And there it was, the little house where we’d been living when my sister was born, where a rabid monkey once had sought refuge during an escape, where I’d plucked incredible mangos from a tree in the backyard. We knocked at the door. And the couple who owned the house invited us to lunch.
That Venezuela is now history.
In that Venezuela, among the oil brats who shared at least a part of that history, are trump supporters. And I don’t understand that at all.
Here are some of the BBC’s more recent headlines about Venezuela.