President Chávez's absence likened to surrealist novel
A string of events in some more than seven weeks of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's absence is regarded by scriptwriters and intellectuals as a soap opera that lingers long and loses credibility, the plot of which would have not been imagined even by the most seasoned and boldest scriptwriter.
Such a string of events in some more than seven weeks of absence, since Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez departed for Cuba for a cancer treatment, swamped with melodrama and surrealism, is regarded by scriptwriters and intellectuals as a soap opera that lingers long and loses credibility in a country that has heralded the production of such TV genre, the plot of which would have not been imagined even by the most seasoned and boldest scriptwriter.
"Reality in Venezuela has turned out to be implausible; it is hard to believe that such events are really occurring, where one overlaps another and where our sense of wonder is continuously challenged," Leonardo Padrón, a renowned writer of soap operas and press columnist, told The Associated Press.
For playwrights and scriptwriters, the weirdest and most gruesome point in this Chavista saga is that the main character, President Hugo Chávez, has been missing since his surgery on December 11, 2012 for a cancer he suffers since 2011.
Since then, the caudillo has not uttered a word; he has shown up neither in public nor in pictures, as he did on previous occasions when he went to Havana to get operated.
"From the viewpoint of a playwright, of a story teller, it is true that in this country, Chávez is the star of the film and the story was left without a main character... The person who led this country's destiny exists no more; he is sort of abstraction, an entelechy; he is someone orally invoked, yet there is no real clue about his consciousness," Padrón said.
"There has been an excess of climaxes in the soap opera; we want right away the final week and the last chapter. I think that everybody wants the outcome to happen, no matter which, provided that it will happen," he added.
Such an environment of incredibility and uncertainty has escalated upon the decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice vouching for Chávez's indefinite term in office; Chávez's alleged appointment of former Vice-President as his Foreign Minister and conflicting messages about his health status.
The melodramatic shifts of this script have taken place after 14 years of a term in office full of surprises, conflicts and successes, including a failed coup against Chávez in 2002; his brief stay abroad in the aftermath of that, and his speech at the United Nations where he called "devil" then US President George W. Bush.
All these years, Chávez has monopolized Venezuelans' media attention with an exuberant cult of his person, splitting the Venezuelan society into followers and dissenters. Some artists who trust the caudillo have painted images of their leader downtown Caracas. In the meantime, opponents reckon how much his silence will last.
There have been lately at least three different versions on the president's health. Ending last December, Vice-President Nicolás Maduro claimed that Chávez had phoned him to give him directions and that he was walking and fitness training.
Later, Maduro and Communication Minister Ernesto Villegas said that the president "has faced troubles as a result of a severe pulmonary infection" and a post-operatory process "not free from risks." Recently, Maduro added that "President Chávez is at his best." Villegas, for his part, noted that the Venezuelan leader was "making decisions."
Overwhelmed by widespread criticism of the government reluctance to provide details on Chávez's health status, including the type of cancer and the site of the removed tumors, Villegas recently replied, "We cannot yield in the blackmail of those who mix the right to information with morbid curiosity... some things form part of the patient's privacy."
Playwright and essayist Luis Britto García has disparaged criticism of the government. "There is a media war, marked by a game of lies, based on unfounded speculation intended to create a mindset in order to destabilize the country," he admonished.
Britto García advised Venezuelans "not to echo unfounded messages engaged in speculation," recommending instead to rely on those "who are in touch with President Chávez, who supply weighted, moderate information, which, of course, has to vary due to the delicate treatment."
The alleged signing of the decree on the appointment of Jaua as the new Minister of Foreign Affairs was derided by caricaturist Rayma Suprani. Her satirical drawing published in daily newspaper El Universal depicted Maduro giving a pen to a puppet of Chávez. The puppet exacted his Vice-President: "Give me the pen, for I am going to sign."
In default of the president, state-run TV channels have been stretched with images of a smiling Chávez, whereas Caracas is cramped with iconography that displays the caudillo's eyes or mottos.
Javier Vidal, a playwright and theater director, likened the situation to a street theater genre. "We are experiencing sort of a piece of clowning; a minor, carnival-like genre containing many elements of a farce," he told AFP.
Others think that the presumed contradictions among government spokespersons about Chávez's health are not at all improvised. "There is nothing impromptu here; the government calculates every word they use, down to the last detail; all those press releases are weighed and measured. To a certain extent, there is much coherence," Antonio Pasquali, a philosopher and communication researcher, said.
"Chávezism is replicating such a mechanism of deification of the leader. As far as I am concerned, all that process about Chávez's ‘totemization,' alive or dead, has been planned in order to create in the society a supreme political totem to be approached by emotional-religious means. It is a classic process of turning the profane into sacred. Therefore, any dissent from the totem is regarded as a profanation of the sacred," the philosopher wrapped up.
This is not the first time that Chávez's government and allies have inspired TV scripts. In "Cosita Rica" (Lovely little thing), a soap opera written by Padrón and produced in 2003, Olegario Pérez was kind of alter ego of the president. The character managed to capture the president's gestures and unpredictable, peculiar nature.
The soap opera was followed by "El Chigüire Bipolar" (The bipolar capybara), a website that continuously mocks at the caudillo. Recently, it posted an article where Minister Villegas apparently reported on the president's illness. "Villegas: Chávez is stable in that situation I will not tell you which is."
The fact of the matter is that Chávez's health status will remain a new, delicate issue and could inspire additional plays, soap operas and the Venezuelan literature.
Carolina Acosta-Alzuru, a media analyst and associate professor with University of Georgia, said that the situation reminded her of her book of 2007 about the soap opera "Cosita Rica," entitled "Venezuela is a soap opera".
"Such a turn of the plot we are experiencing right now is, wow, awesome, surrealist," she confessed to AP. "Sometimes I wish Gabriel García Márquez would be young again and able to write about it, because sometimes it smells like magic realism."
Translated by Conchita Delgado
At first she agreed that I use her real name, that she had no problems with that at all. After all, living with HIV had driven her to help others – as a workshop facilitator giving talks and conducting seminars, or as a volunteer for local AIDS Service Organizations like Acción Solidaria (Solidary Action) and Mujeres Unidas por la Salud (Women United for Health, or Musa), a support group network for HIV-positive women. But when we were well into the interview, the realization that she might lose her private health insurance coverage made her change her mind.