October 4, 2004

Five Hundred Posts of Solitude

It's a historic day. Of sorts. Blogger informs me that this is post number 500 on Caracas Chronicles - a tidy number, in just 25 months!

It's funny: I've wanted to write a book since I was 10 years old, and in a weird kind of way, I have! Sure, it would take a massive editing effort to whip up these 500 rants into some sort of publishable book - it would also, more relevantly, require an actual publisher, one suicidal enough to take a risk on a cantankerous expat's denunciations of Latin America's most popular, glamourous and groovy-lefty government...so, realistically, it's not likely you'll be seeing Caracas Chronicles in book form any time soon. But still, 500 posts! I've never printed the whole thing, but it can't be less than 800 pages or so...there's definitely a book hiding in there somewhere...

So, for me, it's a time to look back. To tell the truth, I'm pretty happy with the blog. I like the idea that bright, curious, time-rich but clueless northerners who develop an interest in Venezuela are bound to stumble on it sooner or later. I'm pretty sure they'll find a vision of the country's crisis that, well, I don't think they'll find anywhere else.

There's no doubt they'll be reading a partial and opinionated view of the crisis, but then that's what I love about the format: nobody reads a blog expecting anything other than a partial and opinionated view. At the very least, I hope all but lefty ideological hardliners will come to realize you don't have to be a crazy reactionary to oppose Chavez. With any luck, they'll come to see that the story of Venezuela in the Chavez era is vastly more complex and nuanced than the 800-word stories in their morning newspapers might lead them to believe.

Of course, I didn't get everything right. For the bulk of these 25 months I took it as a given that the government would lose any vote the opposition might force - and through fair means or foul, the government managed to win the August recall.

Still, as I think about it, it's pretty clear to me that even if the government really did get 59% of the vote in August, it's not the end of the world for the kind of analysis I've tried to develop here. Just because most people like Chavez's brand of sectarian autocracy enough to vote against recall doesn't mean the government isn't sectarian and autocratic - it just means that most Venezuelans don't mind sectarian autocracy. As a matter of fact, a lot of them seem to like it. That, in itself, presents a whole set of new and troubling questions about the country's political culture - but it sure doesn't make sectarian autocracy okay.

I think the strongest criticism of the blog, though, is that it's often been just plain naïve. Too often, I've fallen prey to the alluring (but nonsensical) notion that the opposition always plays fair. Deep down, I know perfectly well this isn't the case. I've also, though less often, let the government off the hook on some incredible howlers. I'm quite aware of the criticism, and I've tried to fight the tendency, but it's hard for me: thinking the worst of people just doesn't come naturally to me.

[In fact, that's one of the reasons I decided to leave journalism: a sort of ingrained cynicism seems to be one of the distinguishing characteristics of really great journos, and I just don't have it.]

For the moment, I think post 500 is as good a time as any to take an extended break from blogging. It may have dawned on some of you that I really enjoy blogging - but others will also have guessed that it takes up way too much of my time...time I need to start devoting to my poor, neglected dissertation.

To be honest, though, that's not the only reason to stop now. The reality is that Venezuela after the RR is a fundamentally different place than Venezuela before the RR - and frankly, I don't really think it's possible to write about it meaningfully from several thousand kilometers away. What readers need now is reporting, much more than analysis. And there's really no way I can do that from here.

So, this is a goodbye, and a thank-you to all the readers who've taken the time to write in, to argue it out in the forum, to participate. Your feedback, your involvement really made the site. Venezuela has a lot of problems, but so long as it also has people willing to engage one another, to talk things through, to work through the issues that face the country, surely there's hope.

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