November 25, 2003

Correspondence with a reader who liked The Revolution will not be televised:

...along with a review, of sorts, of that wretched movie,
and explanation of why I haven't been blogging for the last few months...

Email #1

On Mon, 24 Nov 2003 17:56:01 -0800, "Paul Cheney" said:

> I have done a lot of reading about Venezuela, its traditions, culture, political
> history, etc., and I've checked out web sites and news organizations, both
> "Against" Chavez and "For" him. I've really enjoyed learning all this
> stuff, and I have you to thank for this.


> I think you're
> really mistaken about Chavez, and after seeing the movie The Revolution
> will not be televised
(which I was prepared to view as totally biased) I
> think I came to realize how RACIST the opposition to Chavez is, and
> perhaps how racist you might be.

Hmmm...well, I suppose these days, if you're talking about Venezuela with a gringo, you can't help but talk about The revolution will not be televised. It's a convincing movie, that's for sure. It's very well made, very persuasive. Of course, that's what they said about The Triumph of the Will.

Top notch propaganda always is.

You're a Political Science professor, if I recall correctly, no? I would just urge you not to shut off your critical mind as you sit down to watch a movie like this. When you think about it for a third of a second, you could make a hatchet film of this sort about anything. If I'm a palestinian, and I'm DETERMINED to sway viewers opinions and get them on my side, what could be easier than splicing together 90 minutes of tape that shows Arafat as ONLY good and noble while the Israelis are shown as ONLY evil and mean? The movie practically makes itself: but what does it really add to our collective understanding? What's the point of making it?

Of course, if I'm an Israeli trying to do the same, it's not any more difficult! There are plenty enough crazy extremists on both sides that you can tar everyone on that side by implication, if you just paint with a broad enough stroke. It's really not difficult. I'm sure Chechen fighters could make a movie to make the Russian army look really ghastly, and themselves as heroic, but the Russian army could do the opposite just as easily.

In almost any deep human conflict, if you decide to be completely one-sided and propagandistic, you can make one of the sides look wonderful, the other horrendous! It's so easy to do, the exercise seems just barely seems worth doing!

So yeah, I won't go into the details of the many, many innacuracies and manipulations in Revolution will not be televised, inaccuracies that got them thrown out of the Amnesty Film Fest and that have put their Banff award under review, innacuracies that have been extensively documented by people with more time an effort on their hands than I do. I'll just point out one bit that especially incensed me: remember the bit where they're talking about how the coup was coming together and then they show the tanks rolling up the streets towards the Presidential Palace? The little shard of "information" they just blithely leave out is that, as Chavez himself recognized and as audio recordings of military radio frequencies show conclusively, it was Chavez who ordered them there! He called them out, to disperse the opposition crowds and protect the palace! The movie gives the precisely opposite impression.


Cuz the richness and complication that suffuses real life is anathema to propaganda producers. Because moral ambiguity, uncertainty, shades of gray, ruin a good agit-prop film. Because ethical simplification, the dumbing down of a situation to its Disney-esque components, is the stock and trade of propaganda producers. Because they need good guys who are completely good, bad guys who are completely bad, and nothing in between. Because, reality ruins a good story.

So I would just urge you not to turn off your critical mind, EVER, not even (especially not when) watching a movie like Revolution will not be televised. But, in general, it's quite simple really: when you see a representation of Venezuelan reality where one side is all good and the other is all bad, then take a step back, breathe, and realize you're being exposed to propaganda, which is no less loathsome when it comes from the right than when it comes from the left, that's for sure.

On the other hand, I really don't care that much anymore. These days I draw a stipend to figure out the behavior of dynamic models of economic development under the influence of technological innovation, which is a much dryer thing to obsess about, but probably has fewer harmful effects for my blood pressure and such and such. One thing that's really become clear to me since coming to Europe is how little people outside Venezuela really know about what's going on there, and how little it matters. Ultimately, only Venezuelans can work out the country's political crisis, and all people on the outside (including me) can do is hope and pray that common sense somehow, heroically, makes a come-from-behind recovery and wins out in the end - sorting the mess out without resorting to guns. Last weekend's signature gathering drive was a major step in that direction, next weekend's second drive (the one for the presidency) will be even more important.

Anyway, it's good to hear from you, and I am glad I've gotten you to research this stuff. If you keep at it, maybe travel to Vzla some time, I'm pretty confident you'll eventually come around and see that it's puerile extremism that's the problem, not the government as such or the opposition as such.


> ps: what's happened to your chronicles? Since I last
> communicated with you (when you seem to have mistaken a satirical web site, The Onion,
> for some real news reporting - about Syria if I remember correctly)

Hmmm, lets see: what happened to my blog? I emigrated, that's what happened! The stress of it all got to me...the unending deadlines, the anonymous threats, the crappy pay...usual set of complaints, I imagine. So I ran off and started work on a Ph.D. at a United Nations University institute in The Netherlands ( If all goes to plan, I should have a doctorate safely in hand by 2007 or so, which, hey, is just after the next elections in Venezuela.

(Oh, and I realize the Onion is not a serious site - just sent that piece on Syria because it struck me as class-a satire!)

ps for you: Do you mind if I publish this little back and forth in the blog, minus your last name, if you'd prefer it that way? People sporadically ask me why the blog has stopped, or about the movie, and this would clear it up for them.

Email #2

On Tue, 25 Nov 2003 14:07:06 -0800, "Paul Cheney"
> Hi Francisco! Congrats on entering the PhD program at the UN school! Now
> I know you're responding to email and want to publish this little back and
> forth, I'll send you a more extensive letter - maybe just some quick points
> now... Glad you DID get the satirical nature of The Onion - your response
> was kind of ambiguous, something like "your country is under attack and
> you laugh!" MANY people here in the USA do think their country is under
> attack and have no tolerance for satire any more - glad you're not one of them!

Well, I'll make no pretense to understand anything about U.S. politics - a conceptual black hole for me. All I know is that the notion of the CIA discovering that 95% of the people in Syria are arabs and being horridly scared of this all of a sudden struck me as hysterically funny. There are a lot of Syrians in Venezuela, by the way - second and third generation descendents of guys who came over right after decolonization. (Hence some of the rumor-mongering about a Chavez-Damascus axis...silly.) It strikes me as very odd but very cool that most Venezuelans are more likely to understand the joke-nature of that Onion piece than most Americans!

(There's another page to add to your file on Venezuelan racism - a highly integrated muslim-arab community of tens of thousands of members, living really with no communal problems whatsoever with the native Venezuelans!)

> As for The Revolution Will Not Be Televised - sure, I was aware of
> propaganda, and aware of the film-makers' biases - particularly around the
> character of Chavez himself (his stuff about his Grandfather - was
> he/wasn't he a murderer? He was a murderer!). Chavez clearly has an ego,
> loves to hear himself talk, etc. But what really surprised me was the
> arrogance of the "opposition" - I'd never seen the non-government media
> before, never heard how they planned the coup - I really had thought the
> opposition demo was "spontaneous".

Well, I think if you read back through my blog you'll find more than a few angry tirades against the pathetic propagandism of the Venezuelan private media as well. I was an active member of an NGO founded to FIGHT that kind of distortion (a membership which, ironically enough, ended up getting me tarred as an anti-government extremist by Al Giordano and not a few other blogscape denizens...)

Hell, I even got into a public argument on live nationwide television (virtual cadena broadcast, it was carried live on every channel except channel 8, the gov't station) where I accused the Assembled owners of the private TV broadcasters of applying psychological warfare tactics to scare people into opposing the government. I charged them in public with gross abuses of basic standards of journalistic ethics. I was even quoted by Chavez on an Alo, presidente, his Sunday TV talkathon!

That may have been the lowest point in my career, when I saw Chavez twist my words to shore up his banana republic autocracy. It made me literally sick to my stomach to see my words twisted in that way.

So believe me Paul, I know all about what it's like to be aggressively and maliciously misinterpreted. It became the story of my career!

To the right in Venezuela I was a closet chavista - hell, the comandante was even quoting me to make its points. To the left I was an evident stooge of imperialism, cuz I worked for the NYTimes, refused to suck up to the prez and write sycophantically about him, as they would demand, and because I was clearly an upper class toff. I was virulently attacked by both sides, repeatedly, and threatened by one of them (the government, need I add.)

And why? All for refusing to have a simplistic position, refusing to simply swallow the political fantasies of either side hook line and sinker. So I know how hard it is to be in the middle, to try to arrive at a principled independent judgement at a  time when there are enormous social, economic, and even family pressures to simply fold into one side of the propaganda war. I understand how much easier it is to play the part of advocate - to suspend all disbelief in the total, unlimited righteousness of one's side simply because it is one's side.

So it does make me angry to see the easy success the Irish movie got simply on the basis of being openly, militantly one-sided, and flouting the same standards of professional ethics, balance and integrity that they claimed to be reivindicating, and the same principles I had worked so hard to try to attain in my own work. Of course, FoxNews will always have more viewers than PBS, Disney more than Murakami, simplicity is always easier to sell than complexity. Personally, I refused to play along, and ended up here, studying in Holland instead.

> Now, the film was biased, but I don't think it made any pretense to be
> anything else. You know that we are ALL biased, and plenty of films at that
> festival were "biased". That the tanks were called by Chavez ? - I don't
> think that was, Francisco, a MAJOR "lie" in the movie.

It's not a major lie, it's just a taste for the kind of shoddy ethics that pervades the movie. Subtle silences that give wrong impressions, strategic omissions that distort the entire picture, half truths, exagerations, near-fabrications, etc.

What most irked me about the film was the crass caricaturing of the opposition position, of its leadership, of its ethical vision. Of our ethical vision. They essentially created a disney-style bad guy and tarred us as that. They took months and years of earnest organizing effort, of self-less idealism on the part of hundreds of thousands of people who refuse to allow their nation to slouch into autocracy, and they turned it into a Cruella DeVille caricature. Those of us who risked everything to raise a voice of protest against the continuing autocratic encroachment of the government can only consider it a slur - a deeply damaging slur at that.

Because, as my blog was always clear to admit, the very nasty side to the opposition you saw in the movie is real. It exists. It's there. It's a problem. Too many rich people in my country have always treated to many poor people in my country as second class citizens. Yes the reactionary upper class women firing their servants in case they might be chavistas are no lie. I know that's true. I have some in my family. And yes they meet. And yes this is a problem. And yes this has to change. All of this is true.

But to suggest that those people are the whole of the opposition is like saying that suicide bombers is ALL there is to the Palestinian resistance to Israel...a profoundly dishonest, nasty, ugly, unfair and mean-spirited falsification of reality - which is a lot to peg on a movie that sells itself as an angry tirade against media manipulation! Does no one else see the irony of this?

There are also thousands upon thousands, probably millions of earnest middle class venezuelans - middle class educationally (university trained), though poor in economic terms - with deep democratic ideals and a real love for their country who see Hugo Chavez's delirious ranting on TV and get earnestly freaked out, and angry, very angry. Not because of what the private media tells them, but simply because they posses ears and eyes, and they've been subjected to hours upon hours of the incredible string of incendiary, meant-to-inflame statements that constantly pour out from Chavez's lips during his hours and hours long cadenas, or forced national broadcast speeches.

(Anthropological side-note: these Cadenas are broadcasts that, by law, have to go out on ALL the TV channels and ALL the radio stations AT THE SAME TIME whenever Chavez wants, for as long as Chavez wants. This notion, as I've found, is not easy for first world people to quite wrap their minds around - imagine getting home, turning on the tube, and seeing George W. Bush speaking, live, on every single channel you have access to and every single radio station, for hours on end! You can't escape, unless you are middle class and have cable, or choose to turn off all electronic media and play chess for the evening. These happen all the time in Venezuela, several times a week even now - in fact, even my African colleagues here at the United Nations University are astounded by the scale of abuse of power implied by the president's discretionary use of the cadena system!)

The Cadenas are the reason a million people turned out to protest the government on april 11th, not the opposition leaders, not the media, not the oligarchs. It was the incredible, seething anger millions of people felt as they had their tv and radio programming interrupted up to 30 times EVERY DAY for government propaganda messages. I remember April 9th, it was incredible...there was a cadena at least once ever 20 minutes! It really really angered people to be treated this way, because they could see the nature of the abuse of power the government was undertaking, a near nationalization of the airwaves and a confiscation of the national media's right to broadcast for completely political purposes, for propaganda purposes, for matters of no interest to the state at all, simply as political tools.

This created a kind of media warfare, as the media lords - bunch of bastards - retaliated by running more and more hyper-shrill anti-government propaganda during the few minutes when their signals were not taken over by the government.

[Aside: I'm a big fan of nature documentaries, they really helped me relax in a place as tense as Venezuela in the Chavez era. I had no cable at home, but, happily, in Caracas, I had channel 5, a catholic church owned channel that shows only foreign made documentaries and nature programs all day, with no commercials. It was truly surreal to try to watch a documentary in those days. Just as you were getting curious about the mating habit of the platypus, you'd be interrupted for a propaganda message from the government that could last anything from 5 minutes to 4 hours. You could never tell. I never did find out how a platypus mates!]

But I digress. The point is that there was a propaganda war on the airwaves, and both sides were shooting. The documentary makes it look like Chavez never abused his power to take over the airwaves, which is transparently false. It glosses over a  long and dark history of repeated autocratic abuses by the government, of repeated flaunting of the rule of law on a wide variety of issues, and of government sponsored threats, intimidation and harassment against opponents that would make any Amnesty International supporter blush, if he had the guts to look into the cases carefully. Again, I speak from first hand experience here...this is not speculation.

Any way you slice it, if you take the time to look at it, there is NO WAY you can describe the Chavez government as fully democratic. Its autocratic control of every branch of the state is so well documented it barely seems worth hashing over again. His government's repeated, public flouting of certain symbolically charged laws, like the prohibition agaisnt using military facilities for political purposes ENSHRINED IN THE CONSTITUTION Chavez HIMSELF WROTE, are a constant reminder that the government is above the law, untouchable, owning the public prosecutors and therefore perfectly able to stop ANY investigation into ANYTHING the president does. Just imagine the symbolism of it: what would happen if the US if President Bush ordered the US Army to make a large army base on the outskirts of DC available to put up tens of thousands of Republican activists for the night so they could rest up for a pro-Bush march in Washington the next day? The climate of impunity and fear this creates is intolerable...bad enough to cause me to emigrate. (Walk a mile in my shoes here!)

Let me illustrate with an annecdote: I had a reporter friend in Caracas who worked for Globovision. He was a very good, very conscientious journalist working at a very bad, propagandistic news station. Jorge (we'll call him, to protect the innocent) refuses at all costs to compromise his professional integrity, and reports as evenly as is possible from the locations he's sent. Even though he never incites violence against anyone, goes out of his way to report both points of view, and is in general a top-notch TV journalist, his face was indelibly linked with the Globovision logo.

As a result, trying to schedule a time and place to go get a drink with Jorge is something of a nightmare. Whole areas of the city are simply no-go areas for him: he might be recognized by groups of chavistas, who have been incited again and again through the cadena broadcasts to consider opposition media as the enemy. So Jorge cannot not just nip down on foot to his local grocery to get a can of soda, like any normal mortal - he might literally be killed, or at the very least harrassed. It's happened before, and he's not taking any more risks. He has about 6 bars around the city where he knows the owners and feels safe enough to show his face. Otherwise, he avoids going out in public. He cannot go to a mall, or a sports stadium, or a gym, or not without running a certain level of risk. His life is effectively confined to a handful of spaces where he can go and know he'll be safe. (Walk a mile in Jorge's shoes here!)

Let me add here that Jorge is black, and gay. Neither has impeded his rise through the ranks of Venezuelan journalism, nor has his overt refusal to participate in the production of propaganda. There is some room for excellence  in the opposition, for tolerance and open-mindedness. I asked Jorge once if he had ever felt discriminated against because of his skin color at Globovision, and he just laughed at me. "What country do you come from?" he asked in broken English, before adding in Spanish "esa vaina sencillamente no se da aca" - it just doesn't happen here. I believe him.

I remember I was at a Los Del Medio meeting (that pro-media balance NGO) in a meeting right after the very  WHITE foreign minister Roy Chaderton accused the opposition media of being motivated largely by racism, of being institutionally racist. I was sitting in a room full of Opposition-owned media journalists, about 25 of us, and easily two thirds of us were on the toastier side of the white-black continuum, with a few white people, a couple of dark black guys, and the whole gamut of the color range in between, including a half-chinese girl, thrown into the mix as well. Some of us looked a bit more Indian, others definitely more African, a few more white, but virtually all of us were mixed in some way - which is the premise of that very good book I recommended, Cafe con Leche, which I would urge everyone interested to read - written in the pre-Chavez era, mercifully.

[A few days after the infamous Chaderton speech, deliciously, the incomparable Teodoro Petkoff sent a friend of mine who works for him at Tal Cual, the afternoon daily newspaper he runs, to investigate the racial make up of all ambassadors and top level diplomats that Chaderton had appointed as Foreign Minister - she found a miniscule number of darker skinned appointees! Many fewer, that's for sure, than those visible every day on the private news broadcasts! Where would we be without Teodoro?]

The point of this story is that racism means very little in a society like ours, a society where almost everyone is of mixed ancestry and all of us talk and eat and dance and pray and read and think and act more or less alike, whatever the exact tonality of our skin. In this sense, if in no other, Venezuela really is a model society: skin color differences really are pretty irrelevant to most people's day to day life. While it is true that lighter skin people, in general, tend to be better off than darker skinned people, that generalization is riddled with very large numbers of exceptions - a situation quite radically unlike what you see in truly rigid social systems, like Colombia's or El Salvador's. If the irish film didn't represent that, then it might as well be made in another galaxy, it's not a social distinction most venezuelans would regard as particularly salient, or even important at all.

The real social fault line in Venezuela is all to do with money, very little to do with skin color. There's even an oligarchical little joke to that effect.

A: Did you hear they will no longer allow black people to become members of the Caracas Country Club?
B: Really?
A: That's right...
B: But what is their definition of a "negro"
A: A "negro" is anyone who does not have $1 million in the bank.

It's a horrendous joke, full of oligarchical conceit. But in its own twisted way, it shows how deep open mindedness about skin color really is. Even the foofiest of the elite understands that ultimately, skin color is not what matters in my country. Sadly, too often, money is. (And yes, that has to change!)

So, being as honest as I know how, and mindful of the way real racists will always vehemently deny such charges, I can tell you seriously that Roy Chadderton is full of shit. He simply is.

One more anecdote to make the point:

I have a sister-in-law whose last name is, somewhat incongruously Aleman. I say incongruously because she is anything but German, which is what Aleman means in Spanish. In fact, her father, Mr. Aleman, is quite dark skinned - Condi Rice color, about. For this reason, his friends, wife, and family have nicknamed him "El Negro", as a term of endearment. It's so much part of his social persona that he introduces himself as el Negro to friends of friends! His skin-color is so much a normal thing he 's totally owned it through his nickname, and it's a completely unremarkable part of his personality by now - a sign of affection and familiarity, nothing more.

The funny part being that since so many darker skinned people nickname themselves Negros, it is sometimes necessary to distinguish them by last name. "El negro is coming to dinner," you might say, and someone might respond, "which negro, el negro Suarez or el negro Arteaga?" But in my sister in law's dad's case, this turns him into "el negro Aleman" - or, literally, "the German black". I could never really figure that one out, but that's his name.

Another one for your racist opposition files.

> Anyway, back to the film. What imressed me was the treatment of the coup
> leaders! I'd assumed they were all in jail, or had been beaten to death!
> But, according to Amnesty International, it was the OPPOSITION that had
> resorted to "draconian decrees, including the closure of the National
> Assembly, and the summary dismissal of the Supreme Court, the Attorney
> General and the Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensor del Pueblo). Police
> carried out raids on a number of homes of supporters of President Chavez.
> Amongst those arbitrarily detained were a Minister and a National Assembly
> deputy. There was widespread condemnation of the unconstitutional and
> summary removal of President Chavez, the illegal detention of his
> supporters, and the arbitrary powers assumed by the de facto government."

But this is the whole point! There WAS widespread condemnation...from within the opposition! The film didn't choose to tell you the story of how Teodoro Petkoff, the venerable old man of the Venezuelan antichavista left, spent April 12th going from one jail to another demanding that the
human rights of detainees be scrupulously observed! It didn't show the way opposition majors in Caracas personally turned up to ensure that angry mobs did not harm detainees! It did not show the deep current of discontent that was already riling the opposition by the morning of April 13th, which helped as much to restore Chavez as the relatively small and much overhyped little gathering outside Miraflores later that same day. Yes, the coup leaders went way too far, but within the opposition there was enough intellectual space to rein them in, because there is a deep vein of democratic idealism and pluralism running through the opposition, along side some creepy authoritarian impulses (which, still, cannot be compared to Chavez's raging personalism.)

If the film-makers did not see that, they chose not to see, but more importantly they chose not to show  to pretend it didn't exist. And in so doing, they deeply misrepresent my country's political reality.

I wish people could understand that.

> THAT was what the film brought out. The idolization of Chavez - sure,
> that's what all film makers do!
> One more thing before I go - and I'll send you something more detailed
> later - you said:
> "Cuz the richness and complication that suffuses real life is anathema to
> propaganda producers. Because moral ambiguity, uncertainty, shades of
> gray, ruin a good agit-prop film. Because ethical simplification, the
> dumbing down of a situation to its Disney-esque components, is the stock
> and trade of propaganda producers. Because they need good guys who are
> completely good, bad guys who are completely bad, and nothing in between.
> Because, reality ruins a good story."
> I think you might be a bit guilty of this yourself! You seem to leave out a
> lot of unhappy history in your Chronicles - the sort of unhappy history
> that has produced a lot of people who see Chavez as their first hope for
> change. There is an awful lot of blood on the hands of the old political
> parties, and most of the "opposition" seem to be rather implicated in
> that unhappy history!

Well, as I wrote above I think I shoved more than enough shit the opposition's way in my time, gotten in trouble for it too. But I also don't accept the overall implication.

OK, last anecdote to make last point:

My first experience in Venezuelan politics was in the summer of 1996. I was about to become a Senior at Reed College in Oregon and needed a thesis topic. I decided to spend the summer shadowing a Venezuelan opposition politician, and writing about the experience. The politician
was Andrés Velasquez, a trade unionist and a leftist who had campaigned his entire adult life - or, actually, longer, his first political speech he gave in high school, at age 15! - against the old system. Andrés lists his profession as electrician, and that's what his job was: he was an industrial electrician at the giant Sidor steel plant, from a Lula-style trade-union based party. At 5'4", he makes up in girth what he lacks in height. His face, and his heritage, are almost purely indian, with a bit of white sprinkled in several generations back. He is a deeply charismatic leader, a man of the people, really, and many people believe he actually WON the 1993 election, the one before Chavez, but was robbed by a left-right stitch up to put Caldera back in Miraflores. I don't know if that's true or not.

The point is that I know Andres, I've travelled with him closely. He had spent twenty five years of his life in a determined fight against the corrupt old regime - more than half the regime's total lifetime! - organizing workers, working his ass off, being harrassed, persecuted and intimidated again and again by the adecos, raising an independent voice for workers that could not be well represented by big party-affiliated labor unions, which were in bed with the boss, which was the state in this case.

NOBODY can accuse Andres of selling out - on the contrary, his political history shows an almost fanatical determination to stay commited to certain democratic principles taught to him from youth by leftist intellectuals from the moderate branch of the communist party of the 60s and 70s. Andres is that most fearsome opponent: the committed life-long activist. And in his own, quiet way, he probably did much more to upset the two party grip on power as Chavez did - until 1998, anyway.

Yet, today, Andres is part of the opposition, because his democratic principles do not allow him to back a government that is as openly spiteful of the rule of law as Chavez's is. And, worse of all, the government insinuate darkly that he has been bought off by the oligarchs, impugning his integrity because they have no leg to stand on when it comes to impugning the worth of his arguments. To see Chavez virulently attack Andres on television, on cadenas, in more than one occasion, is something I found deeply revolting. For Chavez, only he and his sect ever could or ever will do anything for the poor in my country. They are rigidly, ideologically blind to the contribution of anyone but themselves. In their exceedingly simplisticly mannichean view of the world, those who are not with them are against them, enemies, demons to be fought and destroyed.

Worst still, this applies not only to the rich, not only to the powerful, not only to the radical shrill critics, or the openly reactionary, but against EVERYONE, including people like Jorge and Andres, who does not slavishly pay homage and swear to follow each and every single deranged idea the president might choose to express. People who display the slightest whiff, the merest suggestion of disagreement with Chavez, or even those who choose a nuanced version of agreement, are rapidly and reliably expelled from the chavista sect. Its autocratic verticalism is the polar opposite of democratic pluralism, of pluralistic decision-making. And that is what many of us in the opposition cannot, will not, and ought not to swallow, Paul. And, we won't.

Now, Paul Cheney, write to me and write to me honestly: would you stand by and allow this kind of hysteria to grip your society without making a peep, without trying to do something to curb it, to reverse it, to regain the basis for a sane citizen dialogue? Can you accept a society where any form of dissent gets you branded an "enemy of the people, of bolivar, and of the motherland" (Chavez's words, not mine) I want to believe that if something like this, difficult as it is to imagine, ever started to happen in San Francisco, you would not stand for it for ten minutes. And neither should you.

Again, urging you to think fairly about this, and looking forward to continuing this little correspondence, if you have the time.