Subject: Re: the farewell that wasn’t
Here you go.
Exactly one month ago, I landed in my country rushing to attend the burial of my mother. For this reason, and due to other unpleasant situations, I wasn’t in the mood to bid everyone farewell.
Of course, I received the letter from Abraham, who in addition to being a notable professional, is a friend who I admire intellectually, and for his commitment to real revolutionary values which, and don’t take this personally, are sorely lacking at the channel (a real, unhypocritical commitment).
I’m writing this because of the nonsense that was being said, and for those who stand by me, the colleagues who care about me and still work there, because beyond a small group of institutionalized, uncreative and uncommitted people, I happily established excellent relations with the vast majority.
To begin with:
Everyone knows what my salary was, because someone inside that small circle consisting of Patricia Villegas, José Cordero, Yeimy Avila and Andrés Gómez la Rosa filtered it down to the rest of the channel in August, to generate an unbearable working environment, resulting in a “spontaneous” signature drive organized by a person very close to the president, which impressively secured an immediate positive response for the absurdly miserable salaries of my coworkers.
I arrived on April 25th. It only took me a week to take in the panorama of my situation. I literally told the then VP, José Cordero, in my office: “They brought me here three months before the launch of the new website, and once my trial period is up, they’ll send me back home and Yeimy will return.” I asked him to explain why they had made me resign from my job, leave my family, etc, to move to Caracas.
Of course, I was asking the wrong person. In August when I returned to Caracas, I again asked him to clarify this, so that I might be able to spend the last days together with my mother. To this end, I offered a resignation that I had signed following the meeting in which we the foreigners were accused of being criminals, as if we had been responsible for the trafficking orchestrated by at least a significant proportion of the Venezuelan military.
Facing a leadership with cohesion worthy of any institution having existed for nearly a decade, what we in Argentina call “wheeling and dealing” wasn’t an option. As such, I just focused on work and getting results.
I need to underline at this point that NEVER did I receive a single order from my immediate superior, VP, and only minimal instructions from Villegas, all of which I carried out, even when her apprehension of the launch date led her to request a review of all planned content from Brangela Romero, which I’d already done exhaustively, helping her comprehend the differences between webtv, animated infographics and interactive html5 infographics.
As was the objective, I said all content would be included, and indeed everything was. The other order was, with my salary, to face employees earning $90 a month and tell them that due to financial difficulties, they wouldn’t have vacations, or employer contributions, or overtime, but the company needed them to double their efforts. They’d never experienced such a considerate political treatment, but Glenda Ortega and I delivered it, with very enclosed conflicts that we defused personally.
The only received instructions were from the then “adviser” Yeimy Avila, who I only saw twice a week for a half hour, and who was usually unable to answer her phone. Because of which my first month was spent trying to get on top of everything. When this was achieved and I recognized the disaster that was the website project, all my suggestions for improvement were thwarted by that person. When I speak of disaster, I refer even to the paid background design that wasn’t original for Telesur, because it already existed.
On more than one occasion I heard harrowing shouting from the fourth floor, about how things could be going so wrong if they had been in planning for a year. We really didn’t perceive any planning at any stage, especially when the TFS firm was contracted in a hurry, two days after they were contacted online because we didn’t have anyone to do it. Decisions like that are even worse than half-assed.
In despite of this, and the same firm advising that making the launch date would be almost impossible, the miracle was achieved, hampered throughout the launch by the incompetence of a totally inexperienced technical support team.
Such was the gravity of the situation that they destroyed the website half an hour prior to launch, wiping thousands of photos that had been uploaded in previous weeks. It was swept under the carpet. Yeimy covered everyone’s backs, including those that did it. If Glenda or I had been responsible, they would have fired us (everyone knows that my team didn’t sleep during that last week), but in addition, they didn’t even apply security measures.
As an anecdote, during those days the line from the top was that we should prepare for any type of attack from the fascist opposition and the gringos that were going to hack the website. Evidently they didn’t even try, because the access codes did not require any permissions, and one only had to know the initials of any multimedia employee, and enter “gm123456”. It wouldn’t even have occurred to Snowden. The launch and weeks leading up were that vulnerable. It was planned this poorly.
I highlight this because I never received a single negative observation about my work. To the contrary, it was all positive, at least from Villegas. Cordero just operated behind the scenes.
And I highlight it because, as one can see, a website with regular functions, that isn’t even responsive (able to adjust to tablet or smartphone screens) after a year of planning, and that isn’t integrated with its multimedia platform, and with accessibility problems that we’re all aware of due to the complaints from producers of the programs, are all errors which I was not permitted to try and resolve.
Just a month prior to the launch, the hostilities ceased, because they knew they had made a massive error.
I need to add another factor here. Prior to my arrival I was alerted by Yeimy that my Spanish director was a bad, jealous person, and that I would have to be hard-nosed if she was ever going to respect me. This attitude of trying to generate confrontation between Glenda and myself persisted until my last day, and at all times the absurd hostility from Yeimy towards Glenda was evident, with a viciousness that included sabotaging maneuvers aimed at those who sent directions to their “collaborators” (now promoted to Production Coordinators) so they would commit monumental errors and ruin Glenda’s work. The hostilities towards her, at least while I was there, never ceased.
Glenda’s departure would truly be a loss for any company. I have nothing but gratitude for her help and support since the moment I entered the confines of Caiza, in an unknown city and a new job. I never met anyone so upstanding in their work, professional, humane and self-demanding. She was always a tireless worker with the highest standards, with a superior knowledge of multimedia, able to coach and stimulate a team, a great organizer with unyielding loyalty, even for an institution which never protected her from these imbecile games.
When I speak of her multimedia knowledge, I merely refer to the results of her work, without turning to Web Production staff, instead fixing issues with the few tools available, which fixed videos of all kinds, attracting 5,000 views in short order, in contrast to the videos of Tariq Ali, at a millionaire annual cost, and with…seven views. With the truth I offend no-one, and fear no-one.
Telesur let someone like that go. Of course the institution will continue moving forward, we are all indispensable, although not everyone keeps this in mind. But one supposes that in search of excellence, all companies seek to preserve their best values. Well, almost all.
In spite of this, the website launched, with all the difficulties and planning errors.
I must reconstruct events to relay another mistreatment of a work colleague that took place in this moment, and to which only I and Adriana Orejuela were witnesses.
I always strongly criticized the way the team in Quito was organized, and how Greg managed it on both executive and operational levels. When I went to Quito, I encountered a different picture, because the vast majority were capable and eager to grow and learn, but had no direction, and many questioned the leadership of Greg as director.
Cordero, Villegas, Yeimy and I shared these same observations. In spite of this, and this is something that Greg cannot deny, I sought in all situations to reinforce his position and empower him, despite the situation in Quito heading in the opposite direction.
In the same way, I contested the criticisms of Cordero from the staff in Quito, who were complaining about the lack of leadership, and when I told them that they had the privilege of the VP with them in the office, they told me he was never around, which I always denied, and deflected by citing his logistical obligations in the development of the building.
I also had to overcome accusations about enormous overcosts of equipment, often very important items. But I understood that it was part of my job to defend my nominal superior.
Days before the launch of Telesur English, after a committee meeting about content there was a video conference between Cordero in Quito, Villegas, Orejuela and myself, about the chaos in Quito. Orejuela and myself acted as witnesses, because Cordero’s accusation was Greg’s ineptitude, and at that point Villegas gave the order to get him on a plane to Caracas immediately, to remove him from his post. Such was that Greg arrived in Caracas without clothes, and even without telephone.
This was how Greg ended up in limbo in Caracas, answering emails and doing what he could. My instruction was to keep him occupied, which I ignored because the truth was that, in spite of everything, I wasn’t going to play that game.
What Villegas can’t deny is that she came to my office on July 25th to tell me various things: 1, that she congratulated me on my work and efforts to make the launch despite everything; 2, to ask me that in a year’s time, I make a cake for Telesur English’s anniversary “because it is now your child”; and 3, “Find Greg a position here.”
In between relieving him of his duties and switching them, there was a mediation. We spoke with Orejuela about the impact this was going have, since Greg had personally contracted practically all the Quito staff, the correspondents, and much of the program schedule. This was an error admitted by Villegas herself, because his departure could have sparked a rebellion. But furthermore, beyond the question of his executive capabilities, Orejuela and I agreed about Greg’s intellectual capacity, his dedication, and that nobody deserved such treatment. Orejuela was the person who took this to the presidency.
I want to clarify that various people in Quito had notified me weeks before, that Greg had asked Cordero to replace me. Because of the people who told me this, it’s hard for me to doubt it, but I want to make it clear that my conduct was not affected, and I preferred to seek a solution.
The previous week
There were some episodes during the days prior that I should mention.
Villegas came by my office to see how things were going, just as I was in a meeting with Glenda, and the English and Spanish coordinators, Alejandra del Palacio and Jeannette Bustamante. Villegas and I went into Glenda’s office to speak for a few minutes, when the topic of Quito came up, and the low production rate of articles. I told her that during my time in Quito, I had asked why they couldn’t write more than two articles per day, getting paid 2,000 dollars a month, while in Caracas they do eight per day, getting paid 100 dollars a month.
It was the first time Villegas challenged me, saying this was nonsense, because the official exchange rate was 6.3 dollars to the Bolivar, and so Caracas actually paid more than 1,000 dollars a month. There was to be no more argument on that point, and in any case she was my superior. I bring it to your attention because two and half weeks later, she would use my own argument in order to attack us for being the vultures of Telesur.
Another episode was the evidence of differential treatment. After a meeting, I had a discussion with Consuelo Alvarez, who questioned Alejandra del Palacio for smoking all the time outside the entrance to the building, and that evidently this was now her primary activity, despite her responsibilities. I wasn’t going to agree, because she was a member of my team and as such, I had to defend her, rightfully or not, because I don’t mess with anyone’s staff. Villegas started shouting at me, backing Consuelo.
She didn’t have the same attitude when Cordero, after I hadn’t left the channel to sleep or eat in three days, in a meeting with the board of directors and people from an external publicity firm, started shouting at me because of 16 lost banners. First of all, nobody deserves such treatment, even less so in front of the board of directors, and least of all in the presence of people outside of the company. On top of the absence of manliness, because as far as I know, real men shout in your face and bear the consequences, not over Skype, Villegas didn’t lift a finger and played dumb, despite protests in solidarity from many directors, letting her know their displeasure with the scene. And to cap it all, those banners were finished, and then lost by someone in Web Services who had only been working at Telesur for two weeks.
During those days I received a notable kindness from colleagues, but the best thing was to see how the night shift team persisted with me until dawn, throwing everything into getting the website up, not just the Spanish but also the English, because Quito plainly and simply wasn’t launching with the required multimedia content. This is not a criticism, since this was reviewed in a spreadsheet sent to VP and P. The team’s efforts really were outstanding, because we spent nights filled with great mysticism.
If anyone believes I stayed awake because it was a job for which I was paid 6,000 dollars a month, they are just sad idiots who don’t understand what it means to a love a profession you’ve been in for 24 years. Money doesn’t keep you awake, only love and dedication for a trade and your ideals.
After having been characterized as a criminal by Villegas, they could have tripled my salary and I wouldn’t have made such sacrifices. If you doubt it, you can see how with similar salaries in other places, I refused to do it.
And if you still can’t understand that this was not about money, my team stayed behind because they saw that I wasn’t leaving, and we labored with Glenda by our side. This was the reason, because in the end, when they were paid for their overtime, it didn’t even buy them a McDonald’s combo (not an exaggeration, I saw the payslips). I say this because the presidency always required me to motivate a team to which I often gave bus money, because their salaries couldn’t stretch. But the best work was done by staff whose professionalism and ability are just unquantifiable. Staff whose observations by HR were about serious errors they published, which were annulled upon my departure, evidence of orchestration by Yeimy in order to sabotage Glenda and myself, or just a triumph of kindness over ability. Excellent 21st century socialist values.
After the launch, there was only radio silence until the foreigners were summoned.
Since there were no operational criticisms to make of me, the maneuver started from a different angle. My context was that my mother underwent an operation on July 24th, the very day of the launch. I didn’t go to Buenos Aires, because I felt confident that she would be OK, and because I simply couldn’t abandon the ship at that moment.
On July 25th I asked Villegas, as she returned from the second floor to her office, whether she planned to send me to Quito again. I needed to know the expected movements ahead of any eventuality that could happen to my mother. And so we arrived at this meeting with the scene prepared to intimidate us, with a HR assistant and La Rosa. Talking of absurd accusations, as with Abraham, I don’t fear anything they might do as part of a retaliation. I have the information and necessary means to defend myself, and much less to lose. I just fulfill my duties, and I’m at peace with those who give me peace.
In an infantile maneuver, they sought to frame me as the leader of an illegal currency exchange network. I believe we are all grown-ups, and even I was not the first to arrive at the channel, and in fact the rumors of clandestine currency exchange that came from coworkers at the channel even included questions of Andrés Izarra. I don’t pay attention to these comments, because I don’t doubt the honesty and dedication of the current Minister of Popular Power for Tourism.
There are no legal places open to exchange money, and the response was “they are going open them.” A company maintaining an argument in this way is absolute absurdity. I would sincerely have preferred them to tell me “we’ll do what we want, and you can screw yourself.”
They said we were going to Los Roques. Let’s see if they have a photo of me in Los Roques. because I couldn’t even climb the Avila, and went with a colleague to Colonia Tovar one Saturday, in a shared taxi. Of course, with my salary, I could have gone to Los Roques whenever I fancied, but in the end, I was working or too tired to even leave my house.
They said they had photos and videos of us illegally exchanging dollars in the building. This would have merited, from a legal perspective, a personal warning for the foreigner in question, a disciplinary sanction for the Venezuelan counterpart who sold the Bolivares, and the courtesy of showing the accused the relevant photo(s).
As I’d never, ever, exchanged dollars in the building, I would never have expected to be accused of that.
In any case, no-one knows about the exchange situation in Venezuela until they arrive. I wanted to change dollars in Maiquetía airport, and the shop was closed. Maybe one day we’ll find out where other people, who weren’t in that meeting and say they weren’t really photographed, change their money?
Unlike the rest, I can’t allege that I knew nothing about the situation. I have the emails and Skype chats in which Yeimy explained it all, and how it would benefit me: “You can live like a king”. This was in January, during my recruitment process.
Nevertheless, in response to the accusation that we lived like the kings of the channel, because at this point Villegas told us that other colleagues earned 100 dollars a month, and that we were living the high life (going to Los Roques, etc.) by converting our dollar salaries, I believe I speak for others when I say that:
-Nobody converts all their salary, they leave their country, family and friends, to prosper and save something, because any day someone could have the absurd idea of modifying the contracts (outrageous) or not renewing them, and you can’t be left with nothing.
-We all helped out family members. In my case, I paid my sister’s college, and my mother’s medical insurance, the best that Argentina has to offer.
As for me, not even my rent was paid in Venezuela, instead dollars from my foreign account (just as I had been asked to open) were transferred to the Panamanian property owner in Panama. My rent was high, though adjusted to the market, which was a reality many were ignorant about, because when I mentioned it to Cordero, he thought the amount was annual, not monthly. I paid it because I didn’t go to Venezuela to live in Petare or Catia, I wanted to live at least as well as in Buenos Aires, and I moved four blocks away from the president of the channel, who despite earning a humble salary in Bolivares because of her revolutionary vocation, can include her home as part of her assets.
I never changed more than 400 dollars of my paycheck. As such, the accusations are pure tripe, or as we say here, an extreme stupidity, or less charitably, malicious bullshit.
I want to be clear about one thing. All my life I wanted to work at Telesur. In those conversations and emails with Yeimy, it is recorded that I would have accepted a writer position. I never negotiated my salary, they just offered it to me. A week later I learned that Greg was getting 500 more, so they raised it by 1,000. Full stop. I would have been happy with anything. I only asked HR during my recruitment for a telephone so I could talk with my family at any time.
In any case, I am not ashamed to have earned that salary, if anyone would appeal to a Christian sentiment of poverty and chastity. I never worked less than 12 hours a day, and was operational inside and out of the office. I collaborated in other areas, as others can testify, and if I remember rightly, they didn’t even realize they were being sold the same content produced in Buenos Aires for a prestigious program until I warned them of this mess, though it wasn’t my job to do so. I provided content, helped with promotions, and even the slogan they continue to use was created by myself and Stephany Montalán. And I think in situations such as that of the Australian who had to leave, my advice to the presidency was correct, even if they didn’t listen to me, and ended up paying a higher price.
However, I would offer any Venezuelan in the channel a job paying 5,000 Argentine pesos, which is double what they earn even after the raise, to see if they would leave their country.
In that meeting the discourse was lowered further regarding the mess we caused for the revolution after our “wastefulness,” due to which we were notified they would be modifying our contracts.
This was the first fallacy, because the budget for the 15 salaries was already available until December 31st. That they want to pay them as “advisers” is also questionable.
If the financial stability of the revolution is really threatened by the salaries of 15 foreigners, I sincerely believe Chavez would rise from the dead, strap ten cartridges of dynamite to his balls and detonate them.
In which case we can go over the cost of Tariq Ali talking to a sock, Laura Flanders, Bill Fletcher, Lovato and the star columnists, in relation to the page visits they generate (just one video produced by the Spanish team about the grandson of Carlotto had more visits than all those programs combined, added to the clicks of the columnists).
Our salaries were a marginal cost. Which reaffirms that the only thing planned during this entire project was to hire and then fire us. A demonstration that the values and practices of capitalism and neoliberalism are far from being ended in the channel that should be the voice of the revolution, instead of mistreating its workers.
We began to perceive hostility from many coworkers regarding the salary difference, which of course wasn’t our fault. Since I know something about political conduct from places where I’ve worked for a long time, I know how operations from the top can generate protests for a planned solution, in order to capitalize politically, as in the case of “getting a 40% raise”. Even more so when the collection of signatures is organized by someone in the confidence of the presidency. And especially when one day before the meeting in which they accused us of criminality, a group of directors threatened a mutiny. We could see where the roadshow was headed.
From that point onwards I resolved to resign to a place where I wanted to stay. In spite of everything, I know that struggles and processes take time. I respectfully disagree with the bit in Abraham’s letter where he talks about believing in ideals, not in people. When I meet people like him, I believe in people.
I went to Venezuela to take on a life project. It’s difficult, and nobody is warned that it’s an odyssey, where you can’t rent a place, where you have to pay a year’s rent up-front, for which you have to loan money, and thanks to the gracious humanitarianism of Villegas, you end up with debt instead of savings, that there’s no alternative to changing money on the parallel market because of the government’s economic disaster and not because of 15 wretches, with those suffering being not the oligarchy but the least fortunate.
I resigned for a job in the Argentine government, resigning to go home to Buenos Aires, to be with friends, siblings and parents. To work and lend my experience, to learn and move forward. I didn’t go to be miserably mistreated in a way nobody deserves, least of all those who left everything behind. Sometimes I think my sin was being the one who refused to say that everything would turn out fine, and didn’t applaud everything in a board meeting. Maybe this is required when you see unpresentable pilots, inviable programs and useless logos.
Sure, Villegas will be able to sleep at night because “these are decisions that need to be taken”. This thinking is no different to that of a business owner in savage capitalism, except with an intellectual honesty that makes it more respectable.
That absurd and violent meeting, in which a company threw all its weight at a small group, each being a long way from their home jurisdictions. In fact, while they brandish the values of 21st century socialism, they draw up garbage contracts, flexible and revocable, in the most neoliberal country in South America: Colombia. It’s really the first revolution I’ve known that employs such a practice.
Let it be known that this is not a liberal critique. I come from a family of combatants, kidnapped and disappeared, having myself been disappeared, so I shit from a great height on those who believe in a socialism which avails itself of the “socialist” squadrons of death known as the Tupamaros to end crime in 23 de Enero.
But resignation had been circulating in my mind for a while. We had the meeting and I decided to await the final resolution, because as I pointed out, I understood from early on how the game was being played, and I never deserved such mistreatment.
Poor treatment was manifested in different instances. I warned my superiors on various occasions that my English coordinator, Alejandra del Palacio, was being subjected to unfavorable treatment and even discrimination by some English-speaking elements in Quito for being Mexican. Because of this, I saw myself forced into a unpleasant confrontation with Quito that should have been resolved by other means, because as leader of a group I have to protect its members.
After my visit to Quito, four colleagues, in the name of the rest, raised legal questions over the contractual situation, which I summarized into four parts and forwarded to Dr. Garzón, to which in three months he never responded, despite those being the concerns of our own people. Fortunately they know I did everything possible, and understand how things are managed in Caracas. These are just two examples.
I requested meetings with Villegas on four occasions, only wanting to know directly if they didn’t want me to continue, and would rather I resign. I just wanted to be with my mother, instead of being dragged along for no reason. We always maintain the hope that problems are not personal, and that they can be resolved.
She never received me. She replied to an email telling me to wait a few days to meet with the lawyers, to which I responded that my mother was in intensive care.
I ended up asking the clinic where my mother was being treated for a certificate verifying this fact, because I presumed they didn’t believe me. This certificate was delivered.
To all my requests, the argument was that she didn’t have time. But evidently she had the time to dictate Twitter hashtags to the BBM group, which I assume was more important than my absurd necessity.
When Cordero arrived in Caracas, I only expected two things. One, that he would be motivated to shout at me, which never happened, so I didn’t raise the topic. Two, that he would respond directly when I offered my resignation, because at this point I would have preferred to leave and didn’t want to them to waste my time. What I did raise with him is that since arriving at the channel four months ago, he had never given me a order, not a single one, and nobody told me if anything I had done or decided had been wrong, so I operated laissez-faire, and tried to get things done as best I could.
He denied that the channel wanted to get rid of me.
Cordero and I shared an affinity for military definitions, talking of troops, battle fronts, etc. Our only difference that he made clear was the question of early starts. I think he expected to see me around 7 in the morning, whereas I normally came in after 9:30, because I wouldn’t be leaving until 11pm or later, which isn’t to say I wasn’t working before I arrived. A Peron quote comes to mind, when he was asked what the purpose of the military was: “To be useless, but up early”. I think this was the only obvious difference between us.
At last the big meeting took place, where various topics were broached, and I was last, because they were sacking me. Elegantly they asked for my resignation, although legally I had already been fired, because before had I resigned, they deactivated my email, passwords and telephone. Without being able to look me in the eyes, Villegas asked for my resignation and I didn’t ask for explanations. I got up and walked out. If there were reasons, they should have been communicated to me before, whether organizational errors, journalistic criteria, professionalism, or other. As this never occurred, to ask the motives in that moment was just to open the doors to a mountain of bullshit denying the plain truth that it was a decision taken even before my arrival at the channel. What really annoyed me was the telephone, with my mother still in intensive care after 33 days and suddenly they left me incommunicado.
I duly left this situation certified for legal reasons.
I will never understand why they subjected me to such hostility. It was never necessary.
Two days later my mother passed away. I miraculously arrived in time to attend the burial at the cemetery.
I retain all this unnecessary pain, without understanding why they took someone aged nearly 40 to leave everything behind, put him to work without direction, and despite offering my resignation due to the gravity of a mother in intensive care, inflamed the situation unnecessarily. Don’t be offended if one believes that only a son of a bitch is capable of such a thing.
Probably those most affected by this email will come out and say it’s all a nonsense. It hardly matters, they are less credible than the assassination plots.
This email is simply a internal critique of the channel. Rest assured that in public, I continue to defend this valuable construction by Chávez for the people, which is unfortunately seen by some as a private preserve. These are not empty words, I have been interviewed three times since returning home, and naturally they knew about my time at Telesur, and I said with complete honesty the same that I said in interviews over there.
I hope that they have abandoned the idea of underestimating me. As I said, with the truth I fear no-one, and offend no-one. I fear only God. I’m at peace, and don’t fear retaliation on top of everything they’ve already done. After so much hurt it’s unnecessary, but if it comes down to it, I have what it takes to look after myself. This is not a warning. It’s a notice.
My most sincere affections for those marvelous people I met over there, both in Caracas and Quito.