This has been a bloody, complicated year for Venezuela. The nation wasn’t done ringing the new year, and already a wave of protests was bien announced. The phenomenon termed #LaSalida degenerated into violence from both sides (most of it from the government), and the end of the year catches us with our pants down: a full-blown economic crisis, political prisoners galore, and a clueless, thuggish government.
It’s not a year we would like to look back on, but if we must … we might as well do it with a little bit of humor.
Here are our 2014 Caracas Chronicles awards, compiled by the entire Caracas Chronicles crew.
Rising Star Award: Dolartoday.com. The website was indispensable this year. Up, up, up went the dollar (at latest count, it’s at BsF 173 per dollar), and up, up, up went the hits on the main source for the black market dollar rate. The website has grown, and it even has news now … well, sort of news.
Biggest menace to public health award: No, it’s not chikungunya. No, it’s not dengue fever, or illegal mining, or water pollution in Margarita. The most ominous threat to Venezuelans’ mental health came from rising pop starlet Daniela Cabello, aka Diosdado’s little princess. Next time you can’t find Acetaminophen in the drug store, think of how many dollars were spent on auto-tuning the little brat’s voice. #SePerdieronEsosRiales
Enchufado of the year: The term has jumped the shark, but the lifestyle sure hasn’t. This was the year of the enchufado, the elitist chavista who is only lining his or her pockets while doing the government’s bidding … or sometimes doing nothing at all. This is one of the hardest categories, what with Elías Jaua and his nanny making such a strong showing, Delcy jumping from post to post, and dozens of chavistas shaking in their boots at the threat of losing their US visas and their US assets. But of all the enchufados, none has shown more resilience than Tibisay Lucena, the president of the CNE. By getting herself re-elected at the last minute, she is making sure we watch every strand of her hair come election time for seven years to come. Hats off Tibisay. You’re the ultimate survivor.
Loser of the year: Jorge Giordani. Not only did Hugo Chávez’s former economic guru leave in a huff, he also left us a whopper of a resignation letter. Part heartfelt confessional, part marxist rant, it reads like a candid laundry list of violations of the Constitution, and as such it will become an indispensable document whenever we leave this behind. To this day, Giordani remains an outsider in the government, in the outs and unforgiven by the ruling clique.
Winner of the year: Leopoldo López. Love him or hate him, he is now the leader of Venezuela’s opposition. We don’t know much of what goes on inside Ramo Verde, but here’s hoping that López comes out of there a wiser, better man. Hats off to his wife Lilian for pulling off the feat of becoming a public figure while simultaneously dealing with a horrific family situation. #BautizoDeFuego
Biggest comeback of the year: Tear gas. It had been a while since Venezuelans were doused with “gas del bueno,” but after the riots earlier this year, the government made sure we knew that dollars for Brazilian tear gas canisters would always be available.
Most likely to end up in an Embassy next year: Rafael Ramírez. The man went from PDVSA head honcho to economic guru in a flash, only to be demoted to foreign minister. His embarassing attempts at convincing OPEC to decrease production do not bode well for his future government employment prospects. Where will he go? My money’s on Tehran.
Color of the year: Red. It’s not because of the squalid PSUV, but for all the people we lost this year. Monica Spear, Geraldine Moreno, Bassil Da Costa, Genesis Carmona, and (literally) countless other Venezuelans died at the hands of either the government, or the mobs the government has allowed to fester. The worst part of all of this? We might look back on 2014 as one of the “peaceful years.”
Region of the year: Gochilandia. No group of Venezuelans captured the imagination of the opposition world quite like our Andean compatriots. The protest movement began there, and it lasted longer there than anywhere else. San Cristóbal, capital of Táchira, was hit hard, and a tense calm now reigns in the region. The gochos proved yet again why they’ve always had Venezuelan history grabbed by the nuts.
Michelin-starred guisos: The PDVSA plane rides. No corruption scandal was as galling as this one. There were bigger, badder scams during the year, and there were some that were more interesting (Maria Gabriela Chávez’s scam with Argentine rice shipments gets an honorable mention), but no single scandal flies in the face of what chavismo claimed to stand for more than this one.
Panamanian of the year: Maria Corina Machado. The opposition legislator was a lightning rod of attention this year. She was unceremoniously thrown out of Parliament for accepting to speak out against Venezuela at the OAS as a guest of the Panamanian Embassy. She was only briefly heard at the forum, but the move was the excuse chavismo needed to kick her out of Parliament. Still, even with false accusations of murder and treason circling her, she is standing strong.
He-said-what? Award: People are mistaken when they say Nicolás Maduro is no Hugo Chávez. He is Hugo Chávez … put in a blender, with his words scrambled, after being run over by a truck, with a bottle of vodka in his system. The President simply couldn’t string coherent phrases together for more than five minutes. We think his best bit was at Robert Serra’s funeral, when he confessed to a woman that he had no idea what to do.
Things el Chiguire Got Right Award: It’s a tie! Whether it’s correctly claiming the currency has no value, or that the increase in the minimum wage is worth squat, our friends at the satirical website proved that in Venezuela, life imitates humor imitates life.
Biggest disappointment: Henrique Capriles. I’m sure some of my co-bloggers will not agree, but by staying away from the protest movement and then bashing it once it had died down, Capriles burned his bridges to a large segment of the opposition, coming across as tone-deaf and short on empathy. He continues to be in the news, but he is looking more and more like a former candidate, someone who used to be famous for … something. Capriles needs to reinvent himself if he is to stay relevant. We can only hope that he does, because the opposition needs him.
Meme of the year: Julio Coco. I still don’t get why the left-wing opposition “activist” was relevant this year, but he was. Here he is in the video that launched him.
Video of the year: Capuskicapubul! Featuring Mr. Loso.
Tweets of the year: In a year when Twitter came of age in the Venezuelan public sphere – what would we had done without it? -, two tweets stand out: Carabobo governor Francisco Ameliach ordering chavista paramilitaries to attack the opposition, and Andrés Izarra reacting to Obama’s outreach of Cuba.
Profession of the year: Journalism. In a year when the media hegemon finally swallowed the country, a few brave journalists took a stand while, also, reminding us of why they are essential. They are the real deal. When we grow up, we want to be like them.
Most surprising development: The new bromance between Obama and Raúl Castro. Could it be that this … will become with time the most important news story of 2014? A close runner-up were the tanking oil markets and the Venezuelan default debate, but deep down, we all knew it was a matter of time, so it was less of a surprise than the détente on the Florida Straits.
Most insightful reader: The comments section is chock full of interesting characters, but one who stood out – particularly with his insights on the Venezuelan-Default-That-Is-Surely-Coming-But-We-Don’t-Know-When – was McPapas Medianas.
Post of the year: This post by Quico almost made Caracas Chronicles explode. A re-tweet by social media sensation George Takei meant we got millions of hits in a single day. We were delighted Venezuela was getting all the attention, but the increased traffic freaked us out. The game changed on the blog after that one …
It can’t all be fun and games, so we wanted to make the last category a bit more special: Venezuelan of the Year.
This was a year marked by the government’s intense assault on civil society. The long-brewing Venezuelan civil conflict spilled out into Venezuelan streets, grocery stores, and barrios, and the government responded by imprisoning kids, violating human rights, and denying people basic staples.
If there is one person that epitomizes the struggle between an entrenched elite and the majority who now opposes them, it is Marvinia Jiménez.
A simple seamstress with a disability, she had the gall of pissing off a female National Guards-woman for, apparently, “breaking her nail.” Marvinia’s attackers were never punished, but the video of her savage beating was seen by thousands. To this day she stands tall, unyielding in her beliefs, confident in the future, demanding justice.
Marvinia Jiménez is the face I want to remember from this year.
Finally, on a more behind-the-scenes tone, this year was challenging for us … for a number of reasons.
I tried to steer the blog in a different direction after Quico handed me the reins in February, but I have been thwarted in my attempts by the events on the ground. It is difficult to strike a more optimistic, conciliatory tone when the government has cranked human rights violations and boneheaded economic policies up to eleven.
We welcomed new writers, yet the challenge to incorporate more voices remains an inviting, yet still unfulfilled one.
We don’t know what 2015 will bring, but we promise to keep attempting to provide a sane voice in Venezuela’s public sphere. We won’t always succeed, but we’ll bleed on our keyboards trying. We’re absolutely exhausted, but proud of what we did this year.
We’ll be back January 5th, everyone. Feed your souls and hug a loved one.