JOHN CARLIN. The Bolivarian Dream

Oct 24, 2019

John Carlin was invited to a conference in Venezuela. However, when he arrived at immigration in Caracas, his visa was refused because of a critical article he wrote about the country in 2007. He was put on a flight back to Spain, but found that Iberia airways had no record of his flight either to or from Venezuela. Perhaps it was just a dream. If only Trump, Boris Johnson and Cristina Kirchner were.

I dreamt this week that I travelled from Madrid to Venezuela. They took my passport at the Caracas airport and deported me, forcing me to return to Spain four hours later on the same Iberia plane on which I had arrived. Well, I think it was a dream. I remember it as a dream, but so many things have happened in the world lately that they should be dreams but apparently they really happened, so that I no longer know very well what to think.

What happened in the Venezuelan dream was that I was in the immigration queue at Caracas airport at about 3 p.m. local time when a young officer dressed in military dark green asked me for my passport, leafed through it, and asked me why I was coming to his country. I told him that I was coming to give some talks about peace and dialogue, and that I had a letter of invitation from a university to prove it. “Then you are coming to Venezuela to work,” he told me. I said no, I was coming not on my own initiative but invited by his countrymen to contribute my grain of sand to help his country solve its considerable problems. I was going to talk, according to the plan, with both opposition and Chavez government delegations.

“I am coming mainly to tell them things about Nelson Mandela,” I said, “a figure that I assume the Bolivarian revolution does not consider hostile, and I assure you,’ I added with emphasis, “I am not going to charge a peso.” I also thought to tell him that Venezuela – with inflation of one million percent, widespread malnutrition and three million exiles in the last two years – was not exactly the first country that came to mind to earn my living, but since I am a polite person, even when I am dreaming, I bit my tongue. In any event, my interrogator would not have understood what I was talking about. The young immigration agent was not exactly fat but he was chubby and well fed. I understand this is usually the case with those lucky ones who belong to the Venezuelan sect who go to work dressed in green.

The young man told me to wait for him while he entered an office with a sign on the door that said “Headquarters.” About twenty minutes later he reappeared and informed me that they were going to put me back on an Iberia flight to Madrid that same afternoon.

My mobile phone had not been taken away, so I sent a message to the Venezuelan lady who had come to the airport to pick me up, explaining what I understood about my situation. We exchanged messages for a couple of hours. It was clear that she was making all kinds of efforts to convince the Immigration lords to let me in. I think she spoke with the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry, which according to my fuzzy memory responded not only with surprise but with indignation. Division within the glorious workers revolution? I thought.

The chubby man returned and informed me that he had a seat on the 6.55pm flight back to Madrid. Then he left. But without returning my passport and not before telling me not to move from the boarding area of ​​the Iberia plane, as if I were a criminal, as if I was going to escape from the airport if I had my passport to enjoy the benefits of the utopia built by Hugo Chavez, today chaired by his even more comical heir, the Trump of the south, Nicolás Maduro.

Well, comical to some extent, I reflected, as I received messages from the other side of the airport border assuring me that there was a misunderstanding, that everything was going to be resolved. I didn’t see it so rosy but at no time did I feel fear, or even anxiety. It was very clear to me that what the Bolichavists had done and were doing in their country was criminal, but their criminality was not at the same level as the military governments that I had known too well in other Latin American times, for example in Argentina or Guatemala. The Bolichavists are equally stupid, ridiculous and mediocre, but less inhuman.

I remember waiting a long time sitting and constantly receiving calls and messages from diplomats and others telling me that there would soon be a happy ending. Or it was a dream since I have dreamed many things lately that have to be impossible, such as that Trump, the Maduro of the North, is President of the United States; the imposter, Boris Johnson, is Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; and that in Argentina, people who ran a campaign as defenders of the poor while looting the country will be freely re-elected to government.

In the Venezuelan dream I received a message on my phone from a friend from Barcelona who told me that Maduro (in Spanish, “Ripe”) should be renamed Podrido (“Rotten”). My mood went up and I got on the plane. Once seated, I received a message from someone in Caracas who told me that they had denied me entry not for the official reason, that I had no visa to work in Venezuela, but for an article I had written in the newspaper El País in 2007 linking the Chavist government with the Colombian FARC drug traffickers. I couldn’t believe it. Although I was mistaken. The Immigration chief who denied me entry alluded to it.

The aircraft captain had instructions from the Venezuelan authorities not to return my passport until we were in the air, which irritated me. But otherwise I was calm, so calm that I remembered to write an email to Iberia before take-off saying that I was recording frequent flyer points for this unexpected flight. The next day, already in Madrid, Iberia replied that they had no record that I had flown from Madrid to Caracas, or from Caracas to Madrid on the dates indicated. That’s a relief. The deportation was just a dream. I hope that Trump, Johnson and Cristina Kirchner are as well.

John Carlin is a journalist, author and columnist for both English and Spanish language newspapers. His main areas of interest are international and national affairs, food and football. He is the author of a number of books about Nelson Mandela, and writes regular columns for La Vanguardia and Clarín, (Argentina). This column appeared in Clarín, Argentina, on 13 October 2019, and is translated by Kieran Tapsell

Human Rights, International Relations

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