Notes on the documentary film ¿Puedo Hablar? May I Speak? Directed and co-produced by Christopher Moore
by Karin Koch
Whenever you're invited to watch a movie about the political situation in
Clearly, division serves the so-called Chávez revolution well, but does it solve
Unfortunately, most film makers seem to fall prey to the same ideological trap as everybody else and are not able to look beyond the myths and the empty rhetoric. Especially, those who come from abroad seem to be smitten by the very notion of a romantic third world revolution that promises participatory democracy or, even better, socialism of the 21st century, a concept nobody really understands, including President Chávez himself. In the eyes of these film makers, dissidency is synonymous with oligarchy of the CIA-payed, coup-mongering kind.
Conversely, some of the so called documentaries made by some Venezuelan oppositional groups leave a lot to be desired. I've seen some pretty bad ones that can only be described as propagandistic crap. Their narrow focus blames all of society's ills on Chávez and his followers instead of reflecting on Venezuelan society as a whole.
Reality is never black and white and in order to understand political conflict in a society you have to look at it not only from different angles but also within a broader historical context. Present day upheavals can be traced back to a myriad of factors that have shaped our recent history, factors such as population growth, the role of the Social Democratic AD party in organizing Venezuela's first modern political mass movement (this has to be recognized, independently whether you like the Adecos or not), the repressive, authoritarian and corrupt tradition of the military, the impact of forty years of so called democracy within the context of a highly centralized, presidentialist system, the lack of a strong and independent judicial system and, most importantly, the role of the oil fueled boom to bust economic cycles in shaping a culture of clientelism and consumism.
Having said all of the above, I do applaud the producers of ¿Puedo Hablar? May I Speak? for their honest effort at trying to present a more diverse picture of the Venezuelan political spectrum by giving different elements ample opportunity to express their views.
Filmed last year during the Chávez reelection campaign, the opening scene of the film sets you up with the spectacle that Chávez has been subjecting the country ever since he came into power: The eternal campaign. We see the charismatic Chávez warming up to a delirious audience, asking politely: "¿Puedo Hablar? May I speak?". A question coming, ironically, from someone who has been monopolizing the airwaves of an entire nation with excruciatingly long speeches that can only be characterized as a mixture of improvised variety show, incoherent political sermons that defy any logic and insults geared towards everyone who dares to disagree.
By way of contrast, we also get to see the candidate of the opposition, Manuel Rosales, whose lack of charisma and weakness of discourse is painfully evident, addressing his supporters before closing his campaign in the largest rally ever held in recent Venezuelan history with 1.5 million people in
Interestingly, the one thing that seems to connect both campaigns, as portrayed in the film, is the hyper emotionalism revolving around the figure of both candidates. In a particularly revealing scene, we see the devastated followers of Rosales gathering at his campaign headquarters shortly after he had conceded defeat, a historic moment as for the first time the opposition didn't immediately cry out fraud without holding any tangible prove in their hands. As expected, emotions are running high and you can feel a sense of betrayal pervading the room. Suddenly, a Rosales supporter shouts out in despair: "Great, he's become a Chavista now!"
These highly charged campaign scenes are nicely juxtaposed with images of common Venezuelan citizens going through their every day struggle, confronting, regardless of their political orientation, such problems as abject poverty, lack of housing and public transportation, lack of job opportunities, rampant crime, environmental disasters, you name it. In a very telling scene of the movie, we see a desperately poor guy, father of three children, standing in front of his dilapidated rancho waiting for the government to build him a new house. He is absolutely convinced that this time Chávez will not let him down as other governments have done in the past. His sister, a Rosales supporter, standing next to him, laughs at his naiveté and complains about the government's failure to improve their miserable life conditions.
In another scene, the film makers visit a Belgian priest who works in the impoverished neighborhood of Petare, in the eastern part of Caracas whose inhabitants, as he explains, belong to the D and E (lower economic) strata according to a scale that divides up the Venezuelan population in five economic groups. When asked what
Interspersed with scenes of regular people are interesting interviews with academics and journalists who offer their interpretations of the political events. Off hand, two come to mind: well respected pro Chávez historian Margarita López-Maya who seems to have second thoughts and is worried about increasingly eroding minority rights and Teodoro Petkoff, publisher of the left leaning newspaper Tal Cual who is also a Rosales campaign adviser and a vocal critic of the Chávez governement. He stresses the importance of maintaining an open dialog between the government and the opposition.
To their credit, the film makers also travel to different parts of the country, visiting the oil rich
In conclusion, the film does offer indeed a snapshot of Venezuelan society at a crossroads as the press release indicates, but snapshots only represent one moment frozen in time and events are moving fast in
Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author of this post do not necessarily reflect the views of the other members of Venered.