Book Notes: Alberto Barrera Tyszka’s Patria o muerte

“You have turned the poor into a business opportunity,” says Miguel, a character in this novel, to his left-wing brother. “Before you took control of Venezuela, our country had many problems but at least we could talk about them. And now you have lost all capacity to criticize what’s going on. You have turned completely blind.”

As Miguel correctly observes, political extremists are impervious to reason because membership in their tribe requires that you blind yourself to obvious things. Venezuela in Barrera Tyszka’s novel (and even moreso in reality) is an absolute mess. But the faithful admirers of Chavismo and of the even more vicious Cuban socialism will not be persuaded by any arguments and will not see any evidence. As the famous Soviet slogan went, “Marxism is omnipotent because it’s true.” And how do you know it’s omnipotent? Because it’s true. And how do you know it’s true? Because it’s omnipotent.

The novel talks about the illness and death of Hugo Chávez and the ridiculous amount of secrecy that surrounded the dictator’s last months. Chávez was such a wounded macho that he couldn’t accept being sick. In January of 2012, after his diagnosis of cancer was made public, he gave a speech that lasted 9 hours 28 minutes with no breaks. He was convinced that his illness was caused by the evil Yankees who infected him but that he would live forever because the world needed him.

Like many dictators, Chávez believed that reality was created by his words. He agreed completely that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” with the caveat that God was Hugo Chávez.

In the end, what killed Chávez were his own lies. He believed that Cuba had the best medicine in the world when in reality Cuba was at least 3 decades behind the civilized world. He refused the possibility of treatment in a good hospital in Brazil and stuck with his Cuban treatment. There’s poetic justice in that but there’s no justice of any kind for the Venezuelans who are still suffering in Chavez’s socialist hell.

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