News and opinions on situation in Venezuela

On a map it wouldn’t appear that Merida is a 13-hour bus ride from Caracas

VHeadline guest commentator Clifton Ross writes: On a map it wouldn’t appear that Merida is a thirteen hour bus ride from Caracas. After all, you just go up to Lake Maracaibo, veer off to the left and there you are, right? And it’s only 45 minutes by air.

But to arrive by bus you’re forced to endure a few hours of some of the most spectacular views of the Venezuelan Andes and a landscape that, at times seems semi arid desert and at other times tropical rainforest and the mountains, enormous, imposing, only hint at what you might come to expect in Merida, where Pico Bolivar, Venezuela’s zenith of over 5,000 meters, dominates the city … or protects it.

Arriving here is even more difficult during the holidays but even in this chaos there is some distinctly Venezuelan characteristic. So when the harried ticket agent sold me the ticket on the Ejecutivo-cama (I dreamed of a luxury bed on a bus: little did I know what was to come) she neglected to tell me where the bus would arrive, the bus number or anything else. Her only remark was that it would arrive “below” in the Terminal La Bandera.

Naturally, being the punctual North American that I am, I arrived an hour early and asked an agent what gate the bus would be arriving at. He was kind and called in on his walkie-talkie and translated the reply, distorted by static and bad reception, that it would be at gate 11, number 425. He led me there then checked back on me in free moments every fifteen minutes to give me updates.

Eventually I struck up a conversation with a young man who introduced himself as Vladimir, a law student at the University of the Andes in Merida. Vladimir is a smart young man with an endearing skepticism and an ironic smile that would put you off if it wasn’t accompanied by a polite, warm and friendly manner characteristic of all the people I’ve met here so far … except for the poor ticket agent. I ask him about the Bolivarian Revolution and he smiles that ironic smile.

“Revolution? I don’t know about that. Yes, sure, there are changes here and there, but “revolution”? That would imply changes from top to bottom. That hasn’t happened yet, and I don’t know if it will happen. There’s no defined program yet. Everybody’s just following Chavez and sometimes I don’t think even he knows where he’s going. I’ll give you an example. He was just in China and said he was a Maoist,” Vladimir smiles wryly and chuckles. Then he adds, “I mean, not even the Chinese are Maoists anymore. And so he comes home and decides he’s going to change the uniforms of the army, because he’s a Maoist now. What the hell is all that about?”

Vladimir shrugs. “Look, I’m not of any party, myself. I try to be objective. There are some really good things happening here. But it’s not yet clear where they’re all going.”

Vladimir keeps stopping to ask an agent when and where the bus will arrive. It’s now forty five minutes late and the only response the agents have been able to give is “Todavia no ha llegado” (It still hasn’t arrived). Finally, an agent tells us the bus has arrived and we run down to gate 8 and board. Vladimir, in the customary grace of Venezolanos, insures that, as his guest, all my affairs are taken care of before taking care checking his own luggage. And then we board our luxury bus.

The seats are small and recline only slightly. My image of a queen size bed evaporates and I know I won’t be sleeping tonight. I put on my jacket because the air conditioner is on so high that twice in the night I knock on the driver’s cabin door to ask him to turn it down. He now enters the annals of my trip as worse than the ticket agent and the first to be expelled from the Bolivarian Revolutionary Republic when it clarifies its direction and begins cleaning up its act according to Vladimir’s outline.

I only see two hours of scenery since most of the trip has taken place overnight but the Andes are awe inspiring. I arrive at my posada and the Senora tells me that Jutta Schmidt has called three times for me. I clean up and go downstairs to wait for Franz and Jutta and arrive just as they are passing through the door.

We’ve been in touch for a few months now as I planned my trip, but this is our first meeting. Franz is professor of Political Science at the University of the Andes and Jutta is a lecturer there and both are two of the keenest political analysts of what’s happening in Venezuela and the world today (and both are regularly featured at

They take me to the Cafe Magnolia where I meet Martin and Maybelli and we engage in an animated conversation. I lack all restraint from having been up all night and immediately pour out impressions and visions (for which I am later very much embarrassed) but they welcome the enthusiasm and each adds to the blaze of mutuality in the conversation that ranges from personal stories to attempting to clarify the directions the process seems to be taking.

It is Franz Lee, of course, who, while restraining himself for the first hour or so, begins to offer his assessment of the situation in Venezuela now. He says that the Movimiento Venezolano Revolucionario is entering its most critical moment. With the opposition presently in retreat, the struggle is now occurring in the party between the revolutionaries, the centrists and the right wing because “the MVR, indeed, has a right wing. They’re the people from Accion Democratica and so forth who change parties according to who’s in power.” These opportunists are hoping to gain control of the party and this is, indeed, the decisive moment for Venezuela.

What appears to be the great strength of the Bolivarian Revolution would naturally also appear to be its greatest weakness. The lack of clear definition about what it means precisely to be “Bolivarian” (besides anti-imperialist) has created the possibility of a great social movement of incredible breadth under the leadership of President Hugo Chavez Frias.

But this ideological ambiguity has left open the door also to right-wing opportunists welcomed in by that very ambiguity.

Perhaps this is what Vladimir criticized in President Chavez and what Venezuela as a whole is awaiting: the commitment to a clear direction, a clear ideological basis for deepening the movement.

President Chavez has promised to define directions for the new year within the week. Venezuela … and the world .. seems to hope his directions will come with a map and a compass.

Clif Ross

Main Index >> Venezuela Index >> Media Index