Things change faster than you expect they will, especially when you don’t expect them to change at all. On top of that, in the digital age, truth is hard to come by. Perhaps it was different a hundred years ago. News traveled slower, and when it arrived, there weren’t that many versions of it. You read one newspaper or listened to one news program. You almost never thought, “Maybe he’s lying.” That is, you didn’t think that way unless you were a member of a minority group and persecuted because of your skin color, religion or political affiliation.
The disturbances in Venezuela are a good example. Each side (the U.S. State Department is always one extra side, attached to the interests of its choice like a pilot fish) manufactures its version of what is happening. You yourself say, “Well, I know my history and I know something about the hidden actors in my own country; therefore, I choose to believe this and this and this, but not that. There are photos of police beating demonstrators from the opposition party in that country in South America. Photos make an instant impression, and we tend to equate them with the truth. But then other players show that the photos are not truthful, because they are from a different time and country with no bearing on the actual situation in Venezuela. And so, what are we to believe, except what we already believe because of our political predisposition?
Then there is the Mexican state of Michoacán where self-defense groups have risen up to defend their families and themselves against criminals, narco and otherwise—since the government, local and federal, either is unable to or uninterested in granting them their basic human rights and protection under the law.
One of the leaders is Juan José Farías “El Abuelo,” The Grandfather. There are whispers, reliable or not, that he used to be with organized crime. The spokesperson for the self-defense groups, José Manuel Mireles, says El Abuelo is a member in good standing of the new citizen defense forces. I once watched an interview with this Dr. Mireles and judged him to be credible.
On the other hand, “El Abuelo,” captured on the front page of La Jornada, wears aviator glasses, tinted, if I remember correctly; a full beard, carefully groomed; a baseball cap with something like oak leaf braids that suggests he might be the commander of an aircraft carrier; and an AK47 military-style assault rifle that hangs around his neck and one shoulder, across his chest like an honor guard sash; the weapon is fitted with an oversized cuerno de chivo, horn of the goat, a curved ammunition magazine called a banana clip, that holds about fifty rounds—one size larger than normal. This combination of accoutrements, for some reason, makes me wary and in my mind suggests a man who feels weak and therefore wears things that make him look important and powerful. The clincher is the big black Hummer that carries him around and that reminds me of the in-between culture one sees when the police merge with the narcos. I am thinking of the gold chains and black t-shirts a couple of questionable Federal Police were wearing when they stopped me and my love on a remote stretch of highway between Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez, leading north to the U.S. It turned out they did not want our heads, or car, or anything else. But I cite the incident as a case where the manner of dress tells us something about whom we’re dealing with.
I have found that dress tells a lot in my small Mexican city. I learned this first from being mugged at knife point a few steps from our garden gate (the account is called “The Knives of Mexico”) and from having a couple of young wannabe thugs as neighbors. The wannabes dress in a manner that gives them away—as if they were just more costumed characters in this country’s social melodrama. White baseball shirts not tucked in, white baseball caps, oversized sneakers—and a swagger.
When I look at the opposition demonstrators in Venezuela, young people, I see middle class kids that feel entitled to throw Molotov cocktails at soldiers and police to express their dissatisfaction with the elected government. That is what I see—the little things that may or may not help in determining what is true.
“El Abuelo’s” dress may mean he sees himself as American-like, also part patriarch, plus part aircraft carrier commander, part Rambo and, because of the Hummer, possibly part narco—a bizarre set of factors that may describe what we need to know about what’s happening in Michoacán and which is a situation as surreal and obvious as any comic book drama. Except with deadly real world consequences, depending on which way “El Abuelo” leads us.