I’m Married to a Venezuelan Immigrant

In a way, I’m an immigrant, too. After the strip mine where I worked in West Virginia shutdown, I took my meager savings and visited my sister who had moved to Orlando, Florida. I liked the area so much I decided to stay and look for a job. I imagine if I had been visiting from another country, I would have over stayed my Visa. I took a couple of jobs making a lot less than I had made in my home state, much like many immigrants are forced to do today.

One of those penny ante jobs, starting at a few cents above minimum wage, I stuck with for 30 yrs. I eventually advanced in that marine manufacturing company, and years later ended up leading their operations in Georgia.

When I began the job, for the first time I worked with people from other countries and cultures. My coal field, southwest, West Virginia ear was not attuned to the heavily accented English from the Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Haitians, Mexicans, and Vietnamese I worked with.

The Mold Department where I started was headed by a Cuban gentleman who had been a captain in the opposition forces opposing Castro. He had hired several other Cubans. Their friends and family members applied and eventually the Mold Department became comprised of mostly Cubans. A similar process followed in the Gel Rework and Final Finish Departments where a great many Vietnamese worked. The Assembly and Lamination Departments were heavy with Puerto Rican employees. Of course, there was a smattering of eachgroup in all the departments and Americans overall compromised about half of the workforce. There were no hard and fast rules, but there did seem to be some kind of unofficial, natural order at work.

First the Cubans in the Mold Department took me under their wing and nurtured me.  As I began to learn more about repairing the defects in gel coat when the fiberglass parts came out of the molds, the Vietnamese took over my education.

I remember being asked on a couple occasions by my American coworkers why I worked so hard. I was told to slow down that I was making others look bad.  When I asked why they didn’t work harder, a frequent reply was they would work harder when they were paid more.  To me that was like an athlete saying he or she would practice harder when they were made a starter.  Real life doesn’t work that way. 

We are not all dealt the same hand in life.  Some are naturally gifted who indeed don’t have to work as hard as others to get the same results.  I had to work to develop what little talent God graced me with, but my eventual success instilled in me a confidence that if I tried hard enough, with God’s help, there was nothing I couldn’t accomplish. I believe a person is not defeated until they give up.  If there is something you really want, never,ever give up.

My first assignment as a supervisor was in a department manned primarily with Puerto Ricans. I was green and struggled as a leader. My tendency was to blame the lack of success in that department on the employees and ignore my lack of leadership skills. I did not have a high opinion at that time of the Puerto Ricans I led in that department. But I worked hard and eventually developed adequate leadership skills. After 30 years in leadership and my superiors extending the grace for me to learn under fire, I realize that it was I who bore the responsibility for our lack of success, not our Puerto Rican teammembers.

To this day I feel kindly toward Cubans and Vietnamese and am bit apprehensive when I find a person is from Puerto Rico, even my Puerto Rican daughter-in-law who I love very much.

How is it that I have ended up judging entire people groups by the few individuals from those groups I worked with? Is it because I’m an ignorant Red Neck from the coal fields who was raised up a holler, or is there a deeper subliminal human condition from which we all suffer?

Psychologists worth their salt who read this can readily answer that question. You would think there would be prerequisite courses on the subject required for journalism majors. Does mainstream media take sides out of conviction, is it for ratings, or out of ignorance of their (our) innate human tendencies?

So what does all this have to do with me marrying an immigrant?  A little background information first…

My first wife passed away after a 4-and-half year battle with brain cancer. It was a horrible, beautiful journey as I learned to truly love unconditionally, exuberantly, holding nothing back. Two months after she passed I was diagnosed with stage IV non-small cell lung cancer.

After my diagnosis, I thought my chance to love that way again had passed. Then I met Mary, a Venezuelan beauty with an unbelievably, wonderful heart to match. We fell in love. When the relationship became serious, I had Mary talk with my Oncologist and a counselor at the cancer center where I receive treatment. After we decided to wed, I had her and my 2 grown sons, at the time 22 and 24-yrs. of age, go through family counseling. Even though I’m in remission, I’m aware the cancer may raise its ugly head again at any time. Despite that possibility, or perhaps better put, because of that possibility, Mary and I are living life to the fullest and enjoying every minute of it.

She and her family chose to come to the states in 2001 after it became evident Chavez was a permanent fixture. Considering the opportunities a woman with the looks, personality, and heart that Mary has, it’s difficult to understand how she waited 7 years to go on her first date (it was with me!) after separating from her husband.

When we married I became the beneficiary of a whole new extended family.  Perhaps best of all, I now have 4 beautiful grandchildren, all girls, the oldest 8, the youngest 6 months!

My oldest granddaughter and I at the Liars Contest in West Virginia by the portrait of the governor and his family. See my story I Could Have Been Governor and a Millionaire
on this website.
A happy, proud granddad with daughters-in-law and three youngest grandchildren.

I have in-laws who still live in Venezuela and a daughter-in-law’s mother just arrived from Venezuela to visit and help with the newest grandchild.  Mary has a group of high school friends she stays in touch with, many of whom still live in Venezuela.  I don’t have to rely on the media to get firsthand information about what’s going on there. 

Soon after we married, I got the idea for writing a novel using the political turmoil in Venezuela as a backdrop exploring the question of whether anyone over time can resist the temptation of power, sex, and money and hold onto their convictions. 

As research, I watched and listened to leftwing as well as rightwing leaning channels on YouTube. I read scholarly articles. I studied the different types of government. With all of Trump’s discourse on fake news and when it became obvious that some false news was indeed reported because of poor journalistic follow up and a lack of confirmation, I began to view everything I saw or read from media sources as suspect. I realized just as Trump is accused of pandering to his base, the major media outlets were doing the same. Likewise, I reasoned much of the coverage on Venezuela must be cherry picked to show the worst possible scenario to drum up ratings.

As I researched the descent of the state of affairs in Venezuela, I began to think that at least in the beginning, Chavez had good intentions. When I shared my thoughts with a brother-in-law who had left Venezuela, also in 2001, he assured me Chavez, Maduro and their cronies were corrupt in the womb. Chavez pandered to the poor for political support to stay in power and embezzle a fortune. And to stay in power he also had to line the pockets of those he put high up in government, the military, and officials in other socialist and communist countries.

My wife tells a story of a family friend who had a son in the military who went through training with Chavez. After the attempted coup in 1993, at a family get together the son said if Chavez ever got in power you better run for the hills. The guy had crazy ideas and was exceptionally charismatic. He confidently predicted Chavez would run the country into the ground.

Indeed, much is documented about Venezuela’s long history of governmental upheavals and an unhealthy dependence on oil revenues.

Until the discovery of oil, Venezuela was a loose confederation of coffee producing states and three quarters of the population was illiterate. In 1908 the new ruler of Venezuela, Juan Vincente Gomez, a military strongman, began granting oil exploration and refining concessions mostly to his closest friends. The first significant oil field was discovered in 1914 with several more to follow between then and 1917. Before his death in 1935, Gomez had set the blueprint for the string of military strongmen to follow. It seems they all developed the infrastructure, brutally repressed descent, and got rich off oil proceeds.

By the 1930’s there was a sense of modernity developing in Venezuela. Those working in the oil fields, the industries supporting it, and those in government were the beneficiaries. As the wealthy landowners sold their property to the oil conglomerates, the poor were forced into cities. An enormous disparity grew between those who lived in the oil camps with electricity, running water, and healthcare and the poor who lived in the slums next to them in squalor, with little or no running water, no electricity, and for the most part without healthcare.

 With the exception of 8 months of democratic rule in 1945, strongmen and dictators remained in power until 1958.  They put their supporters in control of the economy and retained power through cronyism, nepotism, graft, and brutal repression.  The rich became richer and the poor remained poor.

Then the government of Perez Jimenez, in 1958, was over thrown and replaced with a democratic government.

I have read that the Jimenez regime was brutally repressive and cruel, but as time has passed he is remembered more for the great public works projects and building much of the infrastructure Venezuela enjoys today.  I have personally heard the stories of what that meant for the country and am surprised no one talked about the brutality or the debt he saddled the country with.

Acción Democrática (AD), COPEI (Social Christian Party), and Unión Republicana Democrática (URD) signed the Puntofijo Pact forming a coalition government after Jimenez. They agreed not to dispute election results, share power in proportion to the number of votes garnered in an election, and to share the oil wealth.

This ushered in 40 years of relatively stable democratic rule in Venezuela, a country that had experienced dictatorships for almost the entirety of its existence. 

The agreement was not a perfect one.  The 2 Parties codified into law a system that practically insured 2 party rule excluding other parties.  They significantly expanded the powers of the presidency in the new constitution.  But oil revenues fell in the 80’s, the economy tanked, and they could no longer afford to pay for loyalty from those who would otherwise oppose them.  As dissatisfaction grew, AD and COPEI resorted to violence to maintain power.

In 1992 Hugo Chavez attempted an unsuccessful coup.  In 1993 a former leader of COPEI, Rafael Caldera, ran on the ticket of the Convergencia Party, and won.  With the strangle hold of the AD and COPEI Parties broken, and a presidential pardon from Caldera, the door was opened for Hugo Chavez.

So as I look at the history of Venezuela, I see Hugo Chavez in the light of his predecessors. It seems history repeated itself.

I think conceptually, Chavez may have had some good ideas to begin with. In a perfect world many of his ideas, I tell myself, should have worked. But we don’t live in a perfect world, not even close.

He too attempted to use oil as a tool for grandiose projects the country could ill afford.  The country struggled and unrest grew as oil prices dropped after 2008.  Chavez died before the oil money completely ran out.  Many who benefitted from his folly will remember him kindly.

I don’t think Maduro will be so lucky.  He resembles a junky who has gone all-in in a poker game played with professionals hoping to get enough money for his next fix.   China, Russia, and Cuba has cleaned his clock.  Sad thing is, he is playing with money stolen from the Venezuelan people. And the Venezuelan people will be held responsible for his debt.

My Venezuelan brothers-in-law have warned me, “You think socialism can’t take hold in the United States. But be careful, we thought the same thing in Venezuela.”

The already exploding national debt and on top of that Democratic Presidential Nominees pushing for free healthcare, free education, doubling the minimum wage, reminds me of the problems that have plagued the Venezuelans since oil was first discovered. And the Republicans pushing for lower taxes with no plan to pay down the current debt, much less sustain our current level of spending, are not much better.

We’re human, prejudices are built in. Scientists and academics point out the human characteristics of balancing personal needs with the needs of the tribe. We act without realizing our brains subconsciously group things together to help us make better sense of the world. We judge our group, and there are so many ways we define our groups, as superior to “the other”.

So much of our existence is controlled by habit, and with the involuntary way our brains naturally work, we’re often unaware of the reason we do the things we do. We’re only human, after all.

Looking at pictures of my granddaughters who under slightly different circumstances could still be in Venezuela, I began to ask myself how anyone who cared for their people not invest in their children’s future? Free education, housing for the poor, and free healthcare are great but not if you don’t invest in the industry that provides the money to pay for it. How could anyone be so inept as to utterly and completely destroy an economy?

Perhaps it’s not so hard to understand. Imagine if you were in power and you proposed the unattainable and your supporters in government and even the people on the street encouraged your folly. Like a cocaine high that is short lived and unsustainable, it sure feels good while it lasts, and as long as you have a stash you are sure to have a lot of friends. Before long, you become completely dependent on your dealer, willing to sell your soul for another fix, in this case to the countries who are propping you up, taking loans on your life blood, that is the oil that still lies in the ground, selling your soul and the future of your people to stay in power.

You become willing to tolerate just about anything; narco trafficking, taking food intended for your kids (the people), and selling it into the black market as the military is accused of doing, even human trafficking. Everyone who benefits encourages your habit, but your excesses has resulted in fewer and fewer beneficiaries so that now most of your friends have deserted you and you’re hanging by a thread.

Oh, but that’s Venezuela we tell ourselves, it can’t possibly happen in the United States.

But as a country we can’t dispel that possibility. Our own leaders are only human after all. We are all only human.

We want to believe those who promise what we deep down know is impossible, even though it sounds too good to be true. Our leaders are willing to promise us the improbable because of their twisted needs and encouragement from their hangers on. With all the positive feedback, they have become convinced of their own rhetoric.

Leaders oppose only because the opposing party advocates.  Nothing of importance gets done.  Nothing.  Sound familiar?

Speaking from my own humanity, my prejudice, knowing I am flawed, I try not to judge but have become damned exhausted of the way our political leaders are performing. I know they are better than this. It’s high time we insist they behave rationally.

One of our God given attributes, or basic human attributes for those who find fault with the referral to God, is that we have the ability to think in a logical manner. Why don’t we insist that our leaders do the same, instead of accepting flawed, or worse yet, a complete lack of logic, because we blindly identify and accept the ideas of those we have subconsciously defined as “us”?

I agree with most of Trump’s policies. I’m pleased that he has the confidence to follow through with them. I compare Trump to Grant during the Civil War. U. S. Grant was a drunk and at times on the verge of losing his command. But unlike McClelland, Grant fought. Under the circumstances, the nation needed a Grant.

I deplore Trump’s narcissism and lament his tweets. I feel he could accomplish so much more if only he could control his decorum. But right now many feel the nation needs a Trump, just like the nation needed a Grant, regardless of Trump’s shortcomings.

So what is the cure to our current predicament?

There are no easy answers but there are answers. Lawmakers should do their jobs! Are Trump, McConnell, Pelosi, and Schumer, all inherently evil or inept as many in the opposing parties believe and their inability to compromise and move past deadlock indicates?

It’s obvious lawmakers are unwilling to do anything that allows the other party to look good or get credit regardless of how it benefits the people. Loyalty to the party far outweighs the good of the people.

We tell ourselves if we were in their shoes we could do better. But I’ve seen supervisors replaced and witnessed the same ineffectual tendencies persist in their replacements. Performance most often changed when something fundamental in the structure changed. I’m no expert, but perhaps term limits and changing campaign finance laws would help.

The actions that are repeated are the ones that are positively reinforced. I’m beginning to think that not until we as a people wake up and quit blindly following the party we affiliate with will the political environment change. We must realize our leaders are a reflection of who we are. Things will get better when we as a people become more responsible. We need a different mindset than “us and them”. We need to reinforce the actions we we want, and that means with our vote.

Can we as a people insist our leaders behave in a more rational manner?  My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that we must.  I believe the future of our nation depends on it. We won’t continue to be a great nation unless we do.

Many have a problem when faith is mentioned. I’ve tried not to insert my Christian values into this discussion.  But what one believes and the faith he has in those beliefs makes all the difference.  Freedom of religion is one of the hallmarks of America, but now it seems those on the left are pushing us toward freedom from religion.  That’s a fundamental change that’s sure to have unintended consequences.

It seems some of our citizens don’t like America anymore. It’s true there have been many abuses and inequities throughout our history. I don’t make excuses. Those injustices was as wrong then as they are now. We didn’t start out perfect in 1776. There has been discord and strife between our political leaders since our inception. Their brains worked the same as ours do today and they dealt with the same human tendencies.

I think as a species, deep down we humans are very similar.  You can believe what you like, whether we just got lucky or whether we were blessed by God.  Whatever you believe, the fact remains we were born into a nation where our founders displayed wisdom and set a consummate example, authored a constitution that is as true and wise today as it was then, and that we are a nation based upon the rule of law. 

We didn’t do anything to earn it in the womb.

It only continues with the diligence of each successive generation. We can continue to strive to make the system more fair and equitable where people can work hard and earn a better life, or we can trade our well being as a nation for the unrealistic promises given by politicians who are hooked on the high that the adoration and attention the empty promises bring.

We proud Americans, unaware of our own inherent human prejudices and gullibility to unrealistic empty promises, look at the extreme example of Venezuela and think that could never happen here. Venezuelans thought the same thing. Just ask my brothers-in-law.

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