Luis Chataing: Venezuela is much bigger than a handful of bad people
Interview with Luis Chataing
Pictures by Andreina Mujica
How do you translate tragedy into comedy?
I can imagine you are talking about the country’s issue that is my working material. I always felt drawn to the humor, a universal humor, very different from the political one, which has taken the last 18 years of my life.
Did politics invade us?
Yes, it snuck into everybody’s house.
Do you think it is possible to be a journalist in these circumstances (Venezuela) or just write about how the hats match those Chanel shoes?
No, but I also believe that it’s complicated to think that things must go how you think. That’s one of the biggest problems we face in Venezuela, pretending that my truth should be everyone’s truth. This is wrongful and complicated.
So freedom is letting be?
Yes, but nowadays, it seems hard to understand because our grief touches the Alma Mater, the homeland, our country, our identity. It is breaking our fingerprints, and it hurts at different levels, but all who were born in Venezuela feel that hurt. If there are journalists talking about shoes or having the audacity of playing a piece of music on the radio, why are we going to listen to music in a moment like this? Do you know why? Because we need it.
In wars, happiness is allowed, but I think that banality should not be accepted because it has hurt us all badly. Don’t you think?
Sure, but it is worthy to have that thing that distances you from the circumstances that have shattered your talent, your creative skills. If a person likes seeing shoes, and that will allow him or her to be a better surgeon, well he or she deserves to do it. As long as that thing helps you be a better architect and prevent government actions from affecting your work, it seems right to me. I learned all this in my almost two years traveling around the world, on a tour of nearly 76 cities.
What have you learned from traveling so much?
Just as I am talking to you here in Miami, I have talked to many Venezuelans around the world, in Milan, London, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Vancouver. I have also read in social media how Venezuelans within the territory of the country interact with those living abroad. I have seen the misunderstandings, the assumption that the country is more mine than yours. All of this situation brought on by the chaos created by Chávez.
What’s going on in the country is complicated to me, so I try to distort and deconstruct the humor in itself, to find out its most acid and sharp ingredients to be used as a contribution to Venezuela.
Might it be that we can’t smile anymore?
Right now, sensibility is so close to the surface and events affect you more than ever. I think we should be more considerate at the time of acting so that we don’t hurt each other. Some people judge you by having left the country and because they assumed that you abandoned them.
Humor is a social mirror, a smart reflection that doesn’t let you leave reality behind even if it hurts. Could it be that learning hurts and humor is a good resource for the process?
Take your case, for example. How much is a cartoon worth to a government for them to have attacked you as it did? I mean we all have a huge communication power.
The communication power of free thinking has never gotten along with dictatorships, and beyond that, there is a commitment to freedom and the universal values. This is a decision you take or not.
When you say certain things on radio, that’s not because a sponsor pays the show, or to grab ratings, but you totally believe in what you are communicating. This is far above the actions taken by the opposition leaders who should be creating change.
Humor doesn’t have a hidden agenda, but Power does. What do you think about this?
I won by myself the persecutions of the State security body and all the things made by the government against me. I did it with the absolute clarity that my actions were going to catch up with me. That is the reason why I got my family out of the country ten months ago. I just turned 50, I spent seven years trying to have my first kid, now I have two. One day, after an unfair decision of the Supreme Court, I saw how all the democratic achievements fell. So, I did the math and thought: Will I wake up one day crying because my kid was murdered or kidnapped? To what extent will my determination to take part in this struggle outweighs the theft of my most cherished dream of being a father? Well, I took them on a plane, and left. César Miguel Rondón and I, for example, we work in similar conditions, as communicators that are vocal on radio. We talk to the country from 6am to 10am, trying to spread good cheer, believing, rowing, encouraging bravery to defend freedom of speech in our times. People recognize your effort and there the commitment becomes bigger. But I wondered: Are we just going around in circles? I quit the radio because I couldn’t keep talking about the same things.
Maybe, more than commentators we need psychologists on the radio, to deal with the insanity lived in the country. That’s tough.
Frustration, fear and all those feelings that the regime has orchestrated and spread in our country.
You, while working on communicating everyday, use bullfighter skills, trying not to be silenced, preventing the closure of media outlets where you work because of a phrase or total sincerity. But, there comes a point when you become a filter, you get tired, and a disease attacks your body.
I must confess it was like therapy watching your TV show. It was like thinking the day was ruined by an excess of overwhelming reality, then I turned the TV on and connected with that smart humor that made you laugh a lot, a kind of mirror for the catharsis of all we felt and we couldn’t channel. That helps.
The great Renny Ottolina was an example of excellence in communication and culture in Venezuela, but when he approached the power, he was killed. Don’t you think that naivety has a high cost?
But, someone has to do it, or we will be lost. The destiny of a country transcends every one of its citizens. Venezuela is much more than a handful of bad people.
Don’t you think that what we need to learn, living in the country or not, is about reconnecting with our better self and not letting us be erased?
I want to tell my children a little about all this Venezuelan iconography every day.
As a versatile artist, where are you at this moment and in this country (USA), where you are just a social number sometimes?
I am a social number!
I am calmer now. I couldn’t sleep in Venezuela. Now, I have a hard time watching the events from afar the events and wanting to be there.
I am very sarcastic, and I wanted to use that skill to help with the country’s situation. I feel blessed for hugging so many Venezuelans around the world, listening to their stories, people that come up to me and cry while telling their misfortunes why they are on other continents. They tell me about a life left behind.
What is your message in this tour?
I bring a message of looking forward and adapting to the place chosen for living. Be as productive as you can and never forget Venezuela. You can’t be nostalgic 24/7, but you also can’t turn the page and close the book as if Venezuela never existed.
I had a presentation in Indianapolis few months ago. I started the show with the phrase: “if you don’t want to hear about Venezuela, you can leave the room…” I will refund the money to those who don’t want to know about their country. I understand this is a defense mechanism, but I don’t agree.
We must be grateful to the country that gave us so much, regardless of our talent and effort. Judging the country because we, as citizens, have been unable to reach an agreement or work together to get out of this mess is quite wrong for both yourself and others.
Could you share with us some of your stories with Venezuelans during this tour?
1) I got into an UBER in Miami, and the Venezuelan Driver told me he was an entrepreneur in Tucacas, he owned three restaurants, and he was doing great. But, one day he came home and these guys were raping his family, (silence) The man cried the whole trip.
2) In Santiago de Chile, I got off the plane, and the producer of the show who is Venezuelan told me “My brother was killed to steal his cell phone two weeks ago.”
3) I was in Paris, and I went to a restaurant where two Venezuelans prepare Sushi with a Mexican burrito style. Two 28-year-old girls who won the Innovation Culinary Award in Paris. This is the talent that has been lost.
4) In Rio de Janeiro, I was received by a group of people who used to work in the oil sector. They told me that they organize monthly events to support Venezuelans living and sleeping in the squares of Brazil.
5) In Panama, I visited a restaurant, and the waiter spoke with a Cuban accent. He said hello, and started talking to me. He said he is Venezuelan, but he used that fake accent because if he were recognized as Venezuelan, he would lose his job.
Those people in Venezuelan government have done much harm. They must pay for it, in the context of planetary justice, but they have to pay. And all this tragedy has to come to an end.
Do you think that humor should fight against evil?
I must believe in that. Something that helps people not to lose faith and use all their talent to bring peace, is necessary.