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Do Not Talk About Venezuela Dictatorship

Can’t Form an Opinion On Venezuela Dictatorship, I Have Not Yet Traveled To I have stated before that it is a prime folly to speak as if you know anything about a country that you have never been to. I try to follow this rule, but it is difficult: every traveler seems to hold places [...]

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Can’t Form an Opinion On Venezuela Dictatorship, I Have Not Yet Traveled To

I have stated before that it is a prime folly to speak as if you know anything about a country that you have never been to. I try to follow this rule, but it is difficult: every traveler seems to hold places in the world in which they hold no interest in going to, places they find awful based not on experience but hearsay, news media projections, or from books.

The one country in the world I have no interest in is Venezuela.

I want to go to pretty much any country in the world. I seriously would not balk at the opportunity to go just about anywhere, except Venezuela. I have no taste for the place, but my angle is based on sources of information far from the source.

From what I can gather on Venezuela, the county seems like a typical old time Latin American dictatorship.

Perhaps it is:

It is illegal to criticize the government in the media.

Radio stations are not permitted play lists that are not mostly “traditional” Venezuelan music.

The Family Guy cartoon is illegal.

Toy guns are also illegal.

Video games are also regulated by the government.

Israelis are illegal.

The Ford Explorer is too.

Halloween is banned by a government edict.

And so are goods from Colombia, Coke Zero is also forbidden.

Oh yeah, and don’t pack your golf clubs for a trip to Venezuela — golf courses are likewise outlawed.

This is a dictatorship, but it is the special sort of dictatorship that does not only rule with supreme power but also uses that power to control the self determination of its people on a personal level. Some dictatorships rule for their own gain and they leave their people, more or less, alone. Most countries are like this. But there is a special kind of dictatorship that seeks to mold the character of their people by coercion and through force of law. Venezuela seems to be such a country.

I have never been to Venezuela, and now matter how hard I try I do not want to go.

Without oil, Venezuela would be just another Latin American dependency state trading autonomy to first world countries for handouts — they call it humanitarian aid.


I wrote this entry in a huff. I am unsure where this huff came from, but it arose none the less, and I recorded what came out of it. I then read what I was working on, and realized quickly that it was silly: I was talking about something I have no idea about. I have never been to Venezuela, I know nothing about the country.

I must admit to myself that I have not yet earned to right to have a strong opinion on Venezuela, everything I know about the country is base on surface level hearsay, there is no depth to my opinion, I cannot state experience and observation as my source, I must claim to have received my opinion from an outside source.

What comes in through the front gate is not family treasure.

I listen to a lot of people talk about the world, about politics, about places they have never been to, about people they have never meet. Just as I did above about Venezuela above. Like me, these people take their information from the news, from the internet, from hearsay, and they formulated opinions that they truly believe — they construct a truth. Sometimes, we even argue this truth with others, trying to topple one flabby notion of “what is going on” with another — we match hearsay with hearsay and may the man with the loudest voice win.

It is amazing to me how we tend to believe the first thing we hear about a place, a people, an issue as being the pinnacle of truth. As a man often grows up to take the world view of his parents, it is easy to take the first source of information we com upon as being unalieanatable truth and all other contrary information received subsequently as being incorrect.

Though all sides of the coin are not often based in reality, they are reworkings of truth at best, misinformation constructed by interest groups at worse, that often lay the groundwork for moot arguments such as the one I tried to start above.

It is a difficult notion to accept that the information you carry in your head may not be correct, that you are just as prejudice as anybody else, that you are full of shit. I am full of shit about Venezuela, I have based my opinions off of information delivered by news media outlets with biased perspectives, by a news media that seeks to entertain people enough to keep them reading into the next advertisement, the news media who strives to make people feel as if they really know about a world they have never experienced.

Perhaps I am a part of this media, perhaps this is the effect of Vagabond Journey, but I truly try to follow one rule when forming opinions on places, on people: I don’t talk about places I have never been.

All media will be biased, though I want readers to know where my bias comes from, I want them to read of the experience that created my bias, so that what I write comes off as honest. There is a stark difference between publishing honesty and publishing truth. Truth is like one of those holograms that shows a different image based upon the angle of your perception — there is no seizing it — while honesty is stating where you stand, and what you see before you, and leaving it as that.

I don’t wish to admit my bias, I strive to show it.

If I have been to Venezuela I could directly confirm if there are no golf courses, I could turn on the radio to see if any music played besides traditional Venezuelan music, I could ask people if they have ever watched the Family Guy cartoon, I could look in the markets for toy guns, I could gauge if people really feel pensive about talking critically about their government, I could ask people if they felt they were really living under a bloated dictator. I could find out about Venezuela for myself, and publish this information as coming from myself.

Maybe what I wrote above would play out to prove true, maybe not, but maybe I would be able to see these restrictions on individual liberty in the context within which they were formed. Maybe these rather odd seeming laws make sense in the context of Venezuela?? The only way to find out would be to go there.

The power of personal observation is strong, the opinions gained from experience are the only ones I feel as if I can call my own. If I state an opinion about something that I have experienced then that is my opinion, if I state an opinion that I read in some newspaper then I am regurgitating the opinion of someone else — and I therefore become an agent spreading what another person says they see in the hologram, and not what I observe myself. I would be writing dishonestly.

Reading newspapers, reading about places is good: it gives you a place to work from when visiting a country, it gives you ideas, theories to test in real life. When I go to Venezuela, I will have a lot to work from, I would go there to discover if the hype I wrote above is true, I would experience the country, talk to people, and form an opinion that would be my own.

My opinion could still be wrong, incorrect, off base, but at least it would be mine, and mine alone. I can accept honestly spouting off my own untruths, I can accept being corrected, or reworking my view of a place — though I do not want to do this leg work for the opinions of others. We live in a world where there is a massive amount of information everywhere, a true blitzkrieg of opinions at every turn, and I have observed that it is normal for modern people to think they know all about the world just from reading about it. It is amazing to me how ignorant this endless supply of information leaves its recipients.

People who think they already know about something can’t learn. It is unbelievable when I hear people speaking with iron wrought words about places they never been, just borrowing the opinions of others, and arguing for the sake of truth.

“Education just serves to make people stupid,” my old friend Steve-O in Japan would always say.

If I read the above information about Venezuela and believed it to be true, rather than using it as a guide to test its validity, then I would be gravely ignorant indeed — I would be vastly more blinded to the country than if I knew nothing about it at all. So much of what is written about the world needs to be taken in context. Out of China, a lot of what goes on there seems insane, but when it the country it often makes a little more sense — but I only know this from spending a lot of time there.

Cultures are just perpetual interplays of context, action symbols than run flush in their intended place. You truly need to know the backdrop of a place for anything there to make sense. The popular media feeds off of hype, it is how they keep their readers, it is how they make their money. By stripping a story from its context — or placing it in a different context — hype can easily be created, people will read the article to tell their friends just how doctorial Venezuela is, they will read to confirm their own smug version of the world.

When I read of the above Venezuelan laws, they made no sense to me, they seemed extreme, ridiculous, but, then again, I have no context of the country to fit this information into, any opinion that I could form would be out of line, misplaced, the ramblings of a man with his head in a box musing about the world with out. The world is vast, cultures need context to make sense, governments and politics never make sense — to skim a few layers off the top of a story to throw into a 500 word article is a good way to regurgitate the fairy tales that get people talking.

The piece that I read on Venezuela got me talking, it also made me my own fool.

Never talk about places you have never been

Filed under: Politics | Geopolitics

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Filed under: Culture and Society, Intercultural Conflict, Journalism, Politics, South America, Venezuela

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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19 comments… add one

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  • Mike Crosby July 19, 2010, 11:22 pm

    In my younger days I was a member of a so called religious cult. At the time, it was difficult but yet a wonderful experience.

    Years later a friend said about the cult, “Be careful with them, once they get you, they’ll never let you go”.

    I asked him if he’d ever been to a meeting, and he answered “no”.

    This cult that supposedly kept one hostage, told me to leave. I was kicked out.

    I like what you say Wade. Actually experience something then I can have an opinion. How skewed are my ideas because it’s based on what I’ve read and seen, and not experienced. Still, that is a basis of much understanding. How do I know my next step will indeed be a next step and that step will not have me fall through the floor. A good amount of trust has to be involved.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com July 20, 2010, 11:16 am

      This is a good point, do you really need to experience everything to be able to heed warnings?

      Do you really need to go into a bad part of town to proclaim it as such? This is interesting as a lot of truly rough places are widely called as such at the same time there are a lot of really friendly places that merely have a bad reputation?

      How do you know which is which? I said, “go there and find out” in the above piece, but do you really want to do this? Sometimes definitely not, sometimes this would just be stupid. I had a friend once that told me how she was once a study abroad student. Her instructor told her not to go to a particular part of Lima because it was dangerous. She promptly went there. She was quickly robbed. She found out for herself that this was a truly bad part of the city the hard way.

      But did she need to do this to know? As it played out, she could have just listened to the hearsay and abide by the warnings and take away the same impression. But, generally speaking, there was a good chance that someone could go into a part of a city that has a bad reputation and find the people completely hospitable and the streets more or less safe.

      I suppose you only need to go and find out for yourself if you are really interested, if you want to talk about it. I heed warnings all the time, I don’t have the need to prove wrong the fear mongering that I regularly hear about parts of this world, but I don’t write about these places, I don’t talk about them and regurgitate a myth that I have not experienced the basis of.

      I do not want to say that all media projections and reputations of places are inherently untrue — this would be silly — but o feel strongly that a brush of true experience with a place or a people is necessary to get a taste of the context. Reports and reputations of places can be used as guides, but true experience is needed to validate the assumptions about places that are sometimes off base, are sometimes out dated, and are sometimes right on.

      How do you know the difference? Go there or shut up.

      I say this last statement jokingly, but I know of no other way. My friend went into a bad part of Lima, she earned the right to say, “man, that is a bad part of town” where others can just say that they heard it was a scary place.

      Who is better off?

      Those who touch flames just to see if they are hot may get burned, but they will always have the scars to prove it.

      Good comment.


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  • Sérgio Morais July 20, 2010, 2:38 pm

    You should go there. You’ll find that many things they say are untrue, although there’s a problem with security and you see lots of weapons. But people are nice and discuss passionately about what’s going on. And it has terrific places to go (and a awful capital, too). Go there, i think you’ll not be disapointed.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com July 25, 2010, 6:30 pm

      Thanks, Sergio,

      Venezuela is on the path, going to a place always changes your impressions. Hope this is true for Venezuela haha. It should be.

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  • Sensible December 12, 2010, 8:52 pm

    Let me address a few of the perceptions which have been foisted upon you by oil-barrons – boy are they ticked-off that that resource (not man-made, btw) is being used to, as one anti-Chavista put it, “give bread and bricks to the poor so he will vote for them” rather than to expand the elite’s mansions in Miami and beef up Shell’s bottom line.

    “It is illegal to criticize the government in the media.”
    Globovision, a huge network, is insanely anti-Chavez; it makes Fox in the US look tame by comparison. A few stations did loose their licenses in recent years, but the vast majority are still owned by the same plutocrats who used those very stations as part of the attempted coup. Can you imagine any other country allowing media-outlets that even suggested, not to mention participated in, trying to overthrow their government to stay on the air?

    “Radio stations are not permitted play lists that are not mostly “traditional” Venezuelan music.”
    Not sure about that, but sounds like I could get a break from the same Western-style pop-songs over and over we get in Central America.

    “Video games are also regulated by the government.”
    I’m not sure if Venezuela has copied Australia’s laws in this respect.

    “Israelis are illegal.”
    No, they only need apply for a visa.

    “And so are goods from Colombia”
    There have been embargos surrounding the Colombians acting as an aggressive proxy for Transnational-Corporate Imperialism via the USA’s mercenary forces.

    “Coke Zero is also forbidden.”
    That would be good – aspartamine is a neurotoxin.

    I’m not sure about the others.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com December 12, 2010, 9:09 pm

      It seems as if you have an agenda, a pre-set angle. Though you still did not refute any of these claims, only justify them. I was hoping you would refute them. You are posting from Guatemala, have you been to Venezuela?

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  • daphne December 20, 2010, 8:45 am

    I lived in Venezuela for 35 years and left it a few years ago because of Chavez.

    It is incredibly dangerous.You might be lucky, and nothing will happen to you, but you will be playing a game of Russian roulette with your life.
    The revolution is racist so if you are a white gringo you will be a target.Never go out after night.Even the villages are becoming dangerous so don’t think you are home free in the small towns either.

    Other than the dangerous aspect, it is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, has amazing food, and interesting culture.I feel blessed that it was a large part of my life.

    If you go, do not pass through Caracas.Fly to Merida or go directly to Canaima.
    After I left I had hoped to return after they got rid of Chavez, but now I do not see that happening.

    There has been way too much damage done to the country for there to be a proper return to the way it was.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com December 20, 2010, 9:52 am

      Thank you for this first hand account. It jives well with the other reports I have received from people who have traveled there. It is funny to me how typically middle class, white, super liberals from the USA view Chavez as kind of a hero.

      He is a dictator like the rest.

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    • Tony Logan March 12, 2014, 12:13 pm

      I could imagine an American White racist writing this about Detroit…

      ‘The revolution is racist so if you are a white gringo you will be a target.’

      So we are to believe that in Venezuela Black racists are supposedly running wild and attacking those civilized White upper class Venezuelan richy ricos? How dare they>!!!

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  • Sebastian October 2, 2012, 5:39 pm

    There is usually so much information to find on the blogs that I never read anything twice:
    However I read your article several times during the last weeks.
    I just found the that the ideas are brillant & the writing is great. It sounds more like philosophy than like a simple post on a travel blog 🙂

    It made me think of what i once had learned about Descartes and I found this quotation:

    “Some years ago I was struck by the large number of falsehoods that I had accepted as true in my childhood, and by the highly doubtful nature of the whole edifice that I had subsequently based on them. I realized that it was necessary, once in the course of my life, to demolish everything completely and start again right from the foundations if I wanted to establish anything at all in the sciences that was stable and likely to last.”
    René Descartes

    I picked up info about Venezuela from dozens of sources because I plan to go there next year and all of them gave a different view of this country…
    I’m starting to think that I’d better wait to be there before I start having an opinion about it.

    Thanks for this very nice article!
    Sebastien (belgium)

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    • Wade Shepard October 2, 2012, 8:33 pm

      Thank you Sebastien for actually reading this article. So many people just look at an article really quickly and automatically think they know what it’s about without actually putting in the time to read it. Then they leave snarky comments that completely miss the point. You didn’t do this, and I have to tell you that it’s much appreciated.

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  • Tony Logan March 12, 2014, 12:08 pm

    Let’s see now, Wade? You traveled into Guatemala, Honduras, and Colombia, which are all known for their lack of democracy and the fact that death squads periodically run bezerk. Yet you go into a crazy rant against the current Venezuelan government. Why really is that?

    ‘I wrote this entry in a huff. I am unsure where this huff came from, but it arose none the less, and I recorded what came out of it.’

    What is it about the American Empire’s Latin American imperialism is it that you feel the need to defend by attacking the Venezuelan government in this way?

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    • VagabondJourney March 12, 2014, 8:08 pm

      Don’t be presumptuous. I’m just berating the Venezuelan regime here, not defending any country.

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      • Tony Logan March 12, 2014, 8:59 pm

        Yes, and there is a general and ongoing American media campaign to ‘berate the Venezuelan regime’, is there not?

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        • VagabondJourney March 12, 2014, 9:07 pm

          I have no idea, I haven’t been in the USA for years. Though I feel as if you’re comments are getting off the point. If you disagree then please present your argument or experience. That’s fine. But criticizing me doesn’t make your point.

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          • Tony Logan March 12, 2014, 10:07 pm

            I’m not out to criticize you at all on anything really. In fact, I enjoy your site’s writings, Wade. I don’t want to clutter your site with political arguments at all…

            However, whether you have been to the US in years or not, you should be more aware if the US is waging war somewhere or the other when it is, even if the war is camouflaged a bit. And believe me it really isn’t even that much a secret that the US has tried to overthrow first Chavez, and now is trying to do so with Maduro.

            ‘If you disagree then please present your argument or experience. That’s fine. But criticizing me doesn’t make your point.’

            OK, then… ‘US support for regime change in Venezuela is a mistake’ http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/18/venezuela-protests-us-support-regime-change-mistake

            And then perhaps we should also examine US support for the Colombian government’s pre Christmas coup against the elected mayor of Bogota, too? Do you know about that one, Wade? Here is some info about it…

            ‘Bogota mayor Gustavo Petro sacked and banned from office’ http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-25310963

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          • Tony Logan March 12, 2014, 10:12 pm

            I’m not sure why this would be the case for you, Wade? I find Venezuela to be a fascinating potential vacation site. I would love to go to Coro, Merida, Angel Falls, and Los Llanos just to mention to where I would like to head out to.

            ‘I have never been to Venezuela, and now matter how hard I try I do not want to go.’

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  • VagabondJourney March 12, 2014, 10:16 pm

    Thanks for clarifying 🙂 But this post isn’t about the US media or even the US position on Venezuela. I believe that’s another discussion altogether.

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    • Tony Logan March 12, 2014, 10:34 pm

      Sorry if I got us off track, Wade. I think that your site is very interesting and myself would like to start a travel site myself soon… I would like it to be called… ‘Some Not So Magical Towns of Mexico’ (Pueblos No Tan Magicos de Mexico). That would be to burlesque some the Mexican tourist establishment’s ‘magical towns’ promotion that is really a great program to promote tourism there South of the Tex-Mex Border.

      Gosh there are so many of these places not magical in all countries, and the hardy people that live in them need to be noted and esteemed for their hard work and stoic nature. Every country has these places, including the USA itself! Maybe I could start from Laredo/Nuevo Laredo… head to Mier (an official ‘pueblo magico’), and then on to Cadereyta, Concepcion de Oro and Matamoros de Coahuila. All very unmagical indeed!

      Can you help me out any on this huge project I envision taking on? I know you have a list like that. I beleive that Taganga, Colombia is one such site just as you do.

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