Laureano Marquez, a popular Venezuelan writer and political satirist, says he is always opposed to the government in power. "The mission of humor is to show the people that things can be better," he says.
Venezuelan author Romulo Gallegos (1884-1969), circa 1950.
Credit Pedro Valdes
Marcela Valdes was a founder of Críticas, the English-language magazine devoted to Spanish-language books. She is now serving her second term on the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle.
Marcela Valdes is the books editor of The Washington Examiner and a specialist in Latin American literature and culture.
For more than 40 years, the most important book prize in South America has been bankrolled by the region's most famous petro-nation: Venezuela. Yet Venezuelan novelists themselves rank among the least read and translated writers in the entire continent. Over and over again as I worked on this article, I stumped editors and translators with a simple question: Who are Venezuela's best novelists?
Maria Colmenares lives in a concrete-block house on a mountainside overlooking the presidential palace in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. Her story says much about the oil-rich and turbulent Latin American nation.
In the days before elevators, there was no such thing as a penthouse on the top floor. The highest floors of a building had cheaper rents because the stairs were hard to climb.
Caracas, Venezuela, is organized roughly the same way, with many poor neighborhoods climbing up the sides of a mountain valley. Some of the poorest homes are among the most remote, accessible not by any road but by alleyways and long flights of stairs.
Venezuela's acting president, Nicolas Maduro, fist-bumps a worker of the state-run oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A., last month. Maduro faces opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in Sunday's presidential election. Whoever wins will have to tackle the legacy of Chavez's oil programs.
As Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez thought in grandiose terms, and his country's vast oil riches enabled him to act on his vision. But Chavez died before he had to deal with the flaws in his model, and some hard choices await his successor.
Key to Chavez's notion of "21st Century Socialism" was the redistribution of Venezuela's oil earnings. The country's oil reserves — estimated by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to be the largest in the world — are worth tens of billions of dollars a year in potential revenue.
This Sunday, Venezuelans return to the polls for yet another presidential election.
This vote is to replace the late Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer last month after winning re-election in October.
Interim president Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's former vice president, has tried to embody his former boss as he runs for the permanent job. The man who was defeated in the fall -- Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles -- is waging a more aggressive campaign.
Absentee ballots. Polling centers open for days on end. Early voting. All of these are ways in which Americans can vote for their nation’s elections. So they might be shocked to hear me tell them that 19,542 Venezuelans living in the United States have to go through a much more grueling process to be able to do the same thing they can do rather easily.
Inside Jose Moreno's Judaica shop in Aventura, there's an entire wall lined with Hebrew books. Other shelves hold glistening menorahs and there's a rack filled with special Passover games and toys for children.
An elderly customer enters the shop wearing a yarmulke and Moreno greets him in Spanish.
Moreno, 71, was raised in Venezuela and for many years owned a similar store in Caracas.
"Most of the Jewish people had good businesses and [a] good living standard,” Moreno said. “We had a lot of synagogues, temples, schools.”
An image of late President Hugo Chavez hangs behind acting President Nicolas Maduro, as he speaks to supporters after registering his candidacy outside the national electoral council in Caracas, Venezuela, on Monday.
Credit Rodrigo Abd / AP
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles accused Maduro of using Chavez's funeral to campaign for the presidency.
The tall and imposing Nicolas Maduro stepped forward last week to be sworn in as Venezuela's interim leader following the death of President Hugo Chavez.
Before the country's packed congressional hall, he swore to complete Chavez's dream to transform the OPEC power into a socialist state, allied with Cuba and decidedly opposed to capitalism and U.S. interests in Latin America.