Remembering the good old days when there were only ‘Two Spies in Caracas’
Understanding Venezuela is pretty much like attempting to read James Joyce’s Ulysses…in Vietnamese!
The history of Venezuela, as a country, began exotically well. Actually too good and dramatic to hold up to reality. A truly epic-larger-than-life cruzade. And it all started with a group of brave men, including a certain Simon Bolivar (a skinny, short guy who was on horseback running around liberating South American countries from Spanish occupation) decided the future should be all about freedom…As long as these brave were in command of each country that they freed.
So far everything was going relatively well.
Cut to 200 years later and an evil monster named Hugo Chávez took up under his distorted version of Bolivar and his pals’ ideals, and so he invented himself as the new Liberator of…Well, wherever he considered it should be liberated from imperialism and “savage capitalism” blah blah blah. He methodically demolished Venezuela and its citizens while anyone who didn’t really want to investigate what was really happening in Venezuela saw him, paradoxically, as a hero.
After all, who cared about this small country that only exported Miss Universe contestants, soap operas and … Oil?.. Yes the oil people —those who wanted/needed—were the ones fulfilling Hugo’s apocalyptic ego.
So, in order to understand what happened and how the rise of Hugo Chávez to the throne of power was conceived, which he only left when Satan returned him to the place from which he once escaped, it requires someone with knowledge of the facts and the brilliance to explain all those twisted and often inexplicable situations…Someone like Yoda! And that someone, that Yoda, is none-other than Moisés Naim.
Born in Tripoli, Libya, on July 5, 1952, Moisés Naim is as Venezuelan as the arepa and cerveza Polar (what a real Venezuelan eats and drinks!). And we could fill this article just by talking about his career and resume. But it is enough to say that Naim is one of the sharpest and most original international journalists-columnists-analysts to roam this planet. And after more than a dozen non-fiction books, Naim gives us his first novel, Two Spies in Caracas. A novel about…You guessed it! Venezuela…and a little bit more. Moisés Naim was Venezuela’s minister of trade and industry; director of Venezuela’s Central Bank, and also was executive director of the World Bank. So the guy has an idea about what he is writing about.
The plot of Two Spies in Caracas centers on 1992, in the midst of a failed coup led by Hugo Chávez. And how immediately the United States and Cuba try to take charge, by sending two secret agents to deal with the situation.
On one hand, Cuba sends G2 charismatic agent Iván Rincón, and the CIA sends Mexican born agent Cristina Garza. Starting from page one, the objective of Rincón chiefs is clear: they must support Chávez and make the most of it for Cuba. That means, infiltrate Venezuela, so sooner rather than later, Cuba takes full control of Venezuelan affairs.
On the other hand, Garza’s mission on behalf of the CIA is precisely to keep the above from happening and prevent Venezuela’s oil reserves from falling into enemy hands (any non-American hands).
Of course, both spies have Latin blood and we are in the Caribbean and the two meet each other and the inevitable happens: Romance flourishes. But, I mean, like one of those dangerous romances that only spies or very toxic couples can start in.
While the spies try to do their job, a series of subplots interconnect with the decisions that Hugo Chávez makes and how he uses the powerful support of drug trafficking, crime and Cuba’s experience in social indoctrination, to increase the already existing Venezuelan economic class gap, cultivating hatred and social division through the radicalization of the cult towards him.
It is very hard for a Venezuelan to read the details of a story as recent as it is terrifying. While surely foreign readers unfamiliar with the Venezuelan and Latin American context, perhaps will think: “this dude, Naim, has such an imagination”. Which he certainly has. But the triumph of Two Spies in Caracas is precisely that what Naim presents as fiction, surely happened in some way or another.
But the novel explodes when Cuban and the CIA forces are unleashed, each fighting for their interests, while an excellent character, a female journalist, tries to tie up all the loose ends and Cristina and Iván confront the reality of their work, without mercy.
At this point Two Spies in Caracas becomes a large-scale thriller, unraveling the roots, motivations of power and allies of Latin American dictators in an overwhelming way.
But although the end of Hugo Chávez and what has happened in Venezuela is known worldwide, Naim manages to maintain interest in the characters, because even though we know that Iván’s bosses had their way, we have to get to the last page to know the outcome of the story between Iván and Cristina. And get the ultimate answer: can toxic love between two spies overcome all barriers? I certainly hope so!
(Amazon Crossing, August 2021)