I’m guessing most of you have never been kidnapped. I sure haven’t. I’ve been held by angry mobs a few times (long story) but never really kidnapped. However, enough friends of mine have that I know second-hand what it’s like. The powerlessness, the humiliation.
But what happens when a whole country gets kidnapped? What would that be like?
We have examples. In the USSR the kidnapped studied in fields not of their interest to be assigned jobs not of their choosing to receive goods not of their liking – in service to their kidnappers; upon pain of death if they tried to escape. In Cuba the hostages are often forced to prostitute themselves to advance the interests of their captors; who in their eternal attempts to outlast their weakness have turned their island into sort of a human zoo of the unfree.
No, national kidnapping isn’t a new phenomenon.
There’s a term that Venezuelans use to refer to petty thugs, you know the kind that hang out on street corners stealing the backpacks from young children; or those who torture a stray dog for the fun of watching it yelp. In Venezuelan jargon they are called “malandros“. “We have a government of malandros,” you often hear the victims of that country’s misrule lament. Not exactly; because I have found a more precise moniker – “secuestradores”: kidnappers. 18 years ago a rogue outfit kidnapped Venezuela. O sure they tried to dress it up better – used words like participatory democracy and had a lot of meetings. That didn’t change what it was. A hostage taking – to serve themselves of their prisoner. First they started on her bank accounts, draining them dry. Then they seized her un-used assets; then perhaps the less liquid ones; and on and on and on in their increasingly desperate attempt to make a living on the emaciated shell of their once-beautiful victim.
But that, terrible as it is, isn’t the whole of it. What my friends who have been kidnapped tell me is that very often the kidnappers talk to them; engaging in long, epic conversations as they attempt to make their case as to why they have the moral high ground. Why the act of violence is in fact selfless – an act of love even. Why the hostage should be grateful; why she should thank her aggressor. At very least why they are justified, “My family is poor, and you are rich,” or sometimes, “I haven’t had the opportunities you have.” There’s a scene in Fight Club when Brad Pitt holds up a night clerk at a store for a few minutes, then releases him, “I did him a favor. Tomorrow will be the best day of his life. Even the food will taste better.”
In Venezuela that conversation has gone on for 18 years; and it’s reaching the end.
You see, the more time that passes during which the captors feed on the hostage – the more rapid and noticeable the deterioration. Much to their dismay, the kidnappers realize that the abuse over so protracted a period takes an ever-heavier toll. Beyond just food and water, that absent freedom and the motivating energy it lends the hostage will surely die. In panic they enter a period of frantic bargaining – their goal, find a way to release the hostage before she dies, in order that they can use the moribund body as leverage for their getaway.
That is the phase Venezuela’s kidnapping is in right now. There is nothing more the kidnappers can get from her; she has been drained of her lifeblood. In point of fact she is almost dead. The kidnappers are frenzied, because they waited too long – got greedy and didn’t see the signs of her demise until it was too late. Soothed by their own words, they got waylaid by events as they were waiting for that last conversation when the victim finally admits she is wrong and joins the cause.
I met one of the kidnappers once. It was at an event in DC where Leopoldo Lopez was speaking (Lopez is now a political prisoner). The hostage taker was masquerading as a third secretary from the Venezuelan embassy – sent that morning to assault Lopez. “You people” he said when somebody gave him the microphone, “with your degrees and your languages; your refinement. I’m from the barrio – I don’t even have a college degree. But here I am, a diplomat. The revolution did that for me!” It was not bravado – the effect which the accidental diplomat had intended. It was a plea by a kidnapper desperate for his hostage’s approval. A cry for legitimacy – from a convulsed soul who knew that no amount of violence would get him what he really wanted.
The hostage crisis is approaching its end stage; the most dangerous period. It’s when people die. And I look around for a skilled negotiator – a calming voice to talk them into the paddy-wagon; and find a wanting world completely silent. And I pray, if only to myself, “God be with the hostages.”