Diego Arria's memoir

Diego Arria published a little bit before the October presidential vote a memoir of his life, past and recent, which also doubles as a memorandum about Venezuela's today. I was asked to review it but there was so much to write before October 7 and so much depression since that I did not read the book even though it had been sent to me courteously on a PDF form before it was released. Eventually I preferred to go and buy it and I am glad I did because reading this book this week is more profitable than at any reading I could have done before October 7.

Reading memoirs, and reviewing them, is always a little bit dicey. After all no one writes a memoir to delve on past mistakes. And when such mistakes must be faced, usually there are self serving motives or detailed explanations on how the other aspect of that person's life amply compensate the wrongs. In short, the real reason why one reads memoirs if for the gossipy aspect inevitably linked to them. It is thus fair to warn the reader: there is little gossip in Mr. Arria's memoir "La hora de la verdad". His life has certainly provided him with a wealth of gossip but we will have to wait for his real memoirs: this is a book from a man still determined to work as long as he can to bring something to his country.

Certainly, Diego Arria must start his book with a summary of his life, conveniently forgotten by the Chavez regime but also by most inside the opposition. His was a stellar career  in politics and international diplomacy and Mr. Arria has the merit to summarize it as briefly as possible in the first third of the book, a little bit like an extensive visiting card that gives him the credentials to write about the current situation of Venezuela. Yet we gather the "Arria Formula" used often in UN conflict resolution; or more importantly for today's Venezuela, we are remembered that in 1998 there were plenty of people that already saw the potential Chavez election as an oncoming catastrophe for Venezuela. Diego Arria reminds us that there were plenty of now forgotten debates then, such as the one he participated with Hiram Gaviria, then promoting Chavez election and now one of his opponents. Diego Arria had already enough experiences to know better but those were the days of Cassandras and he was one, ignored if not ridiculed but now so bitterly proven right. Still, we should note that Mr. Arria insists that his book is not a "I told you so".

The second part of the book is the real matter at hand, the demand made on Venezuela to face its time of truth as the title of the book may be translated. That part covers his campaign for the primaries and the opinion he had on Venezuela's situation prior October 7. I presume that he can start preparing an appendix for a second edition with what happened since October 7. But I digress.

Arria's return to Venezuela (which he never quite left, just had a temporary job in New York) started in 2006 with Rosales presidential campaign of which he does not hold fond memories. But it served him well in getting to know the new political class of Venezuela and how they were influenced by Chavez in spite of their better judgement. Then things turned ugly in 2008 when in a El Universal interview Arria was explicit in his assessment that an international court of justice was in the cards for Chavez. He had crossed the line and his life changed. First, he lost his family farm, La Carolina, a clear revenge from Chavez. I did cover in this blog these days extensively, but what mattered more in a way is that Diego Arria became so involved in the fight against Chavez,  the need for the sake of the country to get rid of the man that was destroying it materially and spiritually, that Arria went as far as throwing his hat in the opposition primary ring in 2012. And he does not stop at February 2012: this book is a new stage and we can be assured that there is more to come.

To start the second half of his memoir Arria tells us that as long as we do not understand what the real problems of the country are and as long as we refuse to talk about that white elephant we will never be able to do anything. Like yours truly, he is stating what the thinking portion of us sees but that too many of us prefer to ignore in the vain hope that there is a "peaceful and unified way" to take us out of that nightmare. There is none, and Diego Arria writes the best case around for this position.

If anything Arria is consistent. He does not sway from his initial truth, that Venezuela needs a transition government to take it away from the current dictatorial nature it holds. In this he keeps at loggerhead with the opposition leadership which seems to believe even today that a Chavez light candidate is the ticket. And thus Arria is willingly and willfully in a sort of political ostracism. Which is as well as it gave him the time for this books where he offers his recipes.

The portion of the book on the primary campaign is in a way the most interesting to read today, now that the strategy of the MUD has so badly floundered. It is also to be noted that it was all written BEFORE October 7 and its aftermath and thus the prescience of Diego Arria is all the more to be praised. One is tempted to write that if Arria's primary campaign was so annoying to so many it was because deep inside them they were afraid he was right.  It is small comfort today that he has been proven right as the MUD and opposition leadership have all the trouble in the world to retain some credibility.

If anything I will disagree with Diego Arria on two points. He still remains confident that there are enough honest military left so that there will be a reasonably peaceful transition when the time comes. I think he is wrong, that the corruption inside the armed forces goes deep. Also he has more faith in the Venezuelan people than I do. Then again this book was written before we knew to what extent the Venezuelan people was willing to sell his vote, to buckle under blackmail.

At any rate, this is a must read book as it is the bluntest assessment of the Venezuelan situation and in retrospective the best way to explain why in the end the campaign of Capriles failed and will keep failing as long as the political premises are not re-evaluated seriously. I personally doubt it will happen soon as the opposition leadership keeps pretending we are in a democracy and prefers to wait for Chavez death.

La Hora de la Verdad can be found in Amazon Kindle edition, in iTunes, or in most Venezuelan independent bookstores. In Spanish, 222 pages, plenty of pictures. Also, Diego Arria's web site offers some of the videos and documents mentioned in the book.