In Buenos Aires it’s called mist. In Mexico City they call it smog. When the wind from the Sahara blows and covers Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the islanders know it as haze. In Caracas, there was soot, and I was moving through smoke and ashes on the day I went out to kill the president.
In 2002, shortly after the failed coup attempt of 11 April, Israel Centeno published El Complot. The stark criticism and demythification of the Bolivarian government presented in the novel lead to a campaign against Centeno which ended in his exile. Now thanks to Sampsonia Way Publishing and translator Guillermo Parra, Centeno’s remarkable, provocative novel is available to Anglophone readers for the first time.
As with all Centeno’s work, The Conspiracy has a dreamlike – or rather, nightmarish – quality, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, and shifting the focus of narration between identifiable characters and an unknown but all-knowing observer. The dizzying quality of the narration leaves readers feeling as disorientated as the protagonist Sergio, who cannot reconcile his revolutionary zeal with Venezuela’s new political reality.
Beginning with a failed assassination attempt, The Conspiracy explores what happens to far-left revolutionaries – those remnants the from the guerrillas and radical movements which flourished in Venezuela following the end of dictatorship in 1958 – once the ‘Revolution’ is in power. The novel expresses Centeno’s own disillusionment with the Process, having grown up surrounded by radical activism. It is deeply critical of power-hungry former radicals turned ministers, who abandon their Marxist beliefs to form part of the establishment. At the same time, the novel shines a light on the sinister undercurrent of this process, that is, the ruthless violence necessary to cover up any traces of former ‘undemocratic’ behaviour by those now in power.
“All processes need elite groups for executing indecorous tasks. Every process has its indecorous tasks, it was romanticism to believe otherwise”.
In the background bubbles a criticism of Chávez himself (only ever named as ‘the President, but instantly recognisable), his populism, his reliance on the military and his use of the media to secure his power.
Ultimately, the novel is about the government’s betrayal of the revolutionary ideals it purports to represent. While anti-government sentiment is not hard to find in current Venezuelan literature, nothing attacks the core values and myths of Bolivarianism like The Conspiracy. At a time when opposition to the government is consistently labelled right-wing, imperialist, and oligarchic, The Conspiracy is a powerful document of the objections of the radical-left.