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September 11th, 2012
By Dan Miller
We had arrived in Venezuela from Bonaire a few days previously for a quick visit.
During much of 2001, we lived on our sailboat in Bonaire, enjoying the scuba diving once or sometimes twice daily. Every ninety days, we generally left Bonaire because tourist visas were valid for only ninety days and were cumbersome to extend. Puerto Cabello, Venezuela is roughly one hundred miles to the South of Bonaire and getting there and back usually involved pleasant overnight sails. The winds tend to be consistently from the East at about fifteen to twenty knots, ideal for such trips in both directions. Puerto Cabello was also a great place to stock up on very cheap diesel fuel, gasoline and booze, all quite expensive in Bonaire. In 2001, Venezuela was still friendly to visitors from the United States.
Spanish is the language of Venezuela and my wife, Jeanie, is fluent; I am not. She usually took care of clearing in with Venezuelan port captain, customs, immigration officials. Some sailing friends had arrived, probably the night before, and early on the morning of September 11th they asked for her help in checking in because of her Spanish fluency. She obliged. As soon as they had finished at immigration they had gone down the hall to the customs office. The port’s chief of immigration (whom Jeanie had got to know when we had needed to extend our visas during a lengthy prior visit) barged into the customs office, yelling for Jeanie to come back to his office, quickly. Not knowing the reason but assuming that it had something to do with the immigration procedures for our friends, she walked at her normal pace until he excitedly asked her to hurry.
The television was on and he pointed at the screen. It showed that an airliner had just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. Jeanie at first thought that it was only a motion picture, but it quickly became obvious that it was not. She managed to make contact on the marine radio to tell me what had happened. In the cabin of our boat, I tuned in a local TV station and got CNN International in Spanish. Armed Forces Radio, broadcasting via shortwave, had an English language version. Jeanie at the immigration office, and I on our boat, saw the second airliner crash. Everything seemed to be happening very quickly. Not much later, we learned that the third airliner that had crashed into the Pentagon and that a fourth had gone down in Pennsylvania. A minute by minute account of the travesties is provided here.
We remained in Venezuela for a few more days. Puerto Cabello is port city and suffers from many of the problems port cities tend to have. Most of the people are poor and most automobiles on the streets, mainly taxis, resembled those I understand are seen in Havana, Cuba — old, dilapidated and apparently maintained with hope and bailing wire. Previously, we had been greeted on the streets of Puerto Cabello with such cautions as “be very careful. There are pickpockets and muggers everywhere.” However, on the day of Nine-Eleven and for the remainder of our short stay, each time we left the marina on foot people stopped us to express their horror and sorrow at what had happened. Women sometimes took Jeanie’s hands in theirs. The sincerity they showed was beyond question and we appreciated it.
Were there a comparable disaster in the United States today, would the people of el Thugo Chávez’ Venezuela be equally warm toward us? We haven’t been back to Venezuela since 2002 so I don’t know. Some, perhaps fewer, would probably be as compassionate. Chávez was only a nascent dictator in 2001 and may now be reaching the pinnacle from which his fall seems likely to be short and ugly.
We sailed back to Bonaire a few nights later. There, no less compassion and horror were expressed than had been in Venezuela about what had happened in the United States. After the insanity in Venezuela ends, it would be pleasant to return for a few weeks and again explore the country. It is a beautiful place, sadly now in the clutches of a monster.
(This article was also posted at Dan Miller’s Blog.)
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