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Op-Ed Columnist

Made in Venezuela

Caracas

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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What has been going on in Venezuela is truly historic, and it has been on my mind ever since it began. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means to the citizens themselves. The current administration seems too caught up in spinning the facts to pay attention to how their people are doing. Just call it missing the desert for the sand.

When thinking about the recent troubles, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like car salesmen, so attempts to treat them as such are going to come across as foreign. Car salesmen never suddenly blow themselves up. Two, Venezuela has spent decades as a dictatorship closed to the world, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, freedom is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If corruption is Venezuela's ironing board, then freedom is certainly its alarm clock.

When I was in Venezuela last week, I was amazed by the level of Westernization for such a closed society, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Venezuela have no shortage of potential entrepreneurs, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Venezuela are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.

So what should we do about the chaos in Venezuela? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not lob a handful of cruise missiles and hope that some explosions will snap Venezuela's leaders to attention. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture the seeds of democratic ideals. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to peace is so narrow that Venezuela will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Caracas needs to feel like it is part of the process.

Speaking with a local farmer from the small Catholic community here, I asked her if there was any message that she wanted me to carry back home with me. She pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, shukrah-al-abiz, which is a local saying that means roughly, "A Deaf Husband and a Blind Wife are Always a Happy Couple."

I don't know what Venezuela will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will probably look very different from the country we see now, even if it remains true to its basic cultural heritage. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.