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Op-Ed Columnist

Venezuela is Iraq

Caracas

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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What has been going on in Venezuela is unbelievable, and it has been on my mind ever since it began. It is impossible not to be tantalized by the potential of these events to change the course of Venezuela's history. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means on the street. The current administration seems too caught up in worrying about their own skins to pay attention to the important effects on daily life. Just call it missing the myths for the lie.

When thinking about the recent troubles, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like computer programs, so attempts to treat them as such are a waste of time. Computer programs never suddenly shift their course in order to fit with a predetermined set of beliefs. Two, Venezuela has spent decades being batted back and forth between colonial powers, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, capitalism is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If corruption is Venezuela's ironing board, then capitalism is certainly its tabletop.

When I was in Venezuela last week, I was amazed by the variety of the local cuisine, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Venezuela have no shortage of courage, 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 moderation is so strewn with obstacles that Venezuela will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Caracas needs to cooperate.

Speaking with a small business entrepreneur from the small Suni 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, shad-farin-bin-yamin, which is a local saying that means roughly, "Four things drive a man out of his house: too much smoke, a dripping roof, filthy air and a scolding wife."

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