By Daniel Lozano
ElMundo.es – Junio 07, 2014
The first thing you ask yourself is when Venezuela got screwed. Vargas Llosa’s quote has an immediate response for the opposing half: 15 years ago with Hugo Chavez’ victory. Erika Farías, a governor and a follower of the deceased president, sets the crack in the distant past: 3,000 years ago. And the radicals of the revolution, who believed they lived in a paradise for a decade, have their own bar: the day the “supreme commander” died. Amid bickering among Bolivarians, a phrase is repeated as a weapon: “We have a homeland”. Some say they feel the revolutionary soul, others reject it with all of their hearts. But all suffer it turned into endless queues, relentless rise in prices, wild urban violence and the deterioration of basic services such as health. Day by day, every day.
Venezuela is now living the new version of the Cuban Special Period from the nineties, when suitcases arrived to the island full with staple products. But with a crucial difference: Cuba was adapting to a new life without Soviet subsidy, while Venezuela is the richest Latin American country with the largest oil reserves on the planet. It produces over 2.5 million of barrels per day, in a black-gold bonanza: almost $ 100 per barrel.
No deodorant, or coffee, or cancer drugs
A long list of requests from friends, something unthinkable in the past, fills my suitcase when returning from Colombia. The “beautiful revolution”, if it ever was, shows today its most gaunt face once you land at Maiquetia airport. Nobody asks for García Márquez books, Evelio Rosero’s boom novel or Juan Valdez’ new coffee creation. Not even the tricolor jersey, so trendy these days thanks to James Rodriguez’ goals in the World Cup. Only what is really needed, Latino shame doesn’t matter right now.
Like Alex Vasquez, a star reporter for El Nacional, who couldn’t find a simple deodorant spray for weeks. “I have one that is running out”, he recalled before I left. “Who would have imagined this happening in Venezuela?”, he questioned after incorporating the Colombian product to his toiletries bag. Teresa wanted a deodorant, an intimate soap “that I can’t find anywhere” and “tasty coffee from Colombia”. She owns a spa, but the steam bath doesn’t work (one mechanical piece is missing). The hydro tub was dry for six months for the same reason. Now in her free time she jumps from one side to another in the city in search for the basic food basket for her family.
According to a research done by a local newspaper, it takes three days and seven hours in line to buy it. Alexandrina Rodriguez was missing a bulb for her Samsung TV, but it was “impossible to find it in Caracas”. She also receives with joy items that have become a luxury: condensed milk, olive oil, cereals with oats and brown sugar.
Others chose medicine: there is a shortage of antibiotics. Not to mention antiretrovirals (between 11 and 19 are missing every month) or cancer drugs (17 of the most important are missing). There aren’t any reagents, needles are missing and Mrs. Rosita, an old lady from the neighborhood, couldn’t get a simple x-ray. Women might as well forget about fighting urinary tract infections.
Fortunately, none of my friends asked for toilet paper. In recent weeks you can find them at supermarkets, but for many days planes arrived with those surprising additional packages. Venezuela hits you right at the airport, so you have a clear idea where you arrived. The air conditioning fails and so does the water for several hours. The hole in the sink is huge, there are cracks on the ground, shops closed … But, of course, the government is preparing a tax for breathing ozone air: 127 bolivars to be charged with each airplane ticket.
Four exchange rates for the bolivar and 60% inflation
Taxis in Caracas have new fees that no one authorizes. After haggling, the average fee is around 150 bolivars. Explaining how much is that in euros supposes another chronic in itself, because Venezuela has four different exchange rates: the official (at 6.30 bolivars per U.S. dollar and 8.55 per euro), Sicad 1 (an alternative auction, ranging around 10 bolivars per dollar), Sicad 2 (a second auction of around 50 bolivars per dollar) and the black market (about 70 bolivars per dollar).
Therefore, the taxi ride would cost, at the official price, about 17.50 euros, a real nonsense. “But we all know that the economy here runs by the black market”, argues the driver, taking advantage of the maddening control exchange imposed by Chavez 11 years ago. Don’t forget that the minimum wage is 4,251 bolivars (497 euros) in a society so battered by inflation (annual inflation exceeds 60%, the highest in the world) that any increase gets devoured.
Traffic jams are never lacking in a country where it costs more to buy bottled water (also not found lately, half-liter containers are missing) than to fill a car with gas. The novelty in the street is a new urban scene that gets repeated every day: hundreds of people wandering around like zombies with plastic bags in their hands. Bags of food they were able to snag. As a friend describes it on his Twitter account, which has become a spillway for Venezuelan hardships: “I feel like I’m in The Walking Dead with my bag of corn flour and cooking oil in the Metro”.
Surgeons operating with their cellphone flashlights
Upon arriving home, another welcome: a national blackout. The third largest this year, in addition to hundreds of local ones that happen every day. In the land of energy, there is none. This time it affects 70% of the country for at least three hours. In some cities it takes days to recover. The Government defends itself accusing conspirators, iguanas or hurricane winds that only attack pylons. But a revolutionary union embarrasses the minister: the infrastructure was not well maintained “because it was very expensive”. In a hospital in Caracas, surgeons are forced to operate using the flashlight in their cellphones. It’s as if one of the Latin American capitals with the most beautiful light filtering through the majestic El Ávila mountain, was bent on being in the dark. Even in daylight.
7,000 euros for an airline ticket to Spain
A friend alerts that kilometric queues have returned to Berskha. Zara broke records a few days ago with the arrival of new affordable clothing. Experts say that the Government sought a “Daka effect” —referring to socialist sales in appliance stores last November, which enabled their victory in the municipal elections. The queue starts at five in the morning. Then positions can be sold at 800 bolivars (about 100 euros, always at the official exchange rate). Pants costs 1,200 bolivars (140 euros) and shoes between 500 and 800 bolivars (60 to 100 euros); while shoes in regular stores sell for more than 2,000 bolivars (230 euros). Each person buys up to six pieces of clothing.
A large part of the middle class wants to flee, but even that is an illusion. The multi billion dollar debt that the government has with the airlines reduced airplane seats available and prices raised. Travelling to Spain, if you were able to find a ticket, cost 60,000 bolivars (7,000 euros), but it is so complex to find one …
Panic rooms for fear of stray bullets
Caracas has its own wailing wall, an imaginary wall soaked in tears daily: Bello Monte’s morgue. We are at the epicenter of violence that has turned Venezuela into the second most savage country in the world: nearly 25,000 homicides last year, according to independent sources. The balance from the first months of 2014 confirms similar figures.
Here you can smell death, the same death two former policemen, members of a paramilitary gang that sympathizes with Chavez, sought in a surgery room of the University Hospital. It seems like a movie: the former agents kill a thug who they had previously shot. Afterwards, they kill his brother who was waiting outside and a worker. Thirty bullets are scattered between the operating room and the adjoining room.
Reality is so hard that the country no longer finds more synonyms for its criminals, no matter how much you look them up in the dictionary: “malandros”, “choros”, “azotes”, “antisociales”, “bichos”, “hampones”… Many of those fleeing the country do so because of the violence. Those who have not, changed their ways of life. Nightlife is completely different from the past. Nobody dares to park on the street. Merchants pay policemen to accompany them to the banks. Only a fraction of the kidnappings is reported. In poor neighborhoods there’s a curfew and some families have built panic rooms, reinforced with concrete, in fear of stray bullets.
Anorexic newspapers and a TV without series or movies
A breakfast at a fruit store and a Portuguese bakery are as expensive as the Ritz hotel in Madrid. An orange juice (30 bolivars), a cup of oats (18 bolivars), coffee (25 bolivars) and a ham and cheese sandwich (105 bolivars). At the official rate, a total of 20.8 euros. The only advantage is that the newspapers are so anorexic that in half hour you are able to read the entire press and eat. Maduro’s government decided to strangle independent media by impeding their access to paper, in addition to buying out the most popular newspaper read in Venezuela.
Public television is managed as if Cuban channels: pure propaganda and a discharge of insults and threats against the opposition. Weekdays, Venezolana de Television doesn’t offer series or even films. Only propaganda or Maduro’s constant interventions. One of the few breaks Venezuelans had was a comedy latenight show, created by comedian Luis Chataing. But even that was taken away from them. Government pressure ended with his wits after satirizing the conspiracy assassination attempts against Maduro.
Five months waiting to get a Passport
Finally, after a month without finding it, I bought milk. It comes from Chile, it’s a bit yellow, but as to complain. A friend has been waiting five months to get her passport. She’s been informed that she should travel to another state to obtain it.
“I took the initiative to create ‘@mamiencontro’ (mommy found) because I had the difficult task of being a mother in this time of scarcity. I always ran into friends and even family who told me to warn them if I found certain product. It was word of mouth”, described Dayimar Ayala, a young and brave journalist who has created a twitter account as a public service, a GPS for parents in distress.
Tuesday is also the day chosen by Maduro for his radio show (which also airs on TV). Today it will be aired from Catia, a traditionally pro-Chavez area. The presenter follows the exploits of the revolution and asks a lady about the presidential proposals.
– They have failed here in everything, we don’t have water, we don’t have casks … I don’t have anything, not even a pension.
Trapped on a live broadcast, the host swallows his nervousness and asks another woman. The response causes an immediate transmission cut: “We hope the president helps us, because there are problems with the water …”.
Source: Lozano, Daniel. “El Mundo”. 100 euros por un número para la cola de Zara. Junio 06, 2014. Unidad Editorial Información General S.L.U.
Translated by #infoVnzla