La siguiente nota la escribí en mi página de Facebook, un heroico 7 de agosto de 2018, el día en que regresé a Bogotá después de mi primera visita a Venezuela en 18 años, apenas unas horas después de que aquel dron explotara sobre la parada militar en Caracas. Hoy, 7 de Agosto, dos años después del vaije y a los 201 años de la Independencia, les comparto mi sentir sobre la fracasada revolución bolivariana.
Ridiculous socialist slogans are all over. Dirt, garbage, decay, lines to buy stuff. The eyes of Col. Hugo Chavez watching you are in many places. Big Brother and Newspeak with a tropical twist.
mi Facebook hace dos años, 7 de agosto de 2018
Believing in XXI century socialism is like enjoying pooping in your pants at age 21. I had not been to Venezuela in 18 years and came only because of Sandy´s grandson´s brit milah. A few of my friends asked me to share my thoughts, so here are some observations from a short and sheltered 4-day visit to Caracas. I don´t claim to have “mastered” Venezuela´s reality and gladly receive comments. Pardon the length:
1) The proud Bolivarian armed forces, trained by mighty Cubans and ready to fight off the evil Empire of the North proved to be nothing but a bunch of headless chicken running like crazy when the so called killer-drone exploded over the military parade. Always a conspiracy but never a culprit found. “Gringos” and right-wing Colombians are the usual suspects. Thankfully, this weekend, Zionists and “the descendants of those who killed our lord Jesus Christ 2000 years ago” (in the words of the late Col. Chavez) were not part of the list of enemies of the revolution.
2) Nice, strong Jewish community of about 30.000 people prior to the “revolution” is now down to about 5.000. 30 more families are leaving this month.
3) My luggage did not arrive because of issues with connections. I had to fly from Bogota to Panama and then to Caracas, a geographically ridiculous itinerary. Once upon a time, we had a dozen flights a day between Bogota and Caracas, but now no company dares to fly direct after years of unpaid bills.
4) On arrival, the kind lady at the claims counter advised me not to stay at the airport and wait for the next flight (due in two hours) because there was no water or A/C at the terminal.
5) If I could not wait for the 3:30pm flight, they offered to send the bag to Caracas but only the following day because, as she said, nobody would dare take the road to the city past 5:00 pm.
6) My first trip abroad when I was 3 was to Hungary. At the time, there were many stops on the way there and the first was Caracas. 45 years ago, the airport there seemed huge compared to what Bogotá had at the time. Plus, our friends would wait for us there and give us all the goodies and snacks that were not available in Colombia. Déjà vu #1, the airport is the same, only decadent, and almost empty. Duty free is pitiful, stores don´t have A/C and are hardly illuminated. This airport would not rank within the top 5 of Colombia.
7) On the way back to Bogotá, I had the audacity to check in at the Priority Plus lounge: Internet did not work, restrooms were closed. The only items available were water and stale coca cola. Only three glasses available for the 15 or so people inside.
8) Déjà vu #2. Caracas looked the same as the last time I was there. Hardly any new buildings after 18 years. All the good stuff is pre-revolution. I noticed quite a few looted buildings and unfinished construction projects.
9) Big shopping center confiscated before its grand opening stands as a monument to the revolution´s blindness. Today it is used as storage for the government. Nobody knows what´s inside.
10) Lines are visible all over the city, not just for transportation, but for basic goods that ordinary people cannot afford to get in places like Chacao´s produce market (read below)
11) Ridiculous socialist slogans are all over. Dirt, garbage, decay, lines to buy stuff. The eyes of Col. Hugo Chavez watching you are in many places. Big Brother and Newspeak with a tropical twist.
12) And by the way, for how long can you call it a “revolution”?
13) Biggest impression on day one was the aging fleet of vehicles. Caracas is becoming a modern-day Cuba. No serious traffic because people can´t afford tires, oil change, etc.
14) But talk about gas! We filled up the car. It had half a tank, and we paid 130.90 Bolivares in the country with the largest oil reserves in the world. The exchange rate on Sunday was 3.800.000 per 1 USD, so you try and figure out what fraction of 1 penny is 130.90 Bolivares.
15) Update! Exchange rate on Monday is now 4.300.000 per 1 USD! That is more than 10% devaluation overnight.
16) Minimum monthly wage is less than 6 million, so you do the math. Yes, that is less than USD 2 (two), and yes, in Venezuela months come with 30 days as well! Cuba looks like paradise next to this socialist fiasco. Societies with differential/preferential exchange rates and government-sanctioned parallel economies have proven to be recipes for social disaster and the cause of the very same social injustices they claim to fight.
17) Went to one of the trendiest produce markets in town, Chacao. We bought a few avocados, some veggies, and apricots. Could not find the type of mushrooms and tomatoes we needed so we had to settle for other varieties, and source them from various vendors. We paid 100 million Bolivares for stuff we could carry in our hands. The previous night, for 4 birthday-type cakes another 100 million were disbursed.
18) But there is no cash in this economy. Not because they are sophisticated, but because inflation is through the roof and there is no point in holding on to bills, nor it makes sense for the government to print. Even to give a tip you do it with a credit card or through email transfers. Biggest denomination bill is 100.000, about less than 3 pennies (or 2, by the time I get to upload this)
19) Likewise, the subway (another pre-revolution achievement) is now free because it is cheaper to make it free than to print the proper currency denomination bills or issue the tokens valid for such use.
20) All street vendors must take credit cards but not all have the capacity to process payment, so some act as “financial intermediaries” to fellow vendors.
21) Credit cards have daily and monthly limits so, to have lunch and pay for small items, we went through four different maxed-out credit cards.
22) On the day on which the baby was born, big power outage took care of most of the city for long hours. At the hospital, only the ER unit and hallways had power.
23) Both at the airport and at the apartment we stayed in, I was only able to log on to my cell phone but not on to my laptop.
24) Some “achievements” (?!): CLAP bags are handed out to the needy, with monthly allowances of stuff to barely get by. They are sold for 80.000 Bolivares, I am told. But is it a real achievement when the government with the greatest oil reserves has its population on welfare? Add to that some residential neighborhoods built in the earlier years of the revolution… what else?!
25) Good thing is the friendly macaw parrots that came every morning and afternoon to eat moisten challah bread. An amazing sight in the middle of a large city.
26) Is it safe? I am sure it is if you live in the bubble where I was in for four days. Many people live decent lives and may entertain a future there, but it´s a sad state of affairs what they have in Venezuela. It is a potential time bomb, and a shameful example of what demagoguery can do in a generation to a once wealthy country.