Friday, January 17, 2003

SAN FELIPE AFTER 45 DAYS OF “PARO CIVICO”

SAN FELIPE AFTER 45 DAYS OF “PARO CIVICO”
Friday 17, January 2003

I came back to San Felipe on Sunday afternoon. It did feel a little bit weird after three weeks away. Perhaps somehow I expected some drastic change, as I had seen in Caracas when I went on the 20th of December. But no, on a sleepy Sunday afternoon it seemed that nothing at all had changed there.

Monday morning we did reopen production. Now it is not a question whether we want to join the general stoppage (“paro civico nacional” or “national civil stop” the official name of sorts). Some of the chavistas workers that were disgruntled when we closed for our annual holiday came back quite tamer. I think that from both sides we realize that this is not a game anymore. I did gather everybody and told them that we were still in business but that the situation was very critical, that our clients could go belly up, and without clients there was very little that we could do. However as producer of feed additives for life stock we should have at least some work and that for the next 3-4 months we should guarantee payroll. I really could not promise more than that…

Effectively we had enough work for three days. But Thursday at noon we realized that there was nothing left on the order board. Instead of having idle workers loitering around I sent all production force at home today and just kept administrative staff at work. I am afraid that for the next weeks I will have a lot of these shut up days. This actually reminds me of something that I did not report yet. Some foreign press reported the “paro” as a lock-out rather than a strike, trying of course to fit the rich versus poor model to Venezuela. Well, for a while the government was talking about having workers force their way in the manufacturing plants and other closed center of activities. Even last September there was talk on emitting a few decrees to validate these actions on some specious judicial grounds. Of course, nothing came to it and I have yet to see a mob of disgruntled workers trying to force they way in to work. Workers might be chavistas but they are not too ardent it seems.

San Felipe seems almost back to normal. I have not read the local papers so I cannot say what the mood is. But I am sure that the answer is that San Felipe is a provincial town and somewhat people feel a little bit alien to the Caracas agitation. Still, they have been a series of marches though this activity here is pretty much over.

Nevertheless there are changes in San Felipe. Activity is definitely down. If most stores are now open, we do not see people thronging them to catch up with pent-up shopping needs. I think that the economic crisis is already here and people are just shopping for minimum stuff. Local grocery stores are now open to their regular schedule, but the chain store that I go to follows the limited schedule of AM opening only. The banks of course work only 3 hours a day, which really upsets the government. However the lines outside of state workers paydays are more to the normal. It seems that people are realizing that the limited hours do not mean limited access to money. Else they have no more money to retrieve from their account. For you non-Venezuelan folks, checks are of little use here and most people function with cash. Considering the high insecurity and low incomes most people have only a saving accounts and they go on occasion to the bank to retrieve as little of money as they can get away with. The result? Permanent lines, with or without “paro”.

One thing is new since I left in December. Now we can see vendors of Venezuelan flags and some tight fashionable T-shirts with the flag colors. Witness to the reality that Yaracuy has been holding marches through December. This flag over the battle has been very interesting. Originally Chavez wrapped himself with the flag trying to project an image of true patriot, of Venezuelan values oriented guy. I remember the night he was first elected, chavistas displayed a humongous Venezuelan flag in front of the opera house where he was holding his first press conference, without even standing room. These days he did spoke willingly to all the press. Well, now the opposition has made the flag its emblem, the emblem of the resistance to Chavez attempt to impose a social model that is basically alien to the way we function as a society. Or dysfunction as some wags might have it.

Other things also are not quite the same. Some papers are not circulating in Yaracuy now, because of the shortage of paper to print. Even though the papers since early December have “special editions” that are not even a quarter of their prior volume, without advertisement, “paro” obliging, they cannot import paper. I suppose that they save their edition to Caracas and other main cities… When I stop by my newsstand I do not know which paper, if any, I will be able to get this day.

An advantage of living in a small state is that gas has not been such a problem as in Caracas. I was able to fill up on Tuesday. Yaracuy does not get more gas proportionally than other areas but we must consume less so it lasts longer. Yet, since Wednesday there is no more gas at all. I take this as an ill omen. Rumors are that the government is hoarding some through the army to make sure that they can ferry lots of people to Caracas on January 23 for a big rally they plan to show that they have street support. State TV has been having “convocation” calls for a few days already. One wonders why they need to prepare so long in advance to demonstrate support. After all the opposition has been calling almost daily rallies with 24 hours notice and manages to have a very respectable turnout every time.

But it was good to be back in San Felipe, escaping the heavy tension of Caracas. Unfortunately I am leaving tomorrow, back to Caracas. Already I wonder how I will manage to come back in 10 days…

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