Sunday, July 20, 2003

Caracas-Rio
July 20, 2003

I have been away from posting for three weeks. I guess I needed a change after the political intensity of June and an unexpected short trip provided the excuse for a long break. I was fortunate to be sent on business to Brazil in spite of the currency exchange controls. With some left over travelers checks, a few dollars from the black market, and there I went. Just making sure to pay the hotel in full upon arrival in case I get mugged in the street. It is when one travels without a credit card that one realizes how these little bit of plastic are no luxury anymore. But in the Bolivarian Republic, one has to get used to many things.

It was my first time ever in Brazil, and even though it was a single one day affair in Sao Paulo, I could not let pass the chance to visit Rio for a long week end. It was quite an edifying experience to visit Rio coming from today’s Venezuela.

I know, I know, it is not fair to compare Rio with Caracas, or with anything else for that matter. But is it so? After all, many Venezuelans, including myself, say that the Latin American country closest in spirit and people to Venezuela is Brazil, even though we do not speak the same language. After all we come from that same mix of Native, African and Iberian. Our colonial histories do bear comparison. We both drink plenty of fruit juices, eat black beans and get drunk on sugar cane derived spirits. Thus, although our modern histories are quite different we are supposed to share comparable roots. But Brazil is way ahead from Venezuela, at least just based on what I saw. Not to mention that Venezuela these days seems to look back to its XIX century…

I was mostly in glitzy Ipanema. But the contrast was more vivid outside of the obvious displays of wealth of the area. To begin with, when you walk the streets of Ipanema you only need to lift your eyes to see a hill covered with a favelas. At the end of Ipanema, at the foot of its own famous twin monoliths, there is a precariously hanging favela: Vidigal. Yet all meet on the beach without any problem, and without the pests that we find in most Venezuelan beaches: street vendors every where, cars on side walks, trash everywhere, loud groups that think the beach is theirs, etc…

Other details were telling. Even in Margarita Island our most “pro tourism” area, you will not sense the relative security I felt at night walking in Ipanema or Copacabana. All the luxury condominiums on the beachfronts have open balconies, and no iron bars, even on the second floors. In Venezuela it is not infrequent to see buildings of 15 stories with protection bars at every single floor. And I saw, at night, peeking from below into the apartments of the beachfront several apartments with large libraries. A library in a beach front apartment? This strange observation made me understand how come that within 6 blocks of the Vizconde de Piraja avenue I found three very well appointed bookstores.

The last straw was the “hippie market” on Sundays in General Osorio’s square. This very handsome square on Sundays becomes one of the best, and most complete artisan market that I have seen. Clean, organized, no haggling, with neat, and appetizing, food stands at the corners only. Prejudice might make one thing that it should not be as neat as one is observing, in particular when one thinks at the buhoneros stands all over downtown Caracas, with the pervading smell of pee in the air. Even if I were to pick the best buhoneros in Venezuela I do not think I would be able to put together something as nice as a single quarter of the “hippie market”.

Definitely, Ipanema breathes a sense of education and self respect. Even if it is only a tiny spec of Brazil, it remains that Brazil has been able to produce such a spec.

What happened to us in Venezuela? Where did we go wrong? Why is it that in Venezuela we cannot on our own respect a little bit our surroundings? Respect even ourselves? Why do we put up with so much trash, abuse, neglect, and chaos?

This short trip did give me some insight in Venezuela recent unfortunate history. Somehow we have made conformity, neglect, abuse, and anarchy “virtues”; and these “virtues” are now enslaving us.

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