Monday, June 30, 2003

THREE “INCIDENTS”
June 30, 2003

In the series of events that seem to reveal the worn seams of the government legalistic disguise, we have been granted three “incidents” last week which are quite perturbing as to what the future holds for us.

Wednesday June 25. 10 PM

A few yards away from the door of Governor Mendoza’s official residence a car bomb exploded. No victims fortunately but enough damage to the building and neighboring stores. Had somebody walked at that time, that somebody would not have been here to tell the tale. ETA style.

Of course we were regaled with pious declarations of the governmental bodies in charge as to expediting the investigation. Once it was known that Mendoza, a notorious opponent, and a populist at that, was not home at the time, the bombing did not draw further headlines. After all, we know that nobody will be caught so why waste good ink and paper on that? It is true that we are very quickly becoming blasé on these bombing matters. The attacks on the Colombian and Spanish consulates are still unresolved even though Chavez in one of his bombastic speeches said that “We even have the pictures of the perpetrators”. We are still waiting for the first arrest, not to mention for a picture, any picture.

Simply put, we have noticed that if the “intellectual” suspects might be linked to chavistas group, we know that the judicial system will not act. We are still waiting for any serious inquiry on April 11 2002 events. Why should a car bomb be any different.

Friday June 27. 5 AM

Marta Colomina’s car is intercepted on her way to the Talk Show she hosts at 6 AM. Two cars block her car and the one from her producer who was following. From one car 4 masked guys with assault weapons jump out and throw one of these big 5 gallon water jugs against the car. The bottle crashes on the security windshield and releases its content: gasoline, as in a giant Molotov Cocktail. For some reason the gas fails to ignite and Colomina’s body guard manages to push the journalist to the floor and maneuver away bumping the second car. Meanwhile one of the assailants tries to light up the gas that is soaking the front of the car. The windshield was damaged but did not cave in and luckily the gas did not seep inside the car. Still, they do not shoot and Colomina and escort manage to run away and reach the TV station.

It turns out that Colomina is one of the earliest journalist to have engaged battle against Chavez. From even before his election in 1998. She has become quite famous but the clarity of her charges and it is known that Chavez is particularly upset with her. Death threats have been numerous enough against her that by international judicial mandate she got a protected car and a permanent body guard. That is why the windshield did not break and why she escaped without being shoot at. The body guard knew that the weapons carried by the attackers are restricted and using them would leave a trail difficult to hide. They thus tried to incinerate her and had their weapons only in case somebody would shoot at them. They had superior fire power just in case, it seems.

Now this “incident” illustrates quite well the boldness and preparation that characterize these criminal groups. They know that nothing will happen to them, as long as they do not leave an obvious trail. They know that they now outgun anyone except for the military (since the Metropolitana Police weaponry has been gutted). Fortunately for Colomina, they are not too competent.

Marta Colomina said the right things through the day. She went to every TV station talk show. Gave calmed and posed interviews, but mostly she said that she was no heroine, that this could have happened to any of her colleagues, and that it would not stop her, that she was in this fight for the freedom of her country and her children. And on Saturday she just shut up, went back to work and refused any further interview. Classy lady if you ask me.

Meanwhile the minister supervising communication suggested that Colomina “might” have created a self-attack to boost her poor ratings (without offering rating numbers, of course). Another TV journalist quickly suggested that he must knew what he was talking about since supposedly Chavez had been subject to 7 attempts so far, without a single person ever arrested. Was Chavez boosting his ratings too?

Same day, but late in the evening

After a confusing incident in which a military officer opposed the Metropolitana in an operation to stop illegal electricity takes to set up street stands, the said officer was briefly arrested by the police. Well, 40 of his soldiers came later on and tried in turn to arrest the police officer that was leading the previous operation. They actually got in the Metropolitana precinct and tried to just kidnap the officer. He cried for help while he was already handcuffed and dragged. His policemen fought back, and during the melee he managed to jump out of the car and run away. Meanwhile in the middle of the street shots were exchanged and had it been any earlier surely a few passer by would have been shot! Eventually the soldiers backed off and the police did arrest three of them. To avoid further political trouble they quickly tried to find a public attorney (fiscales), but none were to be found to take note that the soldiers were in good health. Apparently, all the “fiscales” on duty had their cel phones off. Friday night? Machination?

Today the minister of defense as expected accused the Metropolitana of abusing his poor 40 soldiers. Not explaining of course why 40 soldiers went to the police station and who gave the order, if anyone did. And why the only injured person happened to be the Police Officer (he claims that he got beaten in the car while they were trying to take him away). The minister claims that some soldiers were injured but no video, witness came forward. The Vice did not stay behind, declaring that it was inadmissible that the Metropolitana created public disturbance, video and witness notwithstanding.

Same usual stuff and denial of factual events. Except that the Army is becoming quite aggressive on its own. Omen?

Should we worry?

What is really scary is the banality in which these events are now reported. How the government denies everything in spite of all the clear evidence for all to see. How the judicial system stays put and how the common citizen feels that it is useless to report any abuse, any corruption act since it might result in a “nightly” attack.

Are we already in a dictatorship? Or is the government so convinced of his loss of support that it is rehearsing for the big day? What will happen when somebody really important finally gets killed?



Thursday, June 26, 2003

CARABOBO, OR HOW CRASS CAN ONE BE?
June 26, 2003

Carabobo is the last, and decisive battle in the Venezuelan independence wars. Its equivalent in significance is the United States own Yorktown. After June 24 1821, a few mopping operations removed the remaining Spanish garrisons, and Bolivar was able to concentrate on Peru and Bolivia’s independence. It has become a national holiday, and the day of the Army, celebrated on the Carabobo field with a big parade and the attendance of the highest local and national public officials. In the past it was actually quite a festive affair for the people leaving in the Valencia area.

Well, this year Carabobo has showed the Chavez government reaching yet another level of ridicule.

The day did not start well. The attendance was subjected to a body search that would leave some airports ashamed. Everybody had to show ID cards, invitations, and what not, depending on where they were planning to watch. When the governor of the State of Carabobo (named for the battle, of course) showed up with its floral offering, he was denied access. Of course, the governor is in the opposition but that should not count on a holiday that belongs to all Venezuelans. The mortified British ambassador that came with him was allowed to enter while the governor was pushed back out and left to stand behind the gates while TV filmed everything. Just as if a US president were going to Yorktown for some ceremony and barred the Governor of Virginia to enter the field, just because the governor is not from his party.

This shameful incident was repeated in similar terms when in Maracaibo the Army decided to “celebrate” behind closed doors rather than attending the traditional celebration on Bolivar Square, a celebration led by the Governor, again in the opposition to Chavez.

Chavez arrived to the filed in his motorcade, which opens the military march. What a change this year! Usually the president arrives flanked by a cavalry escort, standing up in a convertible car. Well, in addition to all of that he had 4 gorilla looking guys standing around him on the car, and some running along. TV was merciless showing Chavez first Carabobo in 1999, with the first lady as his only car companion in the car (they have separated since) and the large crowds cheering madly. Ah! Those were the days! People then came on their own. Now they have to be ferried in, and searched, just in case of.

All this was bad enough for Chavez’s image, but the day had yet its best moment ahead. Carabobo is one of the few “cadenas” that Venezuelans expect in the year. That is, traditionally at the president’s arrival time and his speech, usually brief and ceremonial, the state TV commandeers all the TV signals from the private networks until the military parade ends. Around two hours. It is OK since it is an important holiday and there is limited political action, just formal and historical speeches and a nice military parade. But this year if Chavez speech was short, the speech or the Army Head, Garcia Carneiro, was long-winded, ridiculously lyrical, and obscenely flattering. One would expect that from a personage that was on the lower merit marks of the Army ladder and compensated for it on his way to the top by sheer pandering to his boss.

The problem came when the “cadena” was suddenly suspended for technical problems. Immediately the political police DISIP came to the Valencia TV relay towers and arrested briefly the technicians on duty from the private networks alleging that they were sabotaging the transmission! While the own state TV relay was only 300 yards away. Chavez supporters came up with all sorts of speculations on media plots and other ludicrous phantasmagorias. As if the private networks, lately in the eye of the hurricane, would entrust such a major, and dangerous act, to some low-key workers on duty! Well, today it became clear that the State TV, VTV, had technical problems, that there was no such sabotage, and more damagingly that VTV did not have microwave back up facilities. Tonight rumors made it to TV that the Minister of Information was asked to tender her resignation.

Now, there some questions that one would like to have answer to. Why was the political police so soon at the retransmission towers, while this type of investigation is normally handled by the National Office of Communication, CONATEL? Why did they not stop first to the VTV relay to check things out? Why so many people were so quick (ready?) to denounce the “sabotage”? Could it be that the atmosphere these days is so charged so people just act crazily? Or could it be that it was a plan to create an incident, a plan that went awry? And if there was such a plan, could it be the result of some chavista internecine warfare to get rid of the Minister of Information at a time where elections might be approaching? Inquiring minds want to know.

Whatever the explanations are, yesterday the chavista government demonstrated how scared they are. And how ridiculous they have become. We already knew they were crass.

EL PETARAZO: COULD THERE BE AN EPILOGUE?
June 25, 2003

Next Friday it will be two weeks from El Petarazo. These days in Venezuela one is not expecting any serious judicial action unless the government has clearly the upper hand, a rather rare occurrence these days too. But one would expect that after all the mess the official actors would know better and finally shut up. No such luck.

The Metropolitana Police department went to Petare to rebuild the police offices torn down on El Petarazo’s infamous Friday. Lo and behold, as they arrived there, some populace came to try to stop them and a group of workers from the ministry of Urban Development suddenly appeared claiming that they were the ones supposed to rebuild it. Never had that office acted so promptly. Idle gossip might think that some juicy commission might have been planned all along, since this promptitude from the government would not come from its civilian responsibility, as one can judge from its past. It is not for this page to decide.

Yet, it is not over. Another video showed up, and this one filmed from “inside” the chavista riot group! They really are going to have to forbid video camera among themselves! This video is not very clear as to who fired the first tear gas bomb. This is not a problem since other videos are quite eloquent on this matter. What this video brings to the realm of reality is the collusion between chavistas and the Army contingent sent. Not only fraternization is for all to see, but when the police station was been destroyed the soldiers and officers were a few meters away, chatting amiably with people as if nothing was happening.

Of course, we are still waiting for the governmental videos that supposedly will show that the violence came from the Metropolitana. They probably filmed them on film and the lab has not finished developing the films yet.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

LIE, LIE, SOME WILL STICK
June 18, 2003

This seems to be the only strategy for the government.

Today, Wednesday 18 June, 5 full days after the events of El Petarazo, the mayor finally spoke. The scene was the mayor, his Dad, also known as Chavez’s vice president, the Minister of Internal affairs, and the former chairman of the National Assembly who went to the General Prosecutor’s office to put an official complaint against the Metropolitana Police Department and the Governor of Miranda State.

To the journalists’ astonishment, and our bewilderment, they claimed that all what the media had been showing, had been talking about were misinformation, fabrications, a total lack of objectivity. In other words what we saw live from our own eyes was not true. The Metropolitana shot first, the chavistas were peaceful, nobody knows who destroyed the Police Station, etc… Ah, and the chavistas did not throw tear gas bombs. The mayor was a sorry sight, unable to say much else than he was not where the press put him and “the opposition should have staid in their area” (apartheid anyone?), and was just bluntly cut by his Dad in front of the cameras. The Vice even said that they submitted their own videos as proof of what they were sustaining. Interestingly the press got hold of the official deposition and apparently there is no mention of videos there. And when asked when would the government show its own videos the answer was “in due time”. Please!

This all accompanied by a whole series of gratuitous comments and attacks on the opposition. At least they backed out of their earlier claim that they had a dead man. It seems that the body cannot be found anywhere. They still claim 7 people injured by bullets from the Metropolitana but no proof is advanced, no bodies, no ballistics. And none filmed on Friday that we know of. Or at least that we have seen on the videos where the only bullet would that I saw was for a police officer from Miranda state.

But to add a further eerie element to this, Globovision released yet a new video today, taken by someone that was at ground level Friday. It seems that Venezuela has become a big video amateur country these days, no wonder the government wants to muzzle TV! Well, in that video, shown shortly after the deposition of the Vice, one can see clearly that the first tear gas bomb was launched from the chavista side. And it was a few of minutes until the police threw its first bomb. Another video also released today shows the National Guard arriving and the crowds obviously waiting for them to start moving, a video obviously filmed by someone within pretending to be with the crowd. Yet a third one shows the Mayor doing a “motivational” speech nearby instead of calming his followers and protecting public property.

Really, can you conceive a Vice President of the US, a Governor or a Mayor of a main city, in the US or Europe, deliberately declaring against all that was shown live? And if he were to do so, can you imagine him going unscathed to sue the other side? This, and really this, is the problem of foreign press covering Venezuela: they cannot believe that high level public officials can lie to that extent. But it is changing. Early this week the Reuters correspondent actually asked point blank the Vice how could he refute what was for all to see. The reply of the Vice? “I respect your position, you serve your interests, but you are wrong”. This to a Reuters correspondent in Venezuela. Should we speculate on what the Reuters guy wrote to his central office?


Monday, June 16, 2003

CYNICISM AND THE VICE PRESIDENT
June 16, 2003

Today the dust is still far from settled after the Friday 13th events. Chavez Vice president, Jose Vicente Rangel, the daddy of Petare mayor Jose Vicente Rangel Avalos held a press conference where he renewed his attacks (accusing the Metropolitana), called the journalists unprofessional for asking prejudiced questions (when he did not like them), asked the General Prosecutor office to “investigate” diligently the “aggression to the people” (this for a government that is still blocking the installation of the “truth commission” for the April 2002 events), said that the government was “studying” its further actions and “pondering” a modification on the rules for street rallies (applicable to those of the opposition one presumes), that someone had to pay for the 9 injured people at the Hospital Perez de Leon (not recalling than the hospital was closed for a while, or mentioning that most injured where actually on the opposition side).

Meanwhile more amateur videos keep showing up. Tonight Globovision made a collage without commentaries of the TV videos and the amateur ones. Let’s see a few of the gems displayed tonight.

The “triumphant” arrival of the National Guard can be seen. Their moving back to block the street when the Metropolitana managed to advance some to control the situation was very clear, that is, they were deliberately siding with the chavistas. This is the only country where the police must hold back violent pro-government rioters, backed by the Army. Go and figure that one.

The sacking of the Copei party house in Petare, under the amused gaze of the Petare Police.

The chavistas throwing Molotov cocktails (gasoline filled beer bottles) at the Metropolitana police, or within the tinder lined streets of historic Petare.

The Petare Mayor marching nearby with chavistas instead of trying to quiet them down and ensure peace in his district. The said mayor by the way has not declared anything since last Friday!

Really, a picture is worth a thousand words!

And the Vice has promised us that they will show “their videos” which of course are the ones that carry the truth. This late Monday night the state TV, as far as I know, has not shown anything. It seems that their fabrication laboratories do not work as fast as the ones from the opposition, which apparently are able to do instant distortion on site, if one is to conclude from the words of the Vice.

Truly this week end the Vice President of Venezuela has given a new shade of meaning to the word cynicism.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

EL PETARAZO, OR THUGS IN THE TEAR GAS MIST
June 15, 2003

There are defining moments in a country where it becomes clear who is who among its residents. Such a moment happened in Venezuela on Friday 13th. Not for the number of casualties or the damage done, but for the revelations of what we have become, for all to see on the TV screen. Let’s the facts speak for themselves.

THE ACTORS

Copei, one of the two parties of our failed bipartisan democracy of past 40 years decided to revive itself from its ashes. In imitation of AD who did a revival of sorts a couple of weeks ago in Catia, it decided to call for a rally of an area where in the past it was blessed with significant electoral support. This area is the Easternmost Caracas neighborhood, marking the end of the valley, a former rural pleasant land now transformed in one of the shantiest area of the country: the “village” of Petare. A former Copei mayor, now the governor of the Miranda state did help along to organize a street rally for this past Friday. Other local leaders did contribute some, while government officials, obviously scared that a former party might demonstrate some life in a popular area, did all what it could to discourage the rally. But legally they could not forbid the meeting altogether, and they ended up their campaign with a pitiful TV speech of the Interior Minister alleging weapon distribution among Copei followers. He showed one, a small blade that would not do much against any gun from the police or from chavistas.

Caracas security forces are divided in two camps. Petare mayor, not only chavista but the son of the Vice-President controls the municipal Petare police. He can count if need be on the National Guard which had been refurbished with the safest units transferred for a while now to Caracas. On the other side you have the police of Miranda state which acts together with the Greater Caracas police, or Metropolitana. This Metropolitana by the way is the one that has been disarmed from its riot control weapons a few months ago by the Army. The courts have ordered the return of these weapons but the government is in contempt of the courts for the last 3 months! The result is that insecurity experienced a considerable increase in Caracas, in particular the poorer areas where only the Metropolitana dared to go. They cannot anymore as thugs overpower the Metropolitana. Even foreign embassies which were guarded by the Metropolitana have complained that the soldiers put in front to substitute are inadequate and make them more vulnerable since they have no experience on crime or riot control.

THE PRE-EVENT HAPPENINGS

Copei chose a side street, actually not too close from the center of Petare, Lebrun street that could contain perhaps up to 4-5 thousand people. Nothing really big was planned, just a show of sorts. While it was setting up the meeting, chavistas gathered in a famous traffic circle in Petare, lined with many informal open-air shops. The distance was approximately 4 blocks. The Metropolitana, with the Miranda police helping, created a line to separate both sides. Since it was a working day Copei called for a 2 PM rally. Between the two sides stand the Perez de Leon hospital which one would think would keep both sides quiet.

Of course a little bit before 2 PM the chavistas tried to break through the police cordon but that one resisted quite well. The chavista gathering had not received any permission by the way, so they were there illegally to begin with, blocking traffic around one of the main Caracas circles.

THE EVENTS

Around 2PM something incredible happened. A convoy of National Guards appeared, uncalled for. The convoy drove straight toward the chavista crowd. Initially one would have thought that it was sent to strengthen the line between the parts, but on live TV one could see clearly the chavistas receiving them as victors, fist in the air, a salute returned in kind by the soldiers! Unbelievable…

Of course the passage of the convoy punctured the security line and the emboldened chavistas, with the National Guard on their back, went on the offensive. What followed was mayhem as the Metropolitana and allies could not resist at first since they were trying to regroup and seal the line again. Tear gas bombs were thrown from BOTH sides. Yep, alleged chavistas civilians had as many tear gas bombs as the police.

Eventually the police prevailed and the chavistas were pushed back. In fury they turned to a police station of the Metropolitana and destroyed it with hammers and all. TV filmed every minute of it, live. The hospital had to evacuate its patients while it was receiving the injured from the brawl.

The Copei Petarazo, as the event was called, kept going and managed to fill up with its colors the street in spite of everything. This makes one wonder what would the determination of all these green flags carriers have caused had chavistas managed to reach the site. It did end up early of course as tear gas drifted and the organizers did not want to take unnecessary risks. But the main speakers did get their turn on the podium and for all practical purposes the event was a success as it met its expectations.

THE POST SHOW EVENTS

It started by an undone vice-president who in an act of psychotic dissociation declared that the police aggression “shall not go unpunished”! While we all saw who attacked!!!! He accused the Metropolitana to use undue weaponry, while he knows very well that all has been taken away long ago. But the vice, Jose Vicente Rangel is not to be stopped by facts or by lies. He made a career of that. Probably no one had told him at that time that the only serious injuries were within the Metropolitana corps, with even one of the higher sheriff ending up in the hospital with a bullet wound.

Later, in the Petare village, an historical small area chock full of simple colonial style abodes with plenty of wood, the Petare head quarters of Copei, in a landmark small house was sacked by the mob. Under the eyes of the Petare police that amiably chatted with the looters, as the political police, DISIP, did when it came to see how things were going on. All captured by a video amateur since the press was not allowed. Nor was allowed the fire department who was greeted by stones! Even as they pleaded with chavistas to let them in as the whole block could go up in flames!!!! The Metropolitana would have liked to get into the small streets but was kept in check by that chavista mob. Another video captured a guy attaching an rudimentary explosive device to a small domestic gas reservoir and sent it rolling down the street toward the Metropolitana barricade. Fortunately the street lousy pavement deflected the rolling bomb and the explosive broke loose and went elsewhere to explode leaving the gas tank safe.

Today, Sunday 15, the mayor of Petare has not come forward to make any declarations in spite of the press and media hounding him across town. Of course, he cannot explain why his police stayed quiet during some of the events, although it seems to have collaborated with the Metropolitana on some instances. But the video amateur is damming in regard to its overall complicity with the mob.

Chavez, not wanting to stay behind, in his weekly address, this time from Manaos, Brazil, went all the way out accusing the Metropolitan Mayor and the Governor of Miranda to hold full responsibility. He displayed quite a stressed aggressivity. He even threatened to “intervene” again the Metropolitana (to take what, one wonders), and went as far as arguing that the Miranda Governor had “armored” vehicles whose whereabouts he knew and that he was not going to take action. I am sure the Brazilian audience went home wondering how Chavez with all the might of the Army behind him could be threatened by a local official, or how such an official could grab armored vehicles and hide them effectively. Not to mention that if Chavez considered that the Copei meeting was by its low participation, how come he was spending so much time discussing it. But this is not the first time Chavez makes ridiculous accusations that are never verified and quickly forgotten. All talk, all show.

But the best of all was that Saturday, the lingering mob, that probably stayed all night drinking courtesy of the authorities, attacked the hospital to get the police officer that was interned. Fortunately, this one had been transferred as soon as possible to a safer location, otherwise he might have been lynched, as well as the doctors that might have dared to protect him.

CONCLUSION

I am sure that the reader that has followed me until here will have a quite clear idea of what is going on. The chavista mob acted like a tropical version of the S.A. Even the press pointed many a guy in the crowd as one of the regulars that haunt all of these types of events across all of Caracas, such as the ineffable Lina Ron, a star on her own. Nothing “spontaneous” there from “outraged” neighbors supporting Chavez against discredited Copei politicos. It all seems very organized, very paid for. Including the “casual” meeting just an hour before the events where a couple of chavista representatives (one the former head of the National Assembly) were seen leaving a meeting house in Petare. From that house also exited some of the guys that were caught on camera directing the attack on the Metropolitana.

Thuggery exposed for all to see.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

VENEZUELA, CIRCA 2003
June 14, 2003

Before Chavez election in 1998 there had been a continuous but slow deterioration in the quality of life in Venezuela. With these four years of Chavez administration it would actually be simplistic to just say that things got worse. They have, but it is more complex than that. The new element in our everyday life is the institutionalization of chaos as a daily factor in our lives. And this has become quite dramatic since April 2002. The facts that bring this new instability are quite simple: serious economical recession that started already at the end of 2001, political uncertainty as of April 2002 which aggravated the recession, and further deepening with the general strike of December 2002. The exchange control established in January 22 is pretty much bleeding to death the private sector. These controls might have started as “revenge on the private sector” icing on the cake but now have become the main culprit of our economical and social situation.

So, how is life in this first real rainy days of our wet season?

GROCERY SHOPPING

A casual observer would find the supermarket shelves full. A more careful observation will detect that where you used to have wheat flour, corn flour, rice and sugar which are generally stocked together in Venezuela, you will see now only rice and sugar. Full, but only two items. Whole chickens are also rare in supermarkets. And a few more items seem to make only cameo appearances. The result of dollar starvation and price control policies on selected items.

But go to the street vendors or the small “abastos” sort of Mom and Pop shops. And you will find the coveted chicken at higher prices than the official one, and you might even find corn flour, this corner stone of the Venezuelan diet, used to make the ever present arepa. The reason? INDECU, an official organization that supposedly protects consumers has been targeting supermarkets to make sure they do not overshoot the unrealistic imposed price controls. They cannot be bothered of course with “the people” that peddles at prices sometimes twice as high as the controlled prices. All for show of course and the supermarkets cannot be bothered so if they cannot sell at least at cost, they just do not sell it anymore. Not to mention that the providers are selling at a loss so why bother producing?

The poor end up, as usual, the most affected by these virtual controls. But what about those supposedly “well off” like myself? Yes, I eat very little meat, and even less chicken. And being on a constant diet I avoid arepa. But I do buy olive oil for example. This non-controlled item is imported outside of the fixed currency value of 1600 to the US dollar. The black market value for US dollar this week was teetering around 2500. My olive oil went up from 6500 a liter to 18 000 a liter. I will have you note that my paycheck did not go up three fold. Actually, it did not go up at all this year. Other items in my grocery cart are not imported but suffered hefty price increases, such as yogurt which went up by 25% in the last three months. At least all my favorite brands are back! Oh! And it is not over yet: the Central Bank has admitted 8% inflation just for May.

OTHER SHOPPING

I would not know. Because of my years in the US and the sizes I use I tended to keep shopping there, though this might be over. In my rare past shopping attempts for clothes in Caracas, I found items rather expensive. I wonder how things are now. However I can tell you one thing, the workers under my supervision are not as neatly dressed as before. I can tell it has been a long time since they have bought new outfits. This is noticeable in Venezuela where people take rather great pride in their personal appearance at all social levels, it is the country of the misses I shall remind you! The deterioration seems to be here to stay as no economical improvement can be foreseen.

The medicine front seems rather grave. TV is full of stories of people that cannot find their medication, or cannot afford them if they were to find them. So far I am lucky on this side, but I have noticed that the headache medicine I buy now comes in only one presentation when it used to come in three presentations!. When I can find it….

And forget about books or CD. My Venezuelan credit cards are blocked for US dollars, no more Amazon shopping. And since most books in the local bookstores are imported I let you imagine how expensive they are now. Well, that is not quite true. If you compare the dollar price today with the dollar price a year ago, coffee table books are a bargain for those disposing of dollar incomes.

GOING OUT AT NIGHT

You do not anymore. Or at least you go to safe areas, and not too late if possible. The security problem is really becoming scary. Venezuela is well under way according to statistics to pass last year per capita rate of murder. A rate that put us in the Americas second only to Colombia, a country that happens to have a real civil war, mind you!

However, when you hit that restaurant you might think twice before getting in: the price list has experienced quite a hike too. Yet, restaurants in posh areas of Caracas are doing good business. The reason is very simple: people cannot afford to travel as much as they used to but they still have a significant income that they must spend before inflation eats it away. So they eat out. Conclusion: you wince when you see the Menu, but you order.

Movies are open, and actually one of the few bargains for middle class folks. Lower classes have given up on movies for a while already. However, this is not going to last much. Studios keep sending movies to Venezuela although they cannot get their dollars out. They assume, I suppose, that at one point they will be able to do so. But if the controls persist I suspect that the movie experience might change for Venezuela.

After diner and movie you might want to go with your date to some nightclub. I do not do so since it would be too late and not safe enough to really enjoy staying out late. But for those that do so it has become a new experience. Scotch, the primordial drink in Venezuelan discos has quite increased its price. Local drinks are experiencing a come back of sorts. And the disco clientele is perhaps as upper-class as it has ever been!

The people that are supposed to be helped by Chavez are definitely the ones with less fun these days, if fun is defined as the ability to go out at night. But even in the lower classes neighborhood where folks could go to “botiquines” or “tascas” to have a few drinks with their pals, things might not be as lively as they used to be. These areas are actually the ones plagued by crime the most. And local beer went up.

WATCHING TV

Since you cannot go shopping, cannot go out, you can still have the solace of watching TV. That is if you can afford cable TV. Otherwise you are faced with two type of free broadcasts that are rather unpalatable.

The state TV has become a propaganda machine. Most of it is comprised of talk shows where pro-Chavez commentators follow a clear script. The few distractions are an occasional sporting presentation or an old, old movie. Or even a weird soap opera from Portugal or Japan. And at any time you might be cut by an official event from Chavez who now has broadcast any single inauguration, conference or what not event he attends. Even the morning activities for women are weird: the guests can be cooking teachers from “popular areas” trying to show “alternative” ways to cook (read, without the staples the government seems unable to produce or let flow).

On the other side the private networks have totally succumbed to their anti-Chavez position, some times bordering hysteria. They certainly have their reasons and now that Chavez is trying to push a law to control them they are playing all their cards. Fair is fair. Unfortunately for Chavez they show quite a lot of live coverage where they show wide shots of what happens in the streets during marches or riots. Images speak by themselves. The state TV interestingly shows these same events only with closed shots that can be manipulated easily. At least these networks still manage to show some other less heavy stuff, such as Brazilian soap operas or movies not too old. And their talk shows are definitely much better crafted than the governmental ones since most pros have defected to the opposition and Chavez TV has to content itself with inexperienced guys to mount their productions. Though sometimes I wonder if they do not make a point to be less glossy than the private networks, all for the “revolutionary” spirit.

EXPECTATIONS?

None really. Even if Chavez were to leave office tomorrow, the damage done would take quite a long time to be compensated.

Life has clearly become quite harder for the lower and middle classes. Poverty has increased quite a lot after a brief improvement in the first months of Chavez rule. Upper classes are also hurting for the first time in many years. This might satisfy some, but whether people like it, it is the money that upper classes spread around that makes many a store function adequately, not to mention the jobs they provide. But in Chavez vision of society, we all go down first, and then stay there, happy to watch our beloved leader perorate. He is halfway there.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

CHAVISMO AS A RELIGION
June 10, 2003

These past two weeks I have been a little bit quiet. I was watching the development of the situation as Chavez starts to deploy his guns and gets ready to shoot them. Will he be able to pull the trigger? Will that be enough for him to secure power for a few years? We’ll see.

However last week in El Universal I run into a commentary from Javier Brassesco, a rather astringent columnist at times. He illustrates an idea that has run through my mind for quite sometimes: Chavez messiahnism is not idle talk.

Since April 2002 I have considered the country cut into three camps that are unlikely to change. The opposition is around 50% and is not likely to go below 45% rain or shine. Chavistas are around 30% and they are more likely to slip slightly as the economical situation worsens. But they are stubborn and almost fanatical since April 2002 and they have a hard core constituency that will remain with Chavez no matter what. The remaining 20%? Well, they probably do not care much and they will vote on the issues that matter to them at election day if they bother to vote.

The question is what motivates those hard core supporters of Chavez. A hard core cast that does not seem to be perturbed by the continuous tales of corruption, the collapsed administration or the economic disaster. One explanation is that some see Chavez as a Messiah, an avenging angel for all their real or perceived frustrations. Where does logic stands in front of such a mystical approach? The article from Brassesco that I have translated below states it quite nicely.


Spiritual revolution
Javier Brassesco for El Universal

There are people that are so simple minded that they border heresy, people so earth bound that for watching the mundane trees miss the forest of our process (ours, not the one from that poor Jew from Prague). And thus they pretend to judge the revolution according to its achievements. Has there been such a dare, such vulgarity? How can one be so mundane, so nearsighted? How can so many people allow the nullity they have for souls wallow in the most pedestrian materialism? Then they come to talk of smallness: that the inflation is the highest in the region, that this is the worst recession, that there is such a proliferation of panhandlers. They do not understand that chavismo is more a religion, an act of faith, a state of mind, than a political movement. And there worthless are brainy arguments or immaterial are ineffective policies. Have bad priests and all the repressive machinery of the Catholic Church compromised the Christian ideal? Has not Christianism come out stronger after Enlightenment and all the criticisms that were formulated from there of the manipulations that that the Church made of it, with its bonfires and its Holy Inquisition? Has any Muslim reneged its credo because Allah lent a deaf ear in the wars that were fought, either against Israel or against the US? This revolution, so misunderstood, so vilified, could well say as Montaigne: “I cannot carry a registry of my life through my actions; fortune has put them too low. I keep it through my fantasies”.

It did happen with Moses, to whom God one day told, when he was halfway, that he would never reach the Promised Land, a warning that did not faze the Prophet, since he understood that this land could only be promised as long as he would never step on it. Thus is our revolution, an eternal promise that has only meaning as such, as a promise ever postponed and that in addition is bringing a substantial bestowal to Universal History (not of Infamy, do not think ill), because it is rearing as the last religion of modern man. Over would be that insult of Freud when he said that the only Latin-American contribution to world culture was tobacco, nor will have a basis that complaint of Nietzche: “Almost two thousand years and not a single new God!” nor all the arguments of Cioran when he said that man is spiritually exhausted and thus he is unable to found a new religion. Chavismo has done it: it took from the Latin-American mythical universe that idea of the strong man that one day will come to save us from ourselves, mixed it with a good dose of flag waving, drove in us the idea that we are the chosen people, the best in the world, and even brought us a Messiah.

What are all these blessings compared to pettiness such as unemployment, does it matters that street vendors are the owners of the streets or that at each corner two people are washing car windows if in exchange we are going to get paid with the intoxication of the history of which we are the pioneers. No, it is not from hunger that our stomachs are churning. It is the sound of the new era.

Followers