Monday, July 21, 2008

Out of the ghetto?

The best political article this weekend can be found in the fluff Sunday magazine of El Nacional. Rafael Osorio Cabrices meditates on how slowly but surely sectors of the Venezuelan society have allowed themselves to be trapped in new urban ghettos. He has in mind, in this very Caracas centered country, folks that live in some areas of Caracas Eastern Part and who spend their own lives in that area, except when they go on vacation one supposes. (1)

It is indeed a fact of life that all conspires for you to remain inside your own "safety" area, safety in this case meaning the area that you know best, rather than the area where you are actually can be safe. Be it from crime, or because of dirt and garbage everywhere, or because the side walks are often taken over by buhoneros, or simply because you do not want to get addressed by the political attitudes of some areas, most people seem to simply isolate themselves within a few neighborhoods where they know how to maneuver, how to hide, how to escape. If this phenomenon has been seen for the Eastern Part of Caracas where many consider Plaza Venezuela as a real border, it is also seen for folks in lower classes who limit themselves to outings at the few malls accessible by subway directly from Petare or El Silencio. These malls seem to have become the only modern Agora of Venezuela, the only arena where two worlds meet, even though their income differences are not necessarily so different, or even their political views are not that distant. We are talking here of a new cultural development of unpredictable consequences, and I suspect welcome by the chavista administration who has been busy trying any possible way to congeal its electorate.

I suppose that in a way I have escaped some of that self ghettoizing. After all in San Felipe there is no ghetto, all through Chavez years I have had to face the reality of the country day in and day out. Thus when I visit Caracas I have no major problem stepping past Plaza Venezuela for a Saturday lunch at a La Candelaria tasca. Still I must confess that if my mental border is not Plaza Venezuela, it is probably Plaza Bolivar as Catia has not seen me in 20 years except when I drive by on my way to the airport.

I will translate part of that Osio article:
But we almost do not see the city. And the city remains there. There is no wild forest past the EPA of Chacaito nor a sea of monsters beyond the B.O. Center. What there is is people. We are not necessarily going to be robbed when we cross the border that fear nailed between our eyes. We are missing the renovation of the historical district, that we must celebrate, and the recovery of Sabana Grande. Just as we are missing the Arab food joints of Catia, the guayaberas of Guaicaipuro market, the potters of Cementerio and El Pinar park.

We feel superior than those who live in the provinces when in fact we move aorund an area smaller than La Victoria.

I am not sure about the Arab food joints of Catia, after all I know of at least two great Lebanese joints in Chacao, but the point is well taken, in particular the second paragraph. I often get real angry when I start discussing politics visiting Caracas, as people think their, certainly justified, anger against Chavez and his government is shared as is by we, the provincials. We might dislike Chavez et al. a lot, but we do not do it with the same intensity as the Eastern Caracas ghetto, nor for the same reasons. The malls and movie theaters that have flourished in Eastern Caracas these past ten years, as chavista nouveau riche are trying to move in, have not reached San Felipe. After ten years we are still limited to a single Central Madereinse for our quality grocery shopping, while crime is now as bad as in Caracas.

My concern here is more direct than that: are Caracas politicians really aware of what is going on in the provinces? I mean, our local politicians certainly have a good sense of what is going on these days but the main political leaders still evolve in Caracas circles, and this surely gives them somewhat that ghetto mentality that some times we seem to see in them. Surprisingly it might be starting to affect some chavista politicians and Chavez himself, in his very own ghetto of Miraflores as he cannot attend any public event unless organized by and for chavistas. In a "participative democracy" rarely so few people have really participated, as we are observing today those that are where it really matters.

1) El Nacional is on and off by subscription only. Although the article was accessible today, just in case I have placed the original in Spanish here.

-The end-

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