Venezuela: the real and the fake

By Gustavo Coronel

In the real Venezuela a typical citizen, Ramon Martinez, gets up at 4 AM in the morning to be at work at 7 AM, if he is one of the 30% of the total labor force who has a normal, stable job. After a one-hour or more wait, without any guarantees of when or if the transport will show up, he catches a bus or a por puesto taxi (a car in which each seat is for hire) and starts negotiating the road from his modest dwelling in the Tuy valley or La Guaira to the capital, where he works. Although distances are not great, the amount of traffic converts the daily trip into a two-hour or longer adventure. Those coming from the Tuy valley, southwest of the city, get into a huge, slow mile-long traffic line as soon as they arrive to the toll booth at Tazón. Although they already can see the city of Caracas waiting down the hill, getting to the final destination usually takes one hour or more. Those who come from La Guaira, near the sea, are worse off, since the main highway has now been closed down due to a main bridge being on the brink of falling down, thanks to the extreme negligence of the government. Waiting for his bus or other means of transportation Martinez risks his life every day since, while still dark, the larger Caracas metropolitan area is the third most dangerous places in the world. Some 13,000 Venezuelans per year are murdered, as compared to an already worrying 5,000 only six years ago. Violent deaths exceed those in Iraq. Criminals act practically unchecked since the badly paid police are either afraid of patrolling the poorer areas of the city or lead criminal gangs themselves. The thieves board the buses and, at some point along the route, force the driver to stop, to rob the passengers of their meager pocket money. Only rarely the robber gets caught, more often a passenger is murdered trying to resist the robbery.

Newspaper kiosks, which used to be open since 5 AM. or so, now only open after 7 AM. when there is light. I remember when we, Caraqueños, would go out of the theater or a nightclub and buy the newspaper in the early hours of the morning, at any corner of the city. Today, nightlife in Venezuela has effectively disappeared, due to rampant crime and the dismal economic situation.

Martinez is, like most Venezuelans, addicted to coffee. These days he is highly stressed because coffee has disappeared from the market. It is not that Venezuela does not produce coffee. It does and, furthermore, is surrounded by countries that produce large volumes of coffee, such as Colombia, Brazil or Jamaica. Yet, coffee has disappeared from the markets and the coffee shops for several months. Why? Because the government has been forcing the producers to sell it below production costs. They have refused and the government is confiscating the product. Coffee is not the only staple absent from the stands. Other basic foodstuffs such as sardines, black beans, sugar and milk are difficult to find, according to the pro-government daily Ultimas Noticias. When Martinez wants to buy food for his home, he usually has to go to half a dozen establishments, in order to find all he needs. Often, however, some of his basic requirements are simply not found. Most of the food consumed in Venezuela is imported by the government, most of it through Cuba that acts as a coordinating and packaging center. Venezuelans call this extreme dependence on food imports the “agriculture of ports,” a characteristic that has greatly increased in the last years. Much of the imported food is distributed by the government through its outlets where is sold at discounted prices or, even, given away for free. These handouts, however, only reach a portion of the population. Most of Venezuelans have to buy their supplies in the open market, where scarcity is now the norm.

Martinez works at a textile factory in Eastern Caracas. His salary is low, the equivalent of some US$300 a month, although he is a skilled machine operator. At least, his job has been guaranteed for several years now, because the government has issued a decree forbidding industry to dismiss personnel. The levels of employment in private industry are essentially frozen and the only decrease in employment is due to natural attrition. Industries are not hiring new employees because they do not have any flexibility to adjust their employment levels. As a result, industrial growth is effectively stagnant in the country and economic growth is artificial, largely based on the government liberal expenditure of oil income.

Martinez cannot afford to own a car. If he had one it would probably last only a short time in his possession. Car thefts are commonplace, especially in the barrios, and most Venezuelans cannot afford insurance rates because they are very high. To buy a car or a house in Venezuela is difficult to impossible, due to the lack of reasonable financing. A typical down payment for a car or a house is 40% or more of the total cost, the remaining amounts financed at rates that rarely go below 30% per year. Who can afford these conditions? Martinez is in no man’s land, since he cannot afford these payments and he does not have a friend in government who could put him in the short list for a government built house. Even if he were in such a short list, his chances of getting one would be minimal, since the government is building only one fifth of the average number of houses built by previous governments. Housing deficit in Venezuela has mounted systematically due to population increases and a lag in the number of houses built. The private sector has largely abandoned the construction business since there are no legal guarantees that the new housing they might build would be allowed to be sold at a profit. They would likely be taken over by government or, simply, invaded by squatters. Only in Caracas, 20 apartment or business buildings have recently been invaded, with the benediction of the Mayor of the City, Mr. Juan Barreto, who says: “We are not invading. This is a term used by the rich. We are occupying these buildings.” The squatters, protected by the government, will have a roof over their heads but rarely running water or electricity. The inevitable excreta will be put in plastic bags and thrown out the windows, an effective way to eliminate pedestrian traffic in the vicinity.

These are some of the material aspects of life in Venezuela. As the reader can imagine, living away from the capital, that has almost 25% of the total population, can be even more difficult. Commercial activity, street selling (which represents the occupation of some 60% of the total Venezuelan labor force) and, in general, services are less easy to find in the smaller cities or in the countryside.

Spiritual aspects of real Venezuelan life

What could be called the spiritual aspects of real Venezuelan life are equally or more cause for concern. Mr. Martinez is a mestizo, just like 75% or more of the Venezuelan population. Venezuelans of all shades of color surround him in his daily life. The black ones he might refer to as the Negro or the negrito who lives down the street and the light skinned ones as the catire who sells newspapers. These terms are purely descriptive and usually affectionate, practically never racially charged. Now, however, the politicians in power refer continuously to the white ones as the ones who robbed the black ones, as the villains who have to be punished, while the black are the victims who now should get what they are entitled to, meaning the property of the well to do. Martinez, being somewhere in the middle of the rainbow (where most Venezuelans are), does not feel comfortable with this discourse. He suspects that, after the blacks take over the possessions of the white, following the government’s incitation, they will direct their attention to the brown ones like Martinez.

Martinez is also depressed at the mood of the country, turned sour. Gone are the optimism and normal good humor of the average Venezuelan, replaced by distrust, fear and despair. Nowadays everybody seems to be defending him or herself from the surrounding environment. The greeting: Como te va? “How are you doing?” is usually replied: Defendiendome, “Defending myself,” a term which implies concern about the hostile environment. For the first time in his life Martinez now sees his neighbors as a potential threat. The government is pounding into the minds of Venezuelans that they are involved in a racial and class strife: White against black and rich against poor. Yet, what he is seeing is that the poor are getting robbed or murdered by the poor, not by the rich. Criminals who live “next door” to the victims conduct the carnage that is currently taking place in Venezuela. They kill and maim to take a pair of shoes from the neighbor or the daily income of the street vendor. The bus robbers are young and poor Venezuelans who have no desire, the required knowledge or the opportunity to earn an honest living. Instead of addressing the tragic ignorance and indolence of young Venezuelans, the current government promotes violence through verbal and written propaganda that has been taken to the point of saturation. Martinez feels that more efforts should be dedicated to improving roads, improving sanitary conditions in the barrios, upgrading schools, establishing long term education to create a self-starting Venezuelan and less efforts employed in the sowing of racial and class hate among the population, an ignoble task actively being done by the political leaders and the government controlled media. Martinez prefers to pay a cable TV service than to watch the government TV station or, even, the private open channels, frequently forced to air government propaganda and inflammatory rhetoric. Cable offers Martinez a way of escaping the drab reality of Venezuelan life.

The Fake Venezuela

Parallel with this real Venezuela there is a fake Venezuela, a government construct, created by a gigantic effort of political propaganda that absorbs much of the financial resources that should be applied to the true improvement of Venezuelan society. This construct is known at home and abroad as the “Bolivarian Revolution,” or as the socialist and Bolivarian republic of Venezuela, or as the new hope of the poor and victimized majorities of the world, long suffering at the hands of imperialism. The name of Bolívar has been appropriated to identify the construct, soiled in the process.  Some Venezuelans, living under the systematic and relentless repetition of political slogans and populist messages, could be starting to confuse in their minds the real Venezuela with the construct but, by and large, the majorities fully realize how they are being manipulated. They know that the social programs, based on handouts, are riddled with corruption and only reach a small percentage of the population. Even the government hardcore followers are starting to complain about the high levels of pilfering and stealing of national funds by the military and civil bureaucracy. When many start feeling brain washed by government propaganda, something horrible happens to pull them back to real life. The recent collapse of the main highway connecting Venezuela with the international airport and the highly populated La Guaira area has left thousands without means of going to work and most of the beach related tourist industry in ruins. The port of La Guaira, the destination of a third of all Venezuelan imports is now in chaos and imports are being re-routed to ports 200 or more miles away. Travelers have to get up at 2 or 3 AM in Caracas, in order to catch an 8 AM. international or domestic flight. Still, government propaganda is talking, as if there was no major problem, about the new highway that will be built, better than the one that just collapsed. The contruction of the new highway will take four to five years, in the best of cases, but Mr. Jesse Chacon, the Minister of the Interior advises Venezuelans: “Get used to not going to the beaches. Get used to longer travel times. You have to be patient.”

The “Bolivarian Revolution” construct is based on concepts such as: fight against corruption, true popular democracy, power to the people, anti-imperialism, 21st-century socialism, redistribution of wealth, racism, “being rich is a sin” and other key watchwords, repeated incessantly by the president of the country, his paid domestic and foreign spokespersons and international fellow travelers. When we examine each one of these concepts we find that they are a total fraud. The levels of government corruption in the last seven years have been higher than in any other period of Venezuelan history, mainly because of the great influx of oil money and new indebtness, an amount of income variously estimated between US$150 and US$200 billion during the last seven years. The authoritarian nature of the presidency and the total absence of checks and balances render the government anti-democratic; the people of Venezuela have no knowledge of what is being done with their resources but do not see the money coming into the government coffers being utilized in infrastructure or tangible benefits for society; anti-imperialism is an ideological, worn out cliché used by the communist regimes of the world; 21st-century socialism is a meaningless term that has never been defined by the government; redistribution of wealth, in revolutionary lingo, means to take away from the rich and the middle class to give handouts to the compliant poor; racism is a term artificilly transplanted into Venezuela by Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte at the request of the government. “Being rich is a sin” is the favorite mantra of the president, who apparently does not believe that the concept can apply to himself and his $65 million Airbus, his watches, Hermes ties, $3,000 suits, $5,000 a night hotel suites and hundreds strong entourages when he travels.

The fraudulent construct has been put together by a large group, both in Venezuela and abroad. They range from mercenaries searching for economic rewards to honestly convinced individuals who will side with anyone who hates the U.S. The stream of visitors or distant admirers, eager to put in a good word for the fake revolution is continuous: Robert MugabeDon KingJesse Jackson, Ignacio Ramonet, Greg Palast, Harry BelafonteDanny Glover, the ladies from Global Women’s Strike and Women in Dialogue, Marta Harnecker, Heinz Dieterich, James Petras, Larry Birns, the now deceased and rabid anti-Semitic Norberto CeresoleMark Weisbrot, Saddam Hussein defender Ramsey Clark and many others at more modest levels of effort or intellect. People like these, together with the dominnt  influence of Fidel Castro, have helped to convert what started out as a Venezuelan tragedy into a Latin American and, even, world tragedy. The revolution is now for global export. The construct is now focused on becoming a main actor in world affairs. It is clearly engaged in a global war, openly siding with terrorists, fundamentalists, dictators and the remnants of Marxism, in an all-out struggle against democracy, free market policies, freedom and civilization.

This is no longer just a Venezuelan problem. This is now a World problem.

© 2006 Gustavo Coronel

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3 Comments to “Venezuela: the real and the fake”

  1. Mr. Gustavo Coronel,

    Thank you for reporting the facts behind the fraud of Hugo Chavez. You have clearly illustrated a tragedy that will grow to engulf more of the Americas.

    Best regards!
    Mick Gregory

  2. Great article. It sounded familiar for me… specially the commentaries about being rich and white and the use of the Revolution for global export. That was one of the reasons of why I started blogging, because some left intellectuals abroad defending this regime that much started to made me sick… and who can blame me?

  3. Great article. The best I’ve read in a long time. Yuo read the mood of the country.

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