I arrived in Caracas.
A somber feeling in the air as people were waiting for the luggage. People had a worried look on their faces with their minds uncertain on what is yet to come.
Above, a huge sign, “Construimos el socialism bolivariano,” “we are constructing Bolivrian socialism.”
After checking my visa, the official at the booth asked me where I will be living, I had no idea, so told him that for now I do not know. He went to check my status. I was about to invenet an address on the form when he got back and told me, “it’s ok, but next time make sure you have an address.”
As I walked out, people were asking me for a taxi, if I wanted a ride, or if I wanted to exchange money. But they did not do so with the self-assured and aggressive approach one may find in Havana. They were more hesitant, less confrontational and less pushy. A bit subdued.
I then walked out to the bus terminal. At first I approached a booth and offered a woman working there one US dollar for a ticket. I had no Bolivsars with me and did not want to change them there (there is currently very high inflation in Venezuela but I will delve more into it later). She was hesitant. She did not say No, but did not say Yes either. Finally her boss came in and they both apologized and said they could not take the dollar.
This for me was a sign that things were not as bad as I imagined. First, there was a sense of order still prevailing, and people were not as desperate they would agree to break the local regulations and take a dollar. Secondly, she kept the law even though she could have possibly gotten away with it.
I then went outside. I saw a lone man asking me if I wanted a taxi. He seemed honest. I took on his offer.
On the way, he poured out his heart about the difficulties facing the country. For sixteen years they have ruled, he said, referring to the government of Venezuela first run by Hugo Chavez, then by Nicholas Maduro. They are taking away all our money, and becoming richer and richer. They are trading in drugs. They are destroying the economy. Things are getting very bad.
I wondered if he thought that the government was robbing the country blind why was it investing immense amounts in health, education and new technologies. But I saw right away it would be unreasonable to argue with him or offer a different view, plus I was here to learn. It seemed to me that the driver was a heavy listener to the anti-government local television and media which are inciting heavily against the president while making biased and wholly unsubstantiated reports on the government trading in drugs which did not stand the test of proof. This formerly middle class man- he told me the middle class was disaasppearing- probably listened to the private oligarch-run media on a regular basis. This seemed to be the case since he thought Chavez and Maduro were steaing the public’s money. They may be misguided or crazy communists, one may argue, but I did not think they were theievs. Yet he was convinced.
I listened patiently.
We passed by a nice new red car. This one is called Cherry, he said. It is produced in China. The army and police can buy it for very cheap but for locals it is offered at a much higher price. This appeared more reliable and I told myself to check later.
The taxista, said he would happily work in the United States and take on any job. The situation here is unbearable. We live to survive. Food is very expensive, everything is very expensive, the money is worth less. His relatives are leaving to any place but here. Africa, Europe, united states.
He did not seem to reazlize that if the money is so cheap due to the government stealing from the people, as he argues, and if, therefore inflation was caused by the government, this would mean that the government seeks to destroy its own assets and economy which made little sense.
But he had in his a sense of anger and bitterness which could have easily turned into an angry popular mobilization in other circumstances.
For most of the population, those with little means, the Bolivarian Revolution despite the significant difficulties with current inflation, has improved their lot for the better. In other words, even as things are becoming more expensive and the national modena (or currency) is worth less, they are finally educated, literate, receive free healthcare and education, have enough food on the table and can buy what they need.
For some in the Middle Class, that could afford private health and education earlier, and now sees it a high growth in prices, things have taken a lot for the worse.
Yet if I would compare current day Venezuela with current day Greece, there is no doubt that in Venezuela things are better. In Venezuela no one is starving or dying from hunger due to austerity, nor are people committing suicide due to the economy. Everyone has free health and education and, significantly, public housing. There need for soup kitchens in Caracas seems to be relatively smaller by percentage and the sight of homeless people sleeping in the street appears far less widespread. The same cannot be said about Athens. This means that for the many in Athens who are losing their homes and the many more that will be added to the homeless statistics in the coming months, Venezuela would have provided a far better quality of life.
Finally we arrived at my destination and I went on to the a barrio in the southeastern part of the city. As I started making my way up the difficult hill with my suitcase, while sweating profusely, I was wondering how I will make it but kept walking. A local man saw me from the other side of the street and called out to me that I should take a ride. Indeed, a mini-bus that was just passing by was making its way up the hill. Without any warning, the bus stopped, a man got off and helped me get my luggage on to the bus. I sighed with a relief. Later after I inquired for the local contacts where I was supposed to be staying, a local man kindly volunteered to drive me to my location. He helped lift my heavy suitcases into the car, along with his son. I sat in the front, my legs on top of the chair, a suitcase placed in front of me.
In this barrio, or favela in Portuguese, I could quickly see the difference between the general vibe I encountered here and the atmosphere among some people of the Middle Class earlier. Here the majority with little means had a sense of calm, adhered to solidarity, and held a willing to persevere.
When in the taxi earlier, the taxista said that even those who live there- pointing at the barrio- even those who live there- may not vote for the government in December because prices have gone up too much for them. Yet he seemed to miss the fact that the lives of most improved under the Bolivarian revolution and that the majority with little means continues to heavily support the government. Surely, it seems to know who would serve its best interests and it is grateful for the major improvements in many areas of life since Chavez was elected in 1998.
The majority with little means seemed to know what is at play. They seemed to realize the local oligarchs are trying to topple Maduro and possessed a quiet determination to withstand the current difficulties and much greater difficulties which may arrive in the future.
In the following evening I went to a party in downtown Caracas, held in a public arena. The electrical vibe, passion for life, bouncing music and strong solidarity between people was one which was 100% Caracas and what makes this city so unique. It is hard to find such a unique atmosphere in many affluent cities where things are calm. Therefore, I would not characterize the atmosphere as that of sadness of desperation. Things are difficult, prices change quickly and there is much uncertainty. One needs to spend quickly since otherwise the currency loses its value. And yet, the government provides housing to many, health and education is provided, major advances are being made in many areas. Perhaps we live in a time of global instability and in which we must learn to live with constant uncertainty. But Caracas was far from being gloomy or sunk in melancholy. I encountered a festive spirit which is hard to find in many other places. The high inflation makes tourists quite wealthy and for those who seek to have a good time and be in Caracas in an historical moment, I would certainly recommend coming here although one must remain on the guard when it comes to security in public areas of the city.
Some things cannot bought or made artificially. And among these things or “goods” are atmospheres, vibes, passions. In the party I encountered many people from all over Latin America who inspired by the Bolivarian Revolution came to support the ongoing process. Things may not be easy but the atmosphere was unmatchable and made everything else worth it.