More first-hand news from the real streets of the real Venezuela
Posted: Tuesday, January 10, 2006
By Oscar Heck
Most people who are aware of what is going on in Venezuela will know that Viaduct #1 on the main road from Caracas to the coast (La Guaira and Maiquetia, where Caracas' main airport is) is closed due to structural failure. Since the road is closed ... and will be closed for some weeks or months to come ... getting to the coast (and to the airport-Maiquetia) from Caracas will be a challenge ... depending on who you are.
Those people who are afraid of traveling through poor areas will have to drive to Valencia, the next closest town with a major airport, about 2 hours south-west of Caracas, then take a few-minute flight to Maiquetia and travel onward from there.
For those who are not afraid to travel through poor areas, they can drive from Caracas to the coast by taking the "old road" which serpentines through mountains and through shantytowns.
A few days ago, after the bridge was closed, I began to hear "horror" stories of disgruntled middle-class travelers who had to "go out of their way" to reach the Maiquetia airport by traveling through Valencia ... because they we not going to "risk their lives" traveling through miles of mountains and shantytowns. I laughed to myself.
A typically opportunistic attempt at political gain from the Caracas-La Guaira Viaduct #1 disaster is seen here in a widely-posted graphic headlined "Bringing goods up from La Guaira to Caracas."
The bottom banner to the advert bears a Ministry of Infrastructure (MINFRA) Logo and the slogan "Venezuela advances, headed for socialism." The crude propaganda blast is complete with a monkey's face (right), presumably contextualizing the opposition's view of Chavez government supporters as "monos" (monkeys).
Although I have never taken the "old road," I couldn't imagine it being much worse than parts of the roads through the Andes or between Puerto La Cruz and Cumana at night (unending curves, precipices, landslides and the possibility of being robbed on route). So ... I asked a friend to make the trip from eastern Caracas to Maiquetia by bus and/or taxi. He did, he took the bus to Chacaito (a main shopping area in eastern Caracas) and, as he got off the bus, there were several taxis offering service to Maiquetia airport. Last year, the regular taxi fare from Chacaito to Maiquetia was about Bs60,000 (about $30) and took (outside rush hour) about a ½ hour down the main road which is now closed. My friend asked how much ... and the reply was Bs100,000 (about $50). He took the offer and hopped into the taxi ... knowing full well that because of the road closure, the trip might take 3 to 4 hours ... a fair price to pay.
To my friend's surprise, the trip took only 1½ hours ... and the road was in excellent condition, repaved, etc. There were many shantytowns on the way, but the people from the shantytowns, unlike what most wealthier Venezuelans imagine, did not come down from the hills to mug or rob travelers. They came down from the hills to sell water, soft drinks, food ... or anything else they could turn a modest profit on. Furthermore, to everyone's satisfaction, the National Guard were stationed all along the trajectory. National Guard and local shantytown dwellers were blasting radios and dancing on the streets as cars and buses slowly (but not so slowly) made their way to the coast.
This is the real Venezuela!
Venezuela is not the "dangerous" or "inhospitable" place where, according to most mid-to-upper class Venezuelans (the 20%), everything goes wrong ... and where the majority 80% "undeserving" poorer darker-skinned Venezuelans lurk behind dark shadows to steal everything you have (because you deserve what you have).
I wonder how many mid-to-upper class Venezuelans will be taking the "old road" to the coast? Few, I suppose ... and those that do not (because they don't know the truth, yet speak as if they do) will probably continue to talk vilely against Venezuela and against Venezuelans ... making paranoid statements about imminent dangers ... and blaming it all on Chavez and company.
My friend also toured the international section of the airport and heard "sifrinos" ("snobs") complain of their long journey through Valencia to reach Maiquetia (they can afford it as well) and how "uncomfortable" it was and how it is too "dangerous to take the "old road" and how it is the fault of the shantytown dwellers near Viaduct #1 that the bridge began to collapse.
Many sifrinos believe that the bridge began to collapse because of the sewage waters from the nearby shantytowns.
The bridge was constructed over 40 years ago and was apparently built to last about 30 years!
What happened to the maintenance-money collected for decades at the toll booths?
And how about the months of torrential rains and mud slides?
Do a few thousand poor people living in a shantytown produce, by volume, more urine, feces, vomit and soapy water than the yearly torrential rains which have flooded these hills for months at a time for over 40 years? Come on!
These people appear to believe all the invented "bad news" put out by the anti-Chavez media: El Universal, El Nacional, Tal Cual, Globovision, Venevision, RCTV, and Televen ... the only "media" worthy of their "educated and civilized" attention! Don't believe the government television or radio stations ... they lie! Yeah, my big foot. My friend, like thousands of others who have recently traveled the "old road" can testify to the fact that government sources, the pro-Chavez media and other newer popular media outlets such as Diario Vea, are telling the truth whilst the anti-Chavez sifrino-oriented media continues to lie. My friend said to one sifrina at the airport, "If you believe what the media says, you are ignorant." The response was sheepish, "Well, that is what they say."
The taxi driver spoke proudly of Chavez ... saying something to the effect of, "Who do they think they are, these sifrinos? Do they think we are stupid? They say that the low voter turn-out at the recent National Assembly elections is a sign that Chavez doesn't have the support he thinks he does. They are in for a surprise. Most of us did not bother voting for National Assembly members ... but just watch, when the presidential elections come later this year, we will all go out to vote for Chavez. Those sifrinos think they are the majority ... but look at the barrios (shantytowns) around you ... who is the majority? Who votes for Chavez?
We are the majority, not them! They are living in a fantasy world."
An airport employee reported that he owes his life and his family's life to Chavez. If it weren't for Chavez he would not have recuperated his long-time job at the airport. Before the Chavez government began to get involved in restructuring the airport, he had lost his job. The management fired many of the lowest paid employees because of "budget cuts" while retaining most middle-management and upper management employees who earn substantially more. He was devastated at the time ... and unable to do anything about it ... until the Chavez government moved in and began to revise the many "irregularities" which were common place within the airport administration (as was the case in PDVSA, the CVG, and other government institutions or corporations).
Today he has his job back ... and he is entirely grateful to Chavez ... and proud to be finally respected.
This is the kind of thing that most anti-Chavez Venezuelans (mostly mid-to-upper class) do not understand ... and much less, feel. They continue to complain that poverty is rampant, for example. But they do not make the connection: keeping a dignified job contributes directly to anti-poverty. Working for oneself (cooperatives, for example), making a dignified wage rather than working as a slave for a wealthy boss, contributes directly to anti-poverty. Mision Rivas, Mision Robinson, Mision Vuelvan Caras, Mision Sucre, free-of-charge condensed elementary, high school, technical training and university education contribute directly to eradicating poverty ... because all these bring a sense of dignity, respect and value to the human being. This is why the vast majority of Venezuelans will vote for Chavez in the upcoming elections.
There is no question Chavez will win with an overwhelming majority.
Now, let me tell you a very sad story (with a good ending) which happened a few days ago in Caracas ... and please try to keep this in mind everywhere you go, in every word you speak and in every thought you have when dealing with Venezuela's mid-to-upper classes.
Another good friend, from a barrio, has been doing odd jobs here and there for years because he is physically in bad shape. He never had the money to obtain appropriate medical treatment. There are few jobs he call effectively do. A few days ago he finally found himself with an opportunity for a full-time job as a private driver for a very wealthy businessman and his family. They own several businesses and homes and live in a mansion. He would work from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (14 hours per day, apart from travel to and from work), six days per week (84 hours per week) ... and drive the children around, take them to school and to clubs, pick up groceries, etc., be at the bequest of every whim and wish of his "masters." He was however very happy to have the opportunity. He asked how much the job pays ... and he accepted the job. Later at home, he revised the situation, and almost kicked himself. He had accepted the job out of desperation, as most poorer Venezuelans do and have done for generations. The next day he called the wealthy businessman to resign. The job offered Bs.400,000 (about $186) per month. This turns out to be about $186 per month for 336 hours of work (84 hours per week x 4 weeks) ... which turns out to be about 55 cents per hour ... when the cost of living is equivalent to some parts of the USA! This means that in one 14-hour day he would make about $7.70! What is he going to eat? What is he going to feed his children, how will he pay his bills? His rent? Who does this "businessman" think he is? Does he care? Apparently not ... obviously not!
This is typically how most mid-to-upper class Venezuelans treat their "employees" (slaves!) ... and most of them have maids ... and many have drivers and gardeners and handymen. In one lunch at a restaurant in Las Mercedes that same family can easily spend $186 ... whilst their "employees" must work 336 hours to make that same amount! Justice? Dignity? What is this? No matter what the salary is, try to work 336 per month! Few of us would survive for longer that a month! We would get sick ... but at least we would be able to afford the time off or the medical attention! My friend cannot! My friend, and millions of Venezuelans who are in the same or similar condition do not have the choice!
However, as Chavez' Missions expand, my friends will begin to have more choices ... and more options than to continue being exploited by the wealthy mid-to-upper classes who live hidden away behind barbed-wired, ten-foot walls with armed guards who are also exploited in the same fashion!
Before Chavez, the wealthy mid-to-upper classes had managed to convince the poor that they were good-for-nothings ... but with Chavez, they now know that they do not have to continue this inhuman path of misery.
The day after my friend quit his short-lived job, he received an offer from a lady who lives in the same barrio and who has a small business driving students of the wealthy to and from school. He accepted the job and started today. Now, see the difference. This lady lives in the barrio, she knows what it is like to be exploited ... and this is why she now works for herself. She has saved enough money to buy another car and begin another route ... so my friend will take her regular route. (Note: Many poorer Venezuelans are now operating their own small driving/delivery/taxi businesses by going through government-sponsored small business loans programs and/or by creating cooperatives, which are also promoted by government loan programs.) He will work from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m, and from about 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., five days per week (20 hours per week, 80 hours per month). The lady, ashamed about not being able to pay too much, said that she could only afford to pay him Bs.400,000 per month! He smiled and accepted the job on the spot! What a difference in mentality.
The wealthy de-dignify people whilst the poor try to dignify people.
This is not always the case, but it is often the case. He will now be able to do this job and another part-time job ... and he will make double what he would have made working for the exploiter (the very wealthy businessman ... hey! ... no wonder he is so wealthy!) while working less than half the time!
I have been invited to the homes of many wealthy Venezuelans ...but not once have any of them offered me a bed to sleep on. Food and drink yes, but no bed or sofa, no cot, not even a section of the floor in the laundry room ... never in 30 years! On the other hand, ever single poorer Venezuelan to whose home I have been invited has offered me a place to sleep ... a bed, a mattress, a sofa, or a floor ... and that is in addition to food and drink!
This is the real Venezuela ... so for readers out there ... whenever you meet a well-off Venezuelan (even if they call themselves "average middle-class"), ask them questions about their life-style (pretend to be on their side ... and let them regurgitate the truth!).
Well, that is it for now ... more first-hand news from the real streets of the real Venezuela.
Oh ... and by the way ... this article is not about hate ... or about making any statement against people who claim to "deserve what they own because of hard work" (sic) ... it is about reality ... an irrevocable reality!