Wed, Sept 10th Los Samanes
P. Que hace un pes cuando esta aburrido?
It doesn't translate well. It's a pun. Something like:
Q. What does a fish do when its bored?
A. Nada (nada means NOTHING and it means IT SWIMS. Get it?)
What does Mykel do? He writes... no pun.
I write because I can. Because in New York, I have no time. In Caracas (Los Samanes, actually), I only have time. Right now I sit on the floor of Johnny's suburban apartment. A baby is screaming in the hall. Sol, Johnny's girlfriend is taking a shower. Jezabel, Johnny's daughter is IM-ing on her dad's computer. Clothes drying in the sun block most of the sunlight from the window.
Yesterday was supposed beach day. Finally, a trip to a Venezuelan beach. Something I've missed.
We set out late yesterday (Sunday) because of a Saturday night drinking binge I hope I'll describe later. And then, it rained. I saw a church.
I'm at Johnny's place now, listening to the Spanish version of The Cartoon Network. The dubbed voices are a horrible falsetto, as irritating as the neighbors' baby. It's 5:19 PM. My last day in this spot. (I move to the hotel tomorrow. Close to the airport... nightly fee same price as a cab.)
The hotel, Catimar, where I've got a reservation has one internet review. Here it is:
Anyway, we decided to try Catimar for the return
and it was a disaster. They weren't waiting for us
at the airport as agreed. I had to call the hotel
and they arrived 30 min after. When we arrived at
the hotel, four guys with guns were robbing the hotel
at the reception desk. They locked the chauffeur in a
closet, the receptionist was sitting on the floor with
the arms in his head. They didn't hurt anyone but took
our purse where we had all our passports. The hotel
owner was helpful and took me to the police station.
However, I missed my flight the next day and had to stay
from Thursday to Tuesday at Caracas to get new passports
Sounds good, huh?
Actually, I haven't written much about Caracas itself, its character or the character of the people. And of course, the two questions everyone has about Venezuela:
1.What about Chavez?
2.Are the girls as pretty as their reputation?
Second question first, it's easier:
While there are some knockouts, it's not most of them. Unlike San Paolo, or Chiang Mai, where your neck dislocates itself on a constant swivel of female beauty, Caracas doesn't make it. In fact, it's one of the few countries (Denmark, is another) where the men are better looking than the women. Check out the photos in this blog. Below are another couple of random people in the crowd. What do you think?
Yeah, there was one girl. (There's always ONE SOMEONE, isn't there?) I just saw her from a distance, at a punk show. A goddess. Never talked to her, but here's her picture:
But this hornifying punkette was a real minority among the female population of Venezuela.
The majority, well, you wouldn't notice 'em in a crowd. Trinidad has 'em beat by a mile... er... kilometer. The girls there... hubba hubba!
Next: we get to the CHAVEZ question. That one's tougher.
I came to Venezuela expecting to like Hugo Chavez. Here is a guy brave enough to call BUSH, the great Satan. He said the U.S. uses “terrorism to fight terrorism.”
He gave free oil to the poor in New England, built hospitals in Nicaragua, had the balls to hug Fidel. What more could you want? Well, it's not so easy.
From what I see, there are two points of view here. One group of people hate the guy. They detest him. Like the world feels about George W.
Inflation is almost 30%. There are hundreds of thousands of poor. I see them at night, pulling open garbage bags in the street, gobbling down what's inside. Rotting fruit. Putrid meat.
I see the barrios. Huge apartment complexes, falling apart. Pieces of concrete tumbling to the ground. How do they live, these people? They breed crime like stagnant water breeds mosquitoes.
Here, a big mac costs $10. This in a country where the minimum wage is about $2 an hour.
The daughter in the family I stay with in Caracas says:.
“The people are easily fooled,” she says. “Chavez makes big promises and people keep believing him. The only answer to Chavez is...”
She makes a fist, then extends the thumb and forefinger, “POW!”
Her position is easy to understand, or at least her feelings.
Besides the awful conditions in the place, she has a personal grudge.
A few years ago, there was a petition. A public letter against some of the more repressive aspects of the Chavez government. She signed that letter. Ever since, she's been denied employment in the government sector. The government controls the oil industry. Her profession? Petroleum Geologist. Long time no work.
There's more: Chavez proposed constitutional changes. They would have given him almost imperial power. He could make laws by decree, overrule the legislature, all kinds of nasty stuff.
The voters rejected the changes. They may like Chavez, but they don't want to make him king. Chavez said he'd accept the will of the people, but later mandated administrative laws that have the same effect as the vetoed constitutional change.
People are outraged.
“NO IS NO!” they say.
I go to a protest against the new laws. Six years ago, anti-Chavez protesters were shot. It wasn't only the police who fired the weapons. Videos show pro-Chavez politicians, including a county executive, lying on their stomachs, firing into the unarmed crowd.
Today's protest is non-violent, though you can see the armed soldiers and plainclothes cops on the periphery of the crowd. Here are some photos:
Chavez has modeled himself on Castro, even down to the artwork on his posters. You see those posters everywhere. Supporting candidates of his party. On propaganda builboards. On cut-out-stencil styles billboards, only red and white, that were so popular among socialists in the 70s.
Here are a few:
I meet my first Chavez supporter in the countryside. Near a corn farm, in a state called Portuguese. (I don't know why. They speak Spanish, just like everybody else.)
The uncle of my couch-surfer host, he doesn't mention Chavez by name, but talks about “great change is coming to the world, just like it came to Venezuela..”
He's optimistic about the changing governments of Latin America, and their increasingly leftist tilt.
“People are ready for change,” he tells me. “Even in America, there will be change. The world is ready for it.”
I shake my head, “No change will come to America, I say, then quote a Trini friend, “America will never elect a black man president. America is a racist country to its core... from its foundation. That won't change.”
[Aside: The general feeling in Venezuela is that Obama will win the election. In Trinidad people believe, as my friend said: America will never elect a black man president.
I am, of course, an Obama supporter. If America doesn't take this chance to reject its racist past, there won't be another chance for a very long time. Every vote NOT for Obama is a racist vote. That man will be the first Democrat I've voted for since George McGovern.
But, I also have no faith in America. Racism is as ingrained in American culture as football. Americans would just as soon vote for a black man as miss the Superbowl. There'll be all kinds of excuses. All kinds of “it's not race, it's the man.” But we know the reality. The Trinis are right. End of Aside]
My second Chavez supporter is a punk rock film maker. He makes documentaries, mostly about poor people. He sees Chavez as a complicated guy.
Chavez has, he agrees, a meglomaniacal streak, especially in his willingness to ignore the popular vote.
But, Chavez has also done a lot of good, he says. Free schooling through high school. Free medical care. An expanded clinic system. Keeping the price of gas to about 15 cents a gallon. State support (medical, financial and social) for people with AIDS.
(That's about $1.00 for 19 liters)
More poor have access to government services than every before. The government guarantees working people 20 paid vacation days a year. Plus sick days. Plus unemployment insurance. Chavez, he says, is not perfect. But he has done a lot of good.
So, opinion, as far as I can see it, goes from hate to luke warm approval. I meet NO fanatical supporters, but that doesn't mean there aren't any. My guess is, there are. Just not in the circles I hang in.
As for me, I'm disappointed. I expected all good. It's not all good.
My opinion has shifted. It's at least more complex than I thought at first. But isn't that the way of the world?
Oh yeah, the rest of the story of my first day... Nope, let it lie. The shit continued... and continued.