On Saturday, at around 10 AM, we got to the meeting point. As soon as he climbed into this rare, wonderful and fascinating artefact called a car, which carried three friends from Caracas, Gerardo, who lives in La Carucieña, the largest barrio in Barquisimeto [Lara State], decided to grant us a five minute moratorium. Before engaging us he wanted to be sure the car really moved, that we had really been able to fill the tank with gas, that it was not a stunt, a sick joke we were playing on him.
Gerardo had once thought he would never see the inside of a car again. A few blocks later, after allowing himself to enjoy the wonderful experience, feeling the soft and delicious breeze from the air conditioner on his face, he went at us, mercilessly, with an unmatchable, foolproof sharpness.
He asked us whether we had problems with Internet connection in Caracas. A bit puzzled, we told him the service worked, but that it failed frequently, it was slow and, to top it all off, in recent days it had collapsed for a few hours in some areas and for a couple of days in others. Unable to contain his laughter, he told us that Miguel, his oldest son, was keeping track of how long they had been without Internet at home: nine weeks. He told us his plan: once they got to nine and a half weeks they would celebrate by watching the homonymous movie, nevermind that Miguel is not old enough to watch it. The occasion warrants it.
The problem, he went on, is the electricity service. He asked us how the situation was in Caracas. We told him it rarely falters, except in a few places such as Ciudad Tiuna or Caricuao, nobody knows why. He explained something we partially knew, since we have friends and family in Lara State, but it is one thing to hear it from others and another to live through it: almost all of Barquisimeto is without power for twelve hours, sometimes more, sometimes less, every day. We can thus talk of a certain regularity, even though it is practically impossible to know when it will be gone, and even less so when it will return. The exception was the president’s visit to the city recently: that day service was uninterrupted. Far from celebrating it, most of the people were uneasy the whole day, expecting the imminent power cut. Nightfall came and power was still on, stubbornly. They went to bed worried about what would come the next day. But let us get back on track: the point is that, in the current circumstances, it is impossible to know whether they will be able to watch the movie when the time comes.
Power is eventually back on, but they still have no Internet access, and the landline at home has not worked for a while. This last bit is not as important. Almost everyone has a mobile phone, even if they become ever less smart. There is no Internet on the laptop, but with power and a data plan one can browse a little bit. The problem, of course, is that to use cell phones one must be able to charge them. Anyway, one step at a time, we must be smart, patient, see the glass as half full and not half empty, because that is what pessimists do.
The detail is that water supply is awful. In other words, water is very seldom available in La Carucieña. With that in mind, we understand that it is impossible to fill any glass, and thus we imagine it half full. We can bank on that: popular imagination and creativity are never in short supply.
For some strange reason, Gerardo did not ask us if we had water in Caracas. Rather, he wanted to know about our cooking gas situation. And yes, in Caracas there is an endless number of places with issues, but none of us in the car suffered from it. He called us privileged. He burst into laughter again, and told us that in the barrio people have been cooking with firewood for a while now. Sometimes several families come together to use the stove. Since it is not easy to find firewood they cannot afford to not take advantage of the fire. He confessed that several times he has had to face the dilemma between burning green and humid wood, which generates an almost unbearable smoke, or burn the furniture and books at home. When he assured us that his library had shrunk in half, we suspected he was exaggerating, but were left wondering.
We complained more than once that we, his dear friends from Caracas, were the victims of all his resentment. Amidst generalized laughter, we demanded he think of the people in states such as Táchira, Zulia, Delta Amacuro. He replied, this time in all seriousness, that the people there are always in his thoughts: you cannot imagine what it is like to live in a town or city on the border, so far away from the capital, yet so close to everyday tragedy.
When we got to Sarare [also in Lara State], we told several friends in common about what we had been told during the trip. As if relieved, even happy, our friends from Sarare told us that at least the electricity service had become a bit more regular. What never arrived were the CLAP [subsidized food] boxes. So far in 2019, it only arrived when they also had the good fortune of hosting, at the same time, a member of the [ruling party] PSUV’s national leadership. That was all it took: Gerardo went off in detail about the irregularity of the CLAP in La Carucieña, while the people from Sarare told us about the constant sabotage against the communal company responsible for delivering cooking gas in the municipality, or about the time when the town lost power and the mayor took his family to a hotel with an electrical generator, and it was as if we were back to where we had started.
In the evening, without losing his good spirits for an instant, Gerardo commented that a large part of the popular discontent with the awful public services was perfectly digestible, even understandable: lots of people know that, at least in part, what they are suffering is a result of a war on the people, that there is a direct relation between imperialist sanctions and day-to-day problems. Crushing popular spirits is the goal. What is completely intolerable, he explained, beyond the corruption of some officials in public service companies, is the government’s inconsistency. The fact that, in general, the relevant officials do not assume their responsibilities, do not offer explanations or information, but most of all do not walk side by side with the people. What bothers them the most is not to feel unprotected, but alone. A popular solitude which contrasts with an official discourse peppered with references to the “protection” of the people.
Gerardo is without a doubt a lucky man: the next day, after stocking up in El Maizal Commune’s shop (something which Gerardo furiously complained about, as these caraqueños had the nerve of coming to buy cheaper stuff in Sarare), in spite of everything he had put us through, we gave him a ride home. Ok, not home, until Avenida Vargas. We left him there as punishment, so he would have to take the bus, or as they say in Barquisimeto, the route to La Carucieña.
When we were halfway back, he sent us a Whatsapp message: he had gotten home, everything was fine. I replied: “Ah, so you found transportation and have power. Stop complaining. Ungrateful!”
This is the twelfth installment of a series of texts by Venezuelan writer and theorist Reinaldo Iturriza. Follow the links for the previous texts: part I, part II, part III, part IV, part VI, part VII, part VIII, part IX, part XI.
Translated by Ricardo Vaz for Venezuelanalysis.com.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.