U.S. Embassy Leak on the Taste of Venezuelan Socialism

While browsing the cables this morning I stumbled upon a cute morsel of information relating to Venezuela and released by WikiLeaks yesterday. The Subject title of the cable is “Making Socialism Easier to Swallow,” and focuses on "Arepera Socialista," the first large-scale chain of restaurants run by the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (GBRV).

By Chris Spannos - ZNet
Short URL

While WikiLeaks’ has released almost 1,300 U.S. embassy cables to-date, journalists, commentators, and analysts comb through the data attempting the daunting task of finding what is important from the quarter-million cable cache.

As I skim the cables daily, looking for my own interests, occasionally my curiosity is piqued by cable Subjects or Origins. So far, those who have sieved through the trove of diplo-speak have found some important bombshells, such as the revelation about Shell Oil’s self-serving infiltration of various bureaucratic levels of the Nigerian government.

While browsing the cables this morning I stumbled upon a cute morsel of information relating to Venezuela and released by WikiLeaks yesterday. The Subject title of the cable is “Making Socialism Easier to Swallow,” and focuses on "Arepera Socialista," the first large-scale chain of restaurants run by the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (GBRV).

Running a quick Google search on "Arepera Socialista” makes me think that there is nothing in the “Confidential” cable that is not already widely known in the Spanish speaking world. However, English speakers may not be aware of the chain or why it exists simply because of the language barrier.

Additionally, the cable does not contain any nefarious information, as far as I can tell. Although, it does retain the expected doses of cynicism about the Bolivarian process from a U.S. government’s perspective, such as the final claim that the chain is an “easy way to promote the benefits of ‘socialism’ to [Chavez’] electoral base before the September [2010] legislative elections.

So, given that the cable is not revealing of anything that is not already known, nor is it an exposé of U.S. imperialism or wide-spread systemic abuse, you may wonder what my interest was. Well, I guess, my only explanation is that, for me, it contained only a very few positive “revelations” about the Bolivarian Revolution underway and made for an interesting read over my morning coffee. Hence this short blog.

At first I thought about summarizing the bits and pieces that I found interesting, however, I think the cable speaks for itself. So below is the full cable, made presentable only for this blog (the original with all the meta-data is linked from the Cable ID below):

Making Socialism Easier to Swallow

(Cable ID: 10CARACAS43, Created on: 2010-01-19 12:12, Classified: CONFIDENTIAL, Origin: Embassy Caracas)

 1. (C) Summary: President Chavez made socialism taste better with the December 22 opening of a "socialist arepera" serving Venezuelan-style tortillas at a fraction of their usual price. The "Arepera Socialista" is planned to be the first of a chain of Venezuelan government (GBRV) restaurants run by the Ministry of Commerce. This restaurant is the GBRV's latest effort at setting up alternatives to the private market, branding national symbols, like the "arepa," as part of the Bolivarian Revolution, and providing tangible benefits to its electoral base before the September legislative elections. End Summary. 

Socialism's Tangible - and Tasty -- Benefits

2. (U) President Chavez opened the "Arepera Socialista" with much fanfare on December 22, advertising its low price and high quality as symbolic of the benefits of his socialist revolution. (Note: "Arepas" are a Venezualan-style thick cornmeal tortilla usually used for a type of sandwich. End Note.) The restaurant, located in a lower middle class neighborhood of Caracas, serves "arepas" for about a fourth of their regular price. It is currently only open during weekday mornings, although there are plans to extend its hours, add coffee and fresh juice to its menu, and open two new locations in working class neighborhoods.

3. (SBU) On a January 8 visit, EmbOffs witnessed a long line of people waiting to get into the restaurant but surprisingly rapid service. Inside, one wall was dominated by a quote in large red lettering from Simon Bolivar: "The best system of government is that which produces the greatest happiness." An employee managing the line said the restaurant served 1,200 customers per day. One man in line said he worked in the neighborhood and came every day since the food was excellent and cheap.  

Money is Secondary in Socialist Restaurants

4. (U) According to Minister of Commerce Eduardo Saman, people can count on low prices at the "arepera socialista" because the ingredients come from government-owned companies and other products, such as boxed juices, come from government-owned companies. Saman claimed the prices were sufficient to cover the store's operating costs. He also announced on December 23 that a chain of "Arepera Socialista" restaurants would be opened throughout Venezuela as part of the Socialist Market Cooperatives run by the Ministry of Commerce. Saman himself worked at the restaurant on December 24; other Ministry of Commerce employees were "volunteering" at the restaurant on the day of the Emboffs' visit. About 30 people work at the restaurant.

4. (U) Besides the price, Saman highlighted another key difference between socialist and capitalist "arepera": customers pay only after eating, while "in fast food chains . . . they only think about money." In the "Arepera Socialista," the cash register is in a corner of the room and customers pay only after eating, self-reporting how many of the "arepas" they ate.

Comment: Let Them Eat Arepas

5. (C) Facing high inflation, electricity and water rationing, and failing public services, Chavez may see the "arepera socialista" as a relatively quick and easy way to promote the benefits of "socialism" to his electoral base before the September legislative elections. The challenge will be meeting demand without raising the subsidized price or cutting quality.