Reflections from the First Week in Venezuela

It has been a while since I have written an entry here. I guess I got caught up in living life and forgot about writing about my experiences for people; that and I have been lazy and haven´t scheduled time to write stuff up. I made a few notes about some my political impressions from my first week that I´m going to expand in this entry and I will try to be a bit more regular with the posts. I already have 3 months worth of events to fill people in about, so I will have to get cracking.

One of the things I noticed in my first week in Venezuela was the multitude of free activities. Whether it be, free entry to museums and galleries or dance presentations and music concerts or even sporting events organised by in the local communities, there is always a lot on. I think there are two reasons for that: one is to promote and give access to culture among poor and ordinary people in Venezuela, so that they might have they opportunity to enjoy art and music, and secondly; the events are promoted as alternative to getting involved in drugs and criminal gangs and giving people, especially young people, something else to entertain themselves than doing drugs which given the proximity to Colombia, one of the biggest drug-producing countries in the world, is pretty easy to do, as they are easily accessible and reasonable cheap compared to say Australia. That being said, at the free concerts there are a lot of people who bring their own drinks and also people selling alcohol, as well as some people smoking weed.

Another interesting thing I noticed was the amount of international influences that Venezuela has. For instance, there is a street Avenida México that has two big statues in honour of a couple of Mexican political leaders and I have also seen a statue of José Martí, a leader of the Cuban independence struggle in another area. Part of this could simply be that there are a lot more countries around Venezuela than Australia and also that they speak the same language, Spanish, so it is easier to learn about the different political and cultural figures from other countries. But, I also think that a lot of the internationalism does come from the fact that Simón Bolívar who is the national independence hero of Venezuela (and also in other countries of Latin America) has been used as symbol for the revolution to promote the idea of great homeland of a United Latin America. (Simón Bolívar was instrumental in the liberation of a large part of Latin America from the hands of the Spanish crown, including, Venezuela, Colombia, Panamá (orginally part of Colombia, but separated by the United States) Ecuador, Perú and Bolivia.)

Something else I think Venezuela highlights, is the idea of combined and uneven development. Just to explain this concept briefly, as I´m sure a lot of non-political people have no idea what I´m talking about, it´s the idea that once a certain phenomenon has developed in one area than this development affects the process occurring somewhere else, either it can accelerate if happening again or impede it, depending on the circumstances. For instance, say in your local area if a fish and chip shop opens in the local shopping strip this might impede a second fish and chip shop opening because one already exists and so has most of the customers in the area or in another circumstance maybe there are so many people that want fish and chips that the first shop can´t service them all so a second one might open because there seems to be a lot of money to be made.

Anyway, what I´m trying to say things are very mixed in regards to businesses, buildings, social services etc. You can have a big modern shopping centre, like this one Sambil, in the more well-off part of Caracas, while at the same time you have buhoneros (people selling stuff in the streets) in other areas or having the central, sort of business district of Caracas with vacant builiding or a new cable system that services and goes through the barrios (urban slum/poorer areas) and even a non-existent national postal service in conjunction with 3 private postal services, but many internet cafes.

It´s also interesting to note that the public transport system in Caracas, and I believe also the interstate train system, is being expanded in Venezuela. As I already mentioned, they have already constructed one cable system to the barrios from Parque Central to San Agustín, but in addition to that, they have added a line 4 to the Caracas metro. As well as being in the process of building (or extending) a new line and another cable system connected to the metro system.

Another frequent event I have had is waiting in lines; in general these are usually in either supermarkets or banks and also some government services too (also getting into public concerts). I believe the situation with supermarkets and banks is that a lot more people have money to save or spend and as yet there still isn´t adequate amount of places to deal with the demand of customers, but also the banks are only open til about 3.30pm for the tellers. For the government services, I haven´t really needed to go there, but involves the ridiculous amount of paperwork that people need to have to get things done. There isn´t really an overall identification system or properly formed and integrated national insitutions, even though people have their national identification cards (cedulas), so you need to get multiple proofs of identity to get social security and other things.

The last thing for this post summarising some my political reflections, is that I went to one of the Bicentenario government supermarkets. This chain of supermarkets were taken over from Exito supermarkets a French-Colombian company at the start of this year (January 17) due to speculation and violating workers rights. The security in the store is done by people from the military, probably in case there are attacks on or looting of the store from right-wing forces, but for the most part they mainly play the role of keeping queues in and store in order and one alerted us to the face we need to put a plastic bag on our frozen chicken to stop it dripping on the floor.

The Bicentenario supermarket is one of part the subsidised food distribution network in Venezuela. (check this article from a recent food sovereignty brigade to see an overview ). It sells products from other state food and beverage companies and also provides other products at regulated prices eg meat and cheese, which are roughly 30 to 50 % cheaper than the capitalist enterprices, if they are speculating to make them even more expensive. An interesting example that I noted was a bottle of 2L Coca Cola was about 15 Bolivares in a regular store, but I saw it for 9 Bolivares in Bicentenario.

It seems a lot of the basic foodstuffs that are sold at the regulated prices, go quickly as there seemed to be empty shelves where, the state mayonaise, meat, bread and powdered milk were supposed to be. But might also be the case people go there specifically for those products because those are the ones they spend the most money on as they use them the most.

Source: SJ’s Stories