The (Un)Desired Privatization

In this delivery of "Tales of Resistance," Jessica Dos Santos talks about privatization creeping into the economy and popular consciousness.

A couple of years back, I used to write for an economy blog and my colleagues would go on and on about an imminent privatization wave that would sweep everything or almost: transportation, services, productive companies, etc.

I used to naively brush it off. How could they think that? We, the people, would never allow it, under absolutely no circumstances. We were talking about undoing a key policy of the Bolivarian Revolution.

They used to argue that we wouldn’t even notice it. In fact, everything would be so perfectly lined up (or collapsed) that we would even clamor for market dynamics to take over.

“Like we’re idiots!” I thought to myself. This discussion came back to me a couple of weeks ago when I found myself stranded. The timing chain in my car had its last breath and I had to leave it in the shop while wondering how on earth to pay for the work.

I then realized I had no fucking way to get back home.

The last time I rode the Caracas metro, the train was an oven, it screeched against the tracks throwing sparks all over the place. It sounded like an explosion. That day I swore I wouldn’t use it again, even if it meant walking halfway across town.

I know millions of Caracas residents have surely vowed likewise, but their routines or the lack of alternatives have forced them to continue braving the delays, breakdowns, short-circuits, derailments and other surprises from our roller-coaster of a subway.

Meanwhile, urban transportation options (buses) are scarcer and in worse conditions than ever. “I take one of those and I’ll get Covid in the best-case scenario,” I thought as I saw them pass by super full of people.

Running out of options, I got into a shop and downloaded a private transportation app. One of those that everyone is always talking about but which I’d never dared to try.

The ride from where I was to my place cost US $2.4. In comparison, a bus ride would have cost me 50 cents and a subway ride maybe 5 cents.

So, “confirm trip?”, the cell phone screen asked. Confirmed it is, my dear. While I waited for the driver, I sent my “live location” to three friends. Because after all, in the subway or a bus if something bad happens it’ll happen to everyone. This was different.

To my surprise, the car was quite fancy. The air conditioning was working, even the music was good. The driver was quite friendly and in less than 15 minutes I was home.

During the ride I found out that there are also private buses with their own app. “We’re the mobile alternative for people who are tired of cash shortages, fuel queues and heavily deteriorated buses,” the service’s ad read. I’m pretty sure lots of companies use this service for their employees.

There I was, going up to my apartment filled with joy after having found out several options to avoid public transportation. “I don’t care if they are ten times more expensive. I’ll find some way of paying for it if it means avoiding the chaos that has taken over Caracas public transportation,” I thought to myself.

Just then I recalled the conversations with my former workmates and the positive feeling vanished. I wanted to call them and admit: damn it, you were right. Even I found myself hailing privatization without realizing it.

In fact, every time the internet connection breaks down at my place I’ll be cursing inside: “for fuck’s sakes, give this telecomms company to Mendoza, Cisneros (high profile businessmen), to the Chinese, the Russians, whomever, as long as this will work!” I won’t share my thoughts whenever there are power outages. And I’m sure countless others go through the same process.

After all, the prophecy has been fulfilled. Everything is in such a dire condition as a result of the sanctions and corruption/inefficiency cocktail in state firms, that we begin to clamor for any solution, even if it means going against what we defended for years.

In my case, having fought passionately for quality public transportation, now I find myself avoiding it at all costs and even cheering for any uber-like alternative.

There’s another story that made me think. A few months ago, a group of campesinos protested in a paralyzed sugar mill in Portuguesa state. The plant had been handed to a private businessman under a “strategic alliance” but wasn’t working and the campesinos had their harvests endangered.

In a video published on social media, the group’s spokeswoman demanded answers from the government and the regional governorship, calling on them “to find another private investor” for the mill. In other words, she didn’t propose that the state manage it once again, even less so that workers and campesinos take control.

It might be that the yankee blockade will not ultimately succeed in overthrowing the government. But if along the way we surrender to the market’s whims and go back to believing that only the private sector can do things properly, is that not a defeat?

Not everything can be fixed by apps and investors. Public transportation and sugar mills require state-led, collective solutions that will work for the majority. In the “every man/woman for him/herself” world we know who always gets left behind.

Jessica Dos Santos is a Venezuelan university professor, journalist and writer whose work has appeared in outlets such as RT, Épale CCS magazine and Investig’Action. She is the author of the book “Caracas en Alpargatas” (2018). She’s won the Aníbal Nazoa Journalism Prize in 2014 and received honorable mentions in the Simón Bolívar National Journalism prize in 2016 and 2018.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.

Translated by Venezuelanalysis.