A glimpse of Venezuela

U.S. made school bus

A small Caribbean Airlines plane quickly gains altitude. Shortly after the takeoff it performs a rapid turnaround in a surprisingly limited space. Twenty minutes after leaving Trinidad I notice scattered islands, green hills and large, two or three thousand meters high peaks on mainland South America. These are the remote territories of north-eastern Venezuela.

The plane lands at the airport just by the Caribbean Sea. I take a bus ride through desolate and mountainous terrain to arrive into the heart of bustling capital. Walking with my backpack in Caracas is quite difficult, especially in a crowded subway.

I find the terminal I was looking for and get on a rickety bus to Turmero. On the way I look at the architecture and landscape. A loud musica latina inside the bus ensures the atmosphere of travel is right in place.

In Turmero I get to know Selene and her family. It is my first experience of an incredible hospitality and an openness of a Venezuelan family. Thanks to Selene in the course of a few days I manage to get somewhat acclimatized and partly switch from English to Spanish.

Traveling through Venezuela gives a great opportunity to talk to people about everything. Be it politics, recipes or the air temperature in the mountains.

What people say

Life in Andean villages goes on with no rush

Hugo Chavez is an intelligent and incredibly charismatic figure. Using these advantages he runs a strong propaganda to influence mindset of an average citizen. I manage to get to know people standing on both sides of the political camp.

Supporters are so-called chavistas. It’s not just people working for the government, or those who have the influence. It is also the labor class, who appreciate the President, for example, just because the fuel is cheap. People also trust him, because he helped them, when foreign banks have become insolvent. Hugo gave people the money, de facto causing inflation. Government staff is well-off and some of the pure populist policies are addressed directly to the poorest.

The opponents of the President form a much more numerous group. They criticize him for lack of actions towards the general welfare. He keeps on promising a lot, but the actual profits from the policy usually go only to a handful of interested parties. First of all it is sub-optimal distribution of investments, difficulties in running private sector and no support for entrepreneurs creating new jobs.

The new act of eviction is an another example. According to this, once a tenant becomes insolvent, a landlord has no right to evict him. Consequences? On the bus I met a man who has a building with nine apartments, but all of them are empty, simply because he is afraid to rent them out.

Individual observations

Venezuelan gasoline is nearly one hundred times cheaper than Coca-Cola

Apparently, petrol in Venezuela is extremely cheap. Such was my initial observation, when I saw the price of about 10 cents per liter. Then I looked again and realized that I had looked wrong at the number of zeros. The gasoline costing here about 1 cent per liter makes the price of a full tank roughly equal to a half-liter bottle of Coca-Cola.

That cheap petrol results in countless giants, a super non-economical gas-guzzlers from as early as 60s crowding Venezuelan roads and polluting the air with no remorse. No one really cares if the car consumes 5, 10 or 25 liters.

Another time, somewhere in the Andes, I experienced a certain situation. I’m sitting with two friends on a bench in a park and shortly after siesta, a man with brush and a box of paint appears. There are four benches, but he asks us to move, because he has to start painting exactly from the bench we are sitting on! This is a state employee.

I went to barber’s not only out of necessity, but also out of curiosity to see the quality of private sector services. A fully comprehensive haircut, trimming beard, hair washing and shaving with a razor costs here about $5. An individual and professional approach cause a smile on both face of a barber and a satisfied customer.

I happen to meet attempts of extorting bribes, but this takes place in a different, less straightforward way than, for example, in the Congo. Thus, the level of overt corruption in Venezuela is closer to European than African standards.

Even apart from the Venezuela’s main assets, being the natural beauty and diverse nature, it is still a very interesting country. There are many phenomena to which Europeans might not be used to. These are street vendors, innovative cuisine, smiling glimpses at the tourists, a soldier with a machine gun checking documents at random or people hopping on and off a bus on the move with doors wide open.

December 2011

venezuela