The Venezuela Enantiadromia
What never ceases to amaze me is how one can look and not see, listen, and not hear, that which is visible and audible. I went to the supermarket a few days ago and noticed that the shelves were full. Everything was very expensive, but I found what I was looking for. I returned to Colibri and reported I didn't know what everyone was talking about when they discussed shortages. All I saw were full shelves.
I should have known better, having lived in Nicaragua in the `80s. One would think that experience would have made me more observant. In particular one image sticks in my mind from that experience: a supermarket with a whole aisle of Worcester sauce, an item no one in Nicaragua probably had ever even tried.
Today I told Humberto I was going shopping and he asked if I could pick up toilet paper. Sure. No problem.
I went into Yuan Yin and asked where the toilet paper was and was told by an employee whose job it was to scrape gum off the floor with a long-handled scraper, "no hay." I immediately began looking for napkins. There were two brands, located near dairy where cartons of yogurt "hecho en socialismo" competed with the Táchira "capitalist" brand, and both brands populated the front of long shelves that were nearly bare behind the display.
Suddenly, my eyes opened as I walked down the aisle of mayonnaise, a long row of jars punctuated by a stack of pasta, and turning down another aisle of more mayonnaise and mustard, the other side of that aisle bare but for random bottles of salsas, soy sauce and, of course, Worcester sauce.
Last night I met Marco at a mall a few blocks from Colibri. I invited him to chinese food which was mediocre at best, but a relief from the usual fare of meat, rice, yucca or plantain.
Marco joined the Venezuelan Communist Party when he was sixteen. He went into the military where he served in military intelligence until 1993.
"You were in the military when the coup happened," I noted.
"What did you think of the coup?"
"I supported it. After the bloodshed in '89, the Caracazo, most of us did."
I paused. "That was Carlos Andres Perez, wasn't it? Acción Democrática. Part of the Socialist International..."
Marco nodded. The irony wasn't lost on him. "Exactly. In fact Cuban intelligence informed Pérez that a coup was in place as he was returning that night." The irony wasn't lost on me.
"Cuban intelligence has always played a complex, dual role here in Venezuela. Just like the United States. It's interesting how so many these days scream about US interventionism and interference, but what other country has allowed its sovereignty to be trampled on, opening its arms to a foreign government and allowing it to come in and direct policy as we have with Cuba?"
Marco draws a circle with his finger on the table. "So a movement starts here and it comes around and then becomes what it opposed in the first place."
"That's a Greek idea. It's known in Greek philosophy and drama as "enantiadromia" and it's based on the Chinese idea of yin/yang, that anything reaching its conclusion turns into its opposite."
"Yes, that's what's happened with Venezuela, all this resistance to US imperialism has turned into a wholesale selling off of the country to China and Russia, and other international capitalist countries, and turning the direction of the country over to Cuba."
I prod him. "My friends in the US, my wife in particular, would ask, `well, why would you want to invite back US imperialism back into the country in the form of Capriles?' How would you respond to that?"
Marco smiles. "I told you I voted `nulo' (no one, null). But really, on one hand you have an increasingly authoritarian variety of so-called `leftists' who are on a witch-hunt against anyone who disagrees with them. They're destroying the nationalized industries, and selling them off to the Chinese and Russians, as you're discovering in Prat's book (see below; this was on Marco's recommended reading list). They're destroying national capitalist enterprises that are the source of jobs for the people. They're giving small subsidies to people to buy their loyalty. They're buying up television stations, and have control of radio all over the country, where they broadcast their propaganda. Who would you rather go up against? Them or Capriles. We could deal with Capriles, and keep him in line. But these people don't listen to us. They're arrogant and cynical and utterly corrupt."
"I'm sure my wife will also want to know how the left plans to organize an opposition."
Marco shrugs. "We'll see if it manages to mount an opposition."
We move down the hall to find a quiet place to talk. Everything is closing at 8:30. We sit down for a few minutes.
Marco tells me he's been recently threatened with death.
"By whom," I ask.
He shrugs. "I don't know. The Tupamaros, I think. But they don't say who they are."
"What are you going to do?" I asked.
He smiles wryly. "I take a `zen' attitude toward it."
I think of the Tupas I know. They don't seem like killers, but then again, I never could have imagined Chavistas chasing down people in the opposition and beating them up and throwing rocks at them.
In the morning I pass by the Yuan Lin supermarket on my way to buy my daily newspapers and, while a truck unloads packages of wheat for arepas, I glance inside to see long lines, lines that, on my return, are out the door and nearly a half-block long. Customers are emerging from the store with two bags full of bags of flour. I ask an elderly woman how long there's been no flour to make the Venezuelan staple, the arepa. "A week," she reports.
Later Arturo comes by to look at the movie. We leave and I tell him about the line out the store and he nods. "I have to get some flour today. And toothpaste. There's no toothpaste and I'm down to just a little bit," he says, indicating with his finger a small amount. "And there's no toilet paper either," I add. He nods. "Right."
"I bought napkins yesterday," I said.
"Yes, I have to buy some today," he says.
The government is "militarizing" Corpoelec, the national electricity company today, stationing military in installations to guard them against "vandalism and sabotage." The measure was announced by vice president Jorge Arreaza, while Jesse Chacon announced conservation measures for the state to undertake.
Damian Prat has a different take in his column today in Correo del Caroní. The author of "Guayana: The Reversed Miracle," a book detailing the Bolivarian government's destruction of national industry under President Hugo Chavez, Prat sees the current situation as a political ploy by Maduro, "a `McCarthyist' campaign of persecution of the workers accusing them of phantasmal acts of `sabotage.' That's the government's way of avoiding responsability for the black-outs, the disguised rationing and the disastrous electrical service. He talks about the four thermo-electric plants that were bought at a price of millions to deal with the problems in 2010. "Millions of dollars and bolívares were spent and the plants never functioned." At least the two he mentions, one of which was painted red and the other that wasn't even painted. They didn't so much as provide enough power to "light a light bulb." "They were announced by Chavez himself, by Alí Rodríguez, the cabinet where Maduro and Jaua sat [now President and Foreign Minister, respectively] and then-Minister [Rodolfo] Sanz, to be producing 800 MW in a few months that Sidor would use, and also free an equal amount of MW... toward the National Electric System."
Prat, it should be clear by now, comes out of the Movement toward Socialism that is in the opposition (one part is with the PSUV). He goes on to write, "Persecuting workers, sowing terror, laying-off workers. That's what they're announcing. All this to hide the irresponsibility. Even the Chavista union leaders repudiate this ugly maneuver. For weeks they've rejected these accusations firmly and with clear arguments. They've said what we all know already: the cause of the problem is the absence of any investment or maintenance; the causes are the pathetic directors and the high officials put in office by the government; the poor state of many substations and installations in the cities. And we would add: for the nearly zero real investments (much money, the whereabouts of which is unknown) in generation plants and national transmission lines. For the destruction of Edelca, EDC, and Cadafe in the super-bureaucratic monster, Corpoelec, summa cum laude in inefficiency."
I'm half-way through Prat's book and it's a shocking tale of corruption, inefficiency, ideologized ineptitude, neo-Soviet bureaucracies characterized by servility to "El Comandante" who, according to Prat, has the Midas touch in reverse as he turns productive national industries into dust as soon as he nationalizes them. Just one example, SIDOR, mentioned above, the steel company nationalized in 2008. In 2007 it was a healthy company, producing 4.3 thousand tons of liquid steel. By last year it had been reduced to less than half that, 1.7 thousand tons. And SIDOR is the rule, not the exception. Any Spanish-reader interested in learning the story of the smothering of Plan Socialista Guayana (Socialist Guayana Plan) by its "visionaries" should read Prat's book.