Friday, July 14, 2006

Gringo in Venezuela 

Recently I updated my links to include some good sites. One in particular I would like people to take note of is written by an American living Merida - it is aptly named Gringo in Venezuela. It's a very worthwhile site that I hope everyone takes the time to visit. In the blog section of his website he has very interesting first hand observations on Venezuela ranging from the "student" riots at the University of the Andes which he gives an excellent first hand report on to his very perceptive observations on a recent trip to Caracas which I post in part below:

This weekend I spent a little time in Caracas. The experience was amazing and shocking; a city completely divided and shaped by its immense inequality. The capital city of Venezuela, Caracas represents the pinnacle of a society that is at war with itself. The class divisions are sharp in Venezuela, and in Caracas these divisions are seen the clearest. Those who are included by the economic system are constantly threatened by those who are excluded, and the excluded majority keeps searching for a way to take a larger part of what should belong to them.

The world capitalist system functions in way so that there is a center, and a periphery. The center of the system, North America and Europe, lives in affluence with an abundance of wealth and resources, while the rest of the world lives on the outskirts of this economic system, with overwhelming poverty and scarcity. The countries on the periphery have one basic purpose in this system; to provide raw materials to the center. The center uses these raw materials to manufacture goods which they overwhelmingly consume in the center (45% of the world's resources are consumed by the United States, which has only 5% of the world's population). The goods are also exported to the rest of the world, but only for those who can afford to buy them.


The city is basically divided into two halves. The eastern half is where the middle and upper classes live, with affluent lifestyles very similar to those in the first world. The western half, where the poor majority lives, is an unorganized mess of barrios, with makeshift housing stacked one on top of the other as far as the eye can see. And the west side is so feared, that residents of the east side refuse to even enter it. I waved down a taxi in the east side, and asked the driver if he could take me on a tour of the west side. His face got serious, and he tried to understand why in the world I would want a tour of that mess! At first he refused, telling me that it was too dangerous. They could pull a gun on him and take his car from him. Anything could happen. But then, for an extremely inflated rate, he agreed to take me on a limited tour. However, once in the west side, he refused to go deeper into the barrios where I wanted to go. He turned around before getting too far, and returned to the east side. It's a good thing, because as we were stopped in traffic, a man reached in the window of the taxi and snatched away my camera. The taxi driver was glad they didn't pull a gun and steal his car from him.

But, as much as the east side fears and despises the west side poor, they live relatively safe from it. Deep in the east side the city is quite safe and secure, and people live life isolated from the real problems of the majority. They drive the latest flashy cars, live in modern apartments, and even shop and extravagant, U.S.-style sho pping centers. Life is pretty good, wealth is relatively abundant, and they don't see many reasons for fundamental changes in the system. The problems of the poor majority aren't their problems, and so solutions to these problems don't really interest them. And, in reality, the changes required to solve the problems of the poor majority, would require the elite upper class to lose some of their privileges. But, after 500 years of this unfair economic system, the necessary changes aren't likely to happen. Unless, of course, some crazy guy from the poor side becomes president, and they lose their control of the political system! That is exactly what has happened, and its no mystery why, in the east side, there is abundant hate for President Chavez.


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