Thursday, April 12, 2007

A view of Venezuela from the up escalator 

These days poorly researched and error riddled anti-Chavez newspaper articles are a dime a dozen. I’ve long since given up on commenting on them as that be all this blog would be about. Besides, the new kid on the block, BoRev.net, seems to have the media scene well under control.

However, in doing some research I ran across an article that is so poorly written, so hyleriously absurd, just so plain stupid that once I got over laughing I had to wonder what the deal was with the person who wrote it. Typing under the influence maybe?

Anyways, it would be unfair not to share the laughter so here we go:

Venezuela is Libya Twenty Years Ago

If newspaper inches and TV airspace are any indication of national success, Venezuela and its president Hugo Chávez are doing great. Recently, Chávez quite deliberately shadowed George W. Bush, country by neighboring country during his visit to Latin America, taunting the “little gentleman from the north,” and calling for the “Gringo to go home.” In both the U.S. and South America, some pundits saw Bush’s trip as an attempt to counter spreading Chávismo.
Chávez should have stayed home where there’s a disaster brewing. His country is developing a striking resemblance to the Libya of 20 years ago, when that oil-rich country practically starved. Back then, another firebrand revolutionary was eager to rally his people – in the name of Pan-Arabism, rather than Chávez’s Pan-Latinism. Muammar al-Qaddafi was exporting revolution, wearing the anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, ever popular anti-American mantle.

What is it with these comparisons to Castro, Mugabe, and now Qaddafi? It would seem, the more elections Chavez wins the more determined his opponents become to paint him as a dictator. “Maybe if we say it enough it will come to be” – is that the thinking?

But the best part is there is “a disaster brewing”?!?!? Wow, sounds serious. The guy has my attention.

But the similarities reach far beyond ideology.
As was the case in Libya, while its leader prances around in symbolic outfits and poses, Venezuela is falling apart. After eight years in power, Chávez has yet to use his country’s huge oil revenues to invest in infrastructure. And at the same time capital, both foreign and local, is either fleeing or being ejected. It takes no more than a day in Venezuela to see the problems.

No investment in infrastructure? Damn, does that mean these trains really are imaginary after all? Come to think of it, all these things sure looked like they might have been photoshopped.

Serously though, wonder how Mr. Economides could have missed them all? Maybe seeing Venezuela takes more than a day after all.

I had not visited the country in several years, and although I had heard the claims of the anti-Chávez crowd, I saw the situation for myself. The similarities to a Libya visit I made almost exactly 20 years ago were eerie. Upon my arrival at the Caracas airport, the up escalator was out of order – making it tough to carry heavy luggage to the next floor. On my attempted flight to Maracaibo, the airport gate signs were active but none was even remotely accurate, neither for destination nor time. Gate assignments were changing by word of mouth. Announcements were made only in Spanish, again echoes of the Arabic-only announcements at the Tripoli airport then.

The airport sounds in bad shape. Indeed it is. The 1970s era drab and aging concrete structure would turn anyone off. Oops, wrong tense. See the Chavez government recently rebuilt the airport so that, at least to an unsophisticated person like me, it looks nice and spiffy. Hell, it even has a T.G.I.F. restaraunt.

The above pictures notwithstanding the escalator not functioning certainly is disconcerting. It was when I went to the local shopping mall and noticed that one of the escalators wasn’t working that I finally realized the U.S. was in an irreversible state of decline under Bush. I think you can tell everything you need to know about a country by the state of its escalators.

Now, Venezuelans speaking spanish all the time - THAT is a problem. I could almost forgive Chavez all his failures on the crime problem if he would just get the bastards to speak english.

I asked about an ATM machine and the airline agent looked at me with incredulity. “You want to change dollars?” And then and there he offered me 3,000 Bolivars to the dollar, way above the official 2,150. Soon I found out he had actually short-changed me. The going rate is 4,000 and last month went as high as 5,000.
While the official inflation rate is 20 percent, it is probably a lot higher. For food items, especially staples such as sugar, milk and meat, it is at least double that. Food shortages and the ubiquitous lines, often created by rumors, spring up everywhere. The government, in denial, exacerbates the situation by mandating price controls to “help” the people.
Chicken is supposed to sell for $3 per kilogram but one cannot find any at that price. Paying the gouging $10 per kilogram is the only way to get one, my random co-passenger in the airplane explained. Food production in the country has all but died and food is imported mostly from Argentina and the hated United States.

Too bad for him he missed the roaring 90’s. If he was impressed with 20% inflation he would have been blown away with the 100% inflation.

BTW, I did kind of get concerned about the chicken story – until I noticed it came second hand from the random rich person sitting next to him on the plane. What an idiot. Doesn’t he realize that person has almost certainly never bought a chicken in their whole pampered life? His maid does all that kind of dirty work for him.

As to the price – sounds like the rich sucker is getting fleeced by his maid. You go girl!

En route from the Maracaibo airport, the highway is decrepit, the victim of maintenance neglect, a far cry from its condition just five years ago.

Interesting. Everytime I’ve been to Zulia the roads seemed fine. In any event, I guess his handlers forgot to tell him that the person who would be responsible for the roads there is one of Chavez’s top opponents and in fact ran against him in the presidential campaign. Poor guy, he seems to have never known where he was.

To be sure, the Chávez personality cult is everywhere. Practically every billboard, from soccer tournaments to commercial projects, beams his face. He is president, revolutionary, but also a Latin dandy. I had hopes that checking into the venerable Del Lago hotel, for years a city landmark and run by the Intercontinental chain, would offer a reprieve from the day’s earlier impressions, but these evaporated quickly. I was informed that “a truck ran into the phone lines” and that we would have neither telephone nor Internet “until Tuesday.” And that’s when I found out that the hotel is now under management by Venetur, Venezuela’s new national tourist agency. This was too much, because the “truck” (I am not making this up) had also destroyed the phone lines of my Libyan hotel 20 years ago.

Don’t worry my friend, after this article I would NEVER think you would make anything up. Really, I’ve never read a more credible piece of journalism – NOT. So I’m not all that worried all those beautiful bikini clad women hawking beer have been plastered over with pictures of a fat dictator.

That’s the problem with revolutionary fervor everywhere. It has a historically nasty habit of not being able to feed people. In Venezuela’s case, $75 oil can plaster over crying needs and allow a lot of pompous puffery. Declining prices, even slightly declining ones, could bring even more misery, exactly as they did in Libya in the 1980s.

Personally if a person can’t even open their eyes and see what is going around them I’m not sure I’m going to put much credence in their sweeping generalizations. But thanks for the laughs!

I’m sorry you probably didn’t learn much from this post. But it is nice to have a good laugh once in a while and at least for me this sure did provide one.


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