“Us”: The New Class / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Poleo

”There is no bread for lack of flour.” Commodities that are scarce in Venezuela are sold illegally on the Petare black market. (Twitter)
”There is no bread for lack of flour.” Commodities that are scarce in Venezuela are sold illegally on the Petare black market. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rolando Polea, Caracas, 15 September 2016 — It’s 6:00 am on June 28, I drive slowly along the Panamerican highway, my view lost before the long line of people in shelters between the fog, the drizzle and hunger. Pressing up against each other as if for warmth. Almost a mile separates the last person in line from the entrance to the supermarket. It is the same image as the previous day. Everyone is waiting for the store to open so they can buy any regulated product that arrives, no one knows what, nor do they know how many they will be able to buy, much less if any product will show up at all.

And the agents of Venezuela’s “Bolivarian” National Guard have arrived, dressed in their usual olive-green uniforms and some Robocop protectors, who with rifles, helmets and shields, monitor the line. continue reading

I step in front of the closed door of the supermarket, flanked by the big truck of the anti-riot troops, only to notice that on the other side, extending for about 700 yards, is another line made up of the elderly. Many young people among them, these are the “liner-uppers,” family members, grandchildren, children and people who hold other people’s places.

It’s hard to get rid of that metallic taste left by the “shedding” of dignity.

Suddenly my mind, which strives to focus on the road and the radio to forget the tastelessness, is dejected by a call to the radio station, a complaint, from a lady who speaks, more words, less words, warning about the irresponsible favoritism of the officials charged with the sale and control of regulated products, allowing certain categories of public officials – like firefighters, doctors or security agents – to go ahead of the other public employees, a situation that doesn’t seem fair.

Almost immediately a “public official” calls the radio station, specifically a firefighter, to call the lady’s attention to the fact that his work saving lives and the long shifts make it impossible “to stand in line for 10 hours” to buy the regulate products of the basic market basket, and he demands that the woman complaining have some “understanding and civility.”

In the space of hardly a breath, the newscaster takes another call in which a “public employee” takes the firefighter to task, insisting he recognize that the difference between “officials” and “public employees” is governed by an internal scale in the government structures, but that eventually “everyone has the same right”…

The diatribe ends with the silence of the newscaster, and then a brief, “There you have a complaint for the authorities to consider,” followed by music, just music. What more can be added.

I think that in the midst of this whole string of unhappy complaints it’s worth remembering the public employees who, while a firefighter, police office or even a Bolivarian National Guard, work long and arduous shifts, whether saving us or repressing others, they simply, for the most part, “suck lives.”

Amid the government inefficiencies, there are some few employees or officials whose mystique and honesty are shrunk in the morass of corruption and bureaucracy. My acknowledgement, congratulations and honor to those heroes who survive that oasis in a desert of the convinced.

How far did the class struggle go… destroying the historical materialism of Marx and the classes in the productivist terms of Max Weber, the founding fathers of modern sociology, they should be appalled, the war of the proletariat.

What was heard had to have deep roots in the thinking of modern Venezuela, the misery of the totalitarian state, in which, after the ruin and disappearance of virtually all private initiative, is all that’s left standing.

Its inefficiency has plunged the country with the largest oil reserves in the world, one whose oil industry was considered one of the most efficient in the world, into a war economy, and achieved an equalization of misery, using the control of hunger and terror as weapons of social dominance.

While launching international campaigns to sell the wonderful utopia of “21st Century Socialism,” we Venezuelans die of poverty and famine.

At last, I have arrived at my job. The everyday job, the one that pays taxes, creates employment and whose productivity is seen in the results. The effort of private initiative, the only kind not stopped after the presidential decree, a decree that reduced the working hours of public employees to a half day, from 7:30 AM to 1:00 PM starting in late February this year, in order to address the energy disaster caused (for the second time) by the El Niño phenomenon, for which they never made provisions.

I am part of the private effort that continues to work a full day and that doesn’t shorten the workweek to two half-days, which the parasitic government decreed at the end of April this year, with its announcement that public employees would work only on Mondays and Tuesdays.

I’m part of one of the lowest classes in “21st Century Socialism.”

The society is divided into two blocks, consisting of castes:

Those Above:

Bolibourgeois: The highest framework of political, economic and military power, privileged and amalgamated under a corrupt system in which one has to have to have “wet hands” to belong and not represent a danger to the rest. For them there is no humanitarian crisis nor shortages and they are the ones who do not understand why those below “don’t eat cake, when there is no bread.”

Businessmen survivors: Simply entrepreneurs who are committed to working in Venezuela, whose lives abroad are assured, as are their possessions and in many cases their families. However, they are still here and on them depends a large number of direct and indirect jobs and they support virtually the entire weight of the low production and taxes.

Political opposition: Formed by the union of old and new leaderships, which are determined to return the democratic spirit of the nation through constitutional means. Enemies of the status quo, traitors to the “Bolivarian” ideal, political prisoners.

Those below:

Public officials: Those whose activities cannot be cancelled. Important people in the areas of healthcare, control, repression or “protection.” They are the first to get food…

Public employees: Those employees whose activity can be cancelled without stopping the running of the country. I offer as proof, months of no activity and everything is working. They are second in line for food.

Elderly: Older adults, some pensioners, other survivors, must stand in line or they simply don’t eat.

Bachaqueros: (a word derived from bachaco, a voracious ant-like insect) A criminal class that plays on the hunger and health of its peers, new proprietors whose networks are fed by the bolibourgeois, the “connected,” the corrupt or the Local Committees of Supply and Production. I don’t know exactly where to put them because they move like mafiosos, in the shadows.

Paramilitaries and Colectivos: Criminal fiefdoms, charged with extrajudicial state security. Official paramilitaries susceptible to extermination when they try to take private initiatives. Generally, they are the best armed in the country. They gather in mega-bands with specific territories and strategic alliances.

Us: Those of us who continue to work every day, who sign, validate, provide the masses for the opposition marches, the nonconformists, those who have no time to stand in line because if we don’t work the country stops, the employees of small initiatives, small businesses and merchants, artisan producers, service-oriented microenterprises. Those of us who use the weekends to get whatever food we can find.

Others: Survivors, the needy, those who rise at midnight to get two bags of rice and two packages of flour, to feed seven or eight people, because they cannot afford produce, those who die of scarcities because they can’t get or can’t afford medicine. Those who die in a hospital for lack of a catheter. Those who stand in line with their children who no longer attend school because they can’t feed or clothe them properly. Those who go through the trash of the supermarkets looking for an onion or a tomato they can eat. Those who are angry because they feel cheated. Those tossed out of the public administration because they were denied their right to claim indemnization on penalty of losing their money forever, or who don’t have the power to work in a public institution. They were fired for signing petitions against the government or for having different political preferences, simply because being a public official or employee requires submission to the one-party government.

Venezuela has one of the highest inflation rates in the world. (EFE)
Venezuela has one of the highest inflation rates in the world. (EFE)

The Others are the growing rage of a society devoid of values. The Others are the silent society, the timebomb of a savage revolution, without ideology or principles. Because they are the ones with their education and their human condition snatched from them, the ones who fall back on their instincts, return to the jungle.

I should also mention, without downplaying their importance, those who left, escaped, found asylum, dreamers and hopers who survive, the majority, in a diaspora spread across the planet. They are the displaced, part of a refugee and nomadic humanity, so much in vogue these days.

And to think that the food and medicine that is still gotten and shared is produced by the surviving Businessmen and by Us.

I should also mention without downplaying Those, those who left, escaped, asylees, and hopeful dreamers, who survive, most in diasporas spread across the globe. They are displaced, part of a refugee and migratory humanity, so fashionable has set.

And to think, that food and medicines and still get spread, are produced and carried by survivors Company and Us.

Venezuela is more than this. We Venezuelans must be more than this. But the mass seems to prefer eating crumbs forever, rather than rising up and changing, to make a change.

Surviving in Venezuela / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Poleo

Line to buy things in Caracas (Reinaldo Poleo)
Line to buy things in Caracas (Reinaldo Poleo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Poleo, Caracas, 11 November 2015 — Alex is one of those characters who leaves a mark on your life. He is a bright guy, a diligent scientist, methodical, focused. He has been this way since the day I met him, back in the eighties, when we were studying together at the La Salle Foundation on Isla Margarita.

He is an avid reader, whose personality seems to come from a Franz Kafka work, with Herman Hesse for a father and Mafalda for a mother.

His patience dictated early on what he wanted to do: this man was definitely born to be a fish farmer.

He’s the kind you say was born in the wrong place at the wrong time. continue reading

Since we left manual labor, Alex has focused on fish production, which he has mastered to an extraordinary extent. He is a guy who should be developing this activity in a country that needs it as a way to produce proteins.

Alex has never doubted, he has fallen and he has risen. He is a worthy Venezuelan who has believed, does believe and holds fast to the dream; he is in the here and now suffering like every Venezuelan, he has no plans to flee, he has stayed to “try”…

For days we have been exchanging notes, talking about the things that are happening and what we think will happen or should happen. So here I am, sitting in a corner at the clinic, waiting for the doctor, when his whatsapp arrives. It is a message from a tired man. Sometimes tilting against windmills is tiring.

“Good friend, I have to climb Junquito in the morning and continue with the fish, but first I have to complete a ritual that belongs to my caste: go to the PDVAL [Venezuelan Producer and Distributor of Food].

“The ritual starts today, going to bed before eight in the evening to get a good night’s sleep, because, in addition to standing in line, if you want to buy anything, you have to get there before dawn.

“Usually I go at four in the morning, confident that the thugs, like nocturnal guácharos, are going to return to their dens and so it is possible that today will not be the last day I stand in line in this life.

“I get to the PDVAL and, like always, the ritual of my caste has started from the early hours of the day before. Those in the line tell me that they sleep on cardboard. I take my place at the end of those who are not of the so-called “third age,” those who make up the line.

“Not everything is that bad during the hours prior to the opening of the PDVAL. It is an interesting place to chat with other members of the clan and when the day dawns, they also begin to take the shapes of their silhouettes. And what silhouettes!

“At six, an Afro-descendent – I still don’t understand why it is bad to call them morenos and/or negritos – come by checking our ID’s and informing us in which batch it will be our turn to enter. There is still time to continue chatting and enjoying the silhouettes, which reminds me of a beautiful phrase from a friend of mine: ‘Superlative forms, almost insolent, of beauty.’

“At half past seven they open and the first batches begin to enter. Those pioneers, via cellphones, advise as to what is available and also begin to horde for their friends in the basic products lines. Thus, in entering, it’s common to see a man or a woman with a stroller with twelve chickens, for example, when you only get two per person.

“At nine it is my batch’s turn to enter. On hearing your name they take your ID and you enter. Something that always happens is that, on crossing the threshold, the people, literally, run to the shelves. I haven’t reached that level, but I do start walking faster.

“I turn first to where there is milk, rice, sugar, coffee and oil; only with luck will they have all of them. Then I go to the refrigerators looking for chicken at 70 bolos [bolivars] for a kilo and meat at 250. With great great luck, they will have both. Once having grabbed these products, you relax a little and look for some extras that you fancy. The final phase is the line to pay, as slow and cumbersome as the one to enter. By 11:00 I am out of PDVAL. I have completed the ritual.”

After such a story, I wonder if Lycra is the mandatory uniform, if some baby must be carried, and if there are large size ladies saving places for 10 housewives at the top of the line, to which he responds:

“Well, there are urban legends that say that in the PDVALs in the 23 y Enero parish, those in El Valle and La Vega, are only for the use of the clan called ‘that of the Colectivos.’

“Also there is the Clan of the Women, who come carrying their babies, and with another inside them, or another line with the blind and lame and people in wheelchairs; all that is missing to complete the picture is the spiritual master.”

He explains that the “urban legends” come from other historians in line, survivors of the above lines.

Finally the doctor shows up. I notice she is visibly upset: the insurance company wants to significantly lower her fees, she has to operate on a fractured tibia and fibula, displaced and open, of a member of the Clan of the Motorized. She asks 70,000 bolivars. As a fee, the company only pays 30,000. Immediately she tells me about the price of the dollar, her studies, the risks…

An operation like that for $87 dollars is absurd, and more absurd is trying to get her to do it for $37 dollars. She explains herself, she knows she isn’t paid in dollars, but in a country where everything is imported, it seems that we pay for things in dollars. Particularly, when a doctor can’t spend a day standing in line at a PDVAL, because the fallen “Motorized” can’t wait. Perhaps she will join the exodus of professional who have successful practices abroad. In Venezuela, we train excellent medical professionals, among others.

Toilet paper shortage in Venezuela: “Dear Customers. We inform you that is is three packages of toilet paper per person. Thank you and forgive us the difficult situation. (Wikimedia)
Toilet paper shortage in Venezuela: “Dear Customers. We inform you that is a three package limit for toilet paper per person. Thank you and forgive us the difficult situation. (Wikimedia)

Our doctors have graduated in the daily practice of battlefield medicine, as they have seen the need to work in the worst sanitary conditions, with limited equipment and medicines, risking their lives when criminals kidnap them to save the life of a gangster, on pain of losing it if they fail.

The story of don Rey came to me in a similar way, a monthly pilgrim to the Social Security High Cost Medicines Department, who belongs to the Clan of those who fight against a Cancer. Once a month he meets with his Clan, from the early hours of the morning, waiting for the medicines he needs to confront such a terrible illness. Once again, he has missed a morning’s work, however, he couldn’t find the medicine; he waited for them to open to hear the news: There isn’t any.

A lady who comes from far away, with her head covered with a scarf, tries with difficulty to hide her lack of hair and dares to ask when they will have her medicine. The cold response from the official is the same for everyone: “I have no idea, there is no date.”

The next day, don Rey and the lady are there at the same time and he overhears the official denying her the medicine because “today, there isn’t any for you.” Crestfallen, the lady left, returning to her home more than three hours from the office intended to provide service to “the people.” Nobody says anything, everyone turns away, no one dares, if they deny you medicine it is a death sentence. The bald lady walks away in silence bowed by the weight of the death sentence on her shoulders.

Don Rey follows her with his eyes, a lump in his throat chokes him as he thinks about his own mortality. Don Rey loves life and endures humiliation because he wants to live.

His gaze pauses at the graffiti painted on the front wall, the sketch of a man with his hand raised and the legend that asks: “Free Leopoldo.” That boy and his family belong to the Clan of Political Prisoners, who also have their sentence.

In this precise instant, in the line at Locatel in Los Palos Grandes, Yuiriluz confronts Yuletzaida. Both are women of great size. The first is saving a place for her six friends, two of whom are pregnant and with babes in arm; the second said she had been there from early holding a place for another three. They are “resellers.” A push from Yuletzaida manages to make Yuiriluz fall headlong; a wad of notes and a cellphone falls out of her bra. The women in the line are trying to get away without losing their places, some men approach just to watch and, laughing, even place bets.

Yubiriluz rises with unusual agility while one of her friends collects her belongings from the ground, at the same time extracting a knife wrapped in lycra panties. The men step away, some shout. Before the astonished gazes of the rest of the line, she prepares to lunge at her attacker.

A couple of policemen from Chacao appear on their motorbikes, people shout after them, but they continue on their way without even blinking under their sunglasses.

However, something has changed, the armed woman moves away. Just this once Yuletzaida has been saved, surely tomorrow there will be another line for food, surely tomorrow she won’t have the same luck.

And so the days pass in our Venezuelan village: some loot to survive, while the most powerful build their empires with the dark elixer flowing from the ground

The dark troops fear the Clan of the North, it seems there are winds of war between the clans.

The Clan of the South looks after its regional tyrannies, disguised as democracy and people, while strengthening the defenses at the cost of hunger for the people.

And people live separated from each other, engaged in the struggles between their impoverished clans, bearing up under and dealing with their individual miseries.

The heroes falter under the gaze of a disunited people, critical from fear and waiting for help from the Messiahs from the North, they don’t know how to emerge from their own cowardice.

Some leave, others stay. But that is not important; what matters is that here or there they are finding their way to poverty, the mental poverty that kills dreams and numbs feelings.

Don’t think that we are all dead, every day I build my clan, with my family and friends. Every day that passes I speak about the Venezuela I dream of, and I have the pleasure of knowing more people who are waking up and beginning to dream, better still, they are starting to move in accord with their dreams.

My clan is increasing. In my clan we don’t loot, we work, we do not make war, but we are willing to give it.

In my clan we do not forge armies but ideas. In my clan we do not destroy, rather we strive to build.

In my clan, Alex will be the fish farmer we need, don Rey will live longer to enjoy the life his 74 years has given him. The lady with the headscarf will once again comb her hair, and the children of Yuletzaida and Yubiriluz, as well as those of their friends, will have the same opportunities that I had. Opportunities are not free, but a good government should create guarantees so that everyone can pay for them.

Because my clan does not belong to Generation Boba that waits for things to come from the sky or for a government that makes a gift to them of what they loot from the effort of others. It is time to make way for the builders, the critical and productive people, for true democracy and the defense of freedoms.