X is a French acquaintance whom I met last year during my first visit. He’s been living here for a great many years. He has no intention of showing his face on French TV. He got the idea, I’m not sure where, to give this person my details.
Considering the calibre of the questions, their « angle », I’d strongly recommend you watch this report when it is aired, should be most enlightening… « How do you shop? » … You don’t go shopping in Caracas, you knife-duel for scraps on street corners and drink water from the sewage. I politely declined, saying I was just a visitor, not a resident.
All jokes aside.
2/ Caracas metro is up and running since yesterday, back to its normal (ie dysfunctional) service, after six days of outage.
3/ banks resumed operations yesterday, partially, and huge waiting lines could be witnessed in front of open branches, the ones which had cash to distribute through the cashiers or the ATMs. The others remained closed. In my neighbourhood, I’d say that no more than around 30% were open. Yesterday afternoon I asked a group of people queuing in front of an ATM how much they would be able to withdraw ? « 500 bolivar » they replied, which is like almost nothing. Nevertheless people had been waiting all day, in 50 metre long lines to withdraw this amount. I checked a few prices tonight at Farmatodo: A tube of colgate toothpaste: 4,400 bolivar / 4 toilet paper rolls: 9,500 bolivar / 30 diapers: 52,000 bolivar. The minimum wage is currently set at 18,000 bolivar. $1 is worth (tonight, these numbers are very short lived) 3,300Bs. at the official exchange rate, 3,500Bs. on the parallel market. My friend from the barrio told me that in reality many people get paid much less than the minimum wage… 10,000Bs, 5,000Bs for a month’s work. The government makes it up by distributing free food parcels (the famous CLAPs, hated by the opposition which screeches « clientelism »). The system works rather well actually and helps the country avoid a food emergency situation. My friend is very clear about this, without CLAP her family would go hungry.
4/ all the shops and civil administrations have resumed activities since yesterday, after 6 days of shutdown.
5/ all the puntos now working. Absolute necessity in a cash-strapped country, to the point where even street vendors have there own puntos wirelessly connected through their telephones to the banking network. Those without puntos generally have an arrangement with the shop in front of which they have set up, so that their clients can go pay inside.
6/ 4G networks are up and running, but the payment system for recharges is still partially down, I’ve been having difficulties buying data, have to rely mostly on dysfunctional wifi networks.
7/ Schools remained closed today. Should open on Monday.
8/ Black market street currency buyers have toned it down a bit. People don’t need their services as much now that bank services are resuming, and the government’s actual strategy of smothering the parallel market seems to be working. I’ll come back to this.
9/ Tons and tons of food had to be thrown away.
10/ Opposition street protests and pro-government gatherings are scheduled for Saturday. As usual the opposition will assemble in the chic neighbourhood east of town (that doesn’t mean that only the privileged bourgeois class support the opposition), whereas government supporters will gather downtown and march towards the presidential palace. Note that the Empire’s media never shows pro-government marches, which number easily as many supporters as the opposition’s, or maybe more, but who knows… Ever tried counting a moving crowd?
11/ Yesterday with the resumption of the metro service, the reopening of shops, banks, people took to the streets, wandering through the Bulevar Sabana Grande, the long pedestrian street, or into the Recreo shopping mall. Eating ice creams at Mc Donald’s, drinking coffee, having a beer at Capricho’s, lining up in front of the movie theatre (currently running the same garbage you’re probably getting brain-fried with), eating pop-corn out of huge buckets, drinking king size ice-cold Pepsi-Cola sodas. Still there wasn’t as much of a crowd as two weeks ago during the long carnival week-end, but it was rather impressive, following the eerie silence of the past few days. Here the carnival is a huge thing, a family fiesta that lasts four days (Monday and Tuesday are bank holidays). Children in disguise playing in the streets, huge lines in front of the Bulevar’s ice-cream shops (I’m sure I counted more than 100 metres one afternoon along the shop windows, waiting to get an icy hit from La Poma, the most popular joint around). Wandering around in this crowd yesterday, I was overcome by a feeling of dizziness, dislocation, as I remembered how for three long days the same neighbourhood had been totally empty and silent and dead… How quickly it can all go down, a city becoming a trap, the fragility of all this, all that we have built.