HAVANA TIMES — I haven’t felt the inclination to write about my experiences among Venezuelans (in Venezuela, needless to say) for some time now.
When one’s happy, you see, one tends to forget everything else. And I couldn’t be happier, because, in addition to the joy I always feel, I now I have the joy of feeling right at home, feeling as though I were in Cuba, that is.
It will soon be 3 years away from my family and friends, and one starts to miss certain things, no matter how much of an adventurous spirit one has.
Every day, Venezuela heads further down that marvelous spiritual and social path called “socialism”. Every day, it gets closer to that delicious political concoction my country, the country one would expect me to miss, has become.
I don’t miss home because, as I’ve said, Venezuela already feels like home to me.
For instance, I have been careful to store up on water for several days now. At any moment, and without prior notice, our running water is cut off for nearly 24 hours (sometimes longer) in the area where I live. I am told people in Maracaibo* shed tears of sand, because they are drinking their own tears in these months of draught (which strangely coincide with Venezuela’s rainy season).
Some nights ago – it had been two days without a drop of running water – I got home after a heavy downpour. As I opened the door – surprise – they cut the power! For several hours that night, beneath a leaky roof, covered in sweat, without water or electricity, I recalled the best times of my adolescence, when I sang under the stars during those record-breaking blackouts we had in Cuba, while the President enjoyed delivering speech after speech before a microphone and camera. In another marvelous coincidence that night, I turned on the radio in my cell phone and, there, also heard the sweet warbling of President Maduro, who was clearly oblivious to the power cut.
This is one of the brief anecdotes that illustrate why I feel so happy here.
I no longer have to hear long stories about my family when I speak with mother or anyone else in Cuba over the phone.
That was a bore.
That’s because Venezuela’s State telephone companies, Cantv and Movilnet, have quadrupled – or perhaps centupled, my math is a little rusty – their rates for phone calls to Cuba. Before, as was to be expected, the rate was the highest for all of Latin America, but it was still no higher than 2 Bolivars a minute. Today, I am given the opportunity to contribute to the recovery of the nation’s economy, by paying somewhere between 14 and 16 Bolivars the minute.
I imagine a conversation between the manager of the Cuban phone company, ETECSA, and a Cantv official: “Raise the prices, charge the Cubans more money. Those poor devils are used to living with a rope tied to their necks.”
I may have heard someone else say those words, but it makes no difference. The point is that I no longer have to suffer those annoying conversations about my family.
I’m not going to add more things to the list because you might start to doubt my happiness.
Luckily, following the World Soccer Cup (thanks to the miracle of soccer, perhaps) the bothersome Guarimba rallies allegedly staged by the opposition came to an end. I still don’t understand what happened. Did they make a deal or was the opposition hypnotized into submission? Whatever it is, it’s good news to me. Now I can do my work without fearing suddenly being enveloped by a cloud of smoke and bullets.
That should make me even happier, but…strangely enough, it doesn’t. I can be strange sometimes. There is still something that gets in the way of my work more than the rallies. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a photographer and try to make a living doing photo-shoots and covering different events. But printing photos is becoming more and more expensive every day, and I can buy less food with what I earn in a single session every day.
To top things off, the company where I buy one of the products I offer – the one with the highest demand – hasn’t been able to purchase the materials needed to manufacture it. Why? It’s simple: the same old story about dollars and euros (not every company is worthy enough, or bribes enough, to be granted access to the money needed to conduct transactions abroad).
Recently, the Attorney General published a list of 56 companies that embezzled the dollars given them at Cencoex (another outlandish name for what was previously called Cadivi). Yes, that’s right. Those who still think a little are still waiting for them to publish the names of the officials (and ministers) who were involved (if the past tense actually applies) in that “embezzlement.”
As for transportation, four years ago I gota round with one blue, 2-Bolivar note. Now I need a more intense color, a reddish-brown 10-Bolivar note.
I’m actually growing bored of so much happiness.
Things are getting better, though. They’ve already announced that, in 90 days, the pilot phase of the Safe Supply Plan Biometric System will come into effect.
So, what the devil is that?
In the words of the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation (perhaps we should say “former Minister”, they all recently “resigned for the good of the homeland,” after all): “It is not a question of restricting, but of establishing exactly how much a human being and their family requires to fully satisfy their needs.”
So, if a Minister of Science is involved in the creation of…let’s call it by its vulgar name, a “ration booklet”, it must be because, through scientific experiments, they’ve been able to morally determine what a human being needs to satisfy their stomach.
If a government is “forced” to ration food supplies – though it does not yet want to use that fearful word – it is because it does not believe that the problem of food supplies will be solved any time soon.
The measure is aimed, we are told, at fighting contraband and the activities of bachaqueros, those immoral people who stand in the same line several times to buy scarce and rationed products in order to re-sell them to the poor bastards who don’t have time to stand hours in line or do not find out about the product offer in time.
Yeah, they’re also closing up the Colombian border at night for the same reason, to avoid a food drain. The bachaqueros, those feared and fearful people, after spending long hours at the State markets, fill up sack after sack of food to re-sell it in Colombia.
Of course, it’s the bachaqueros and common folk who have the power to undermine the production and import of food and medicines in the entire country.
The product shortages have nothing to do with the delay or failure to deliver hard currency to companies responsible for selling food and medicine, no, much less with underproduction domestically. The country’s bankruptcy (brought about by the evil opposition, which has a majority in only a couple of States) also has nothing to do with shortages.
How much I had missed Cuba’s brown-colored ration booklet, wrapped in those lovely blue plastic protectors!
But no, I won’t have the pleasure of owning one of those. I’m here illegally, like thousands of other citizens in this country, and neither the Food or Science Ministers have us in mind for their plans.
They say that those who refuse to subject themselves to “biometric” regulations will have no problems, that they can buy their food at private markets. But, in an article published by Correo del Orinoco, the same minister responsible for these experiments said that the owners of private stores have expressed they are “entirely in favor” of the proposal.
I continue to vibrate with joy.
“Go back to your country, then, you fucking foreigner,” I can imagine someone saying.
Nah, what for? Like I say, I feel right at home. In any event, I can’t go back now, at least not this year or the first months of next year. Venezuela’s airline company, Conviasa, has no available tickets to Cuba.
* The issue of Maracaibo is far more complicated. It involves the exploitation of coal mines (and other types of mining) that contribute to water shortages to a far greater extent than the population is aware of.