Why can’t you get things? It is very difficult to explain. I understand you are upset, but you can’t give the oligarchy the upper hand. It’s a matter of being united … another economy is an option, the community economy, the one stemming from small producers … do not give these racketeers (the entrepreneurs) resources. You have to wait in line with us as well, but at least in the end you don’t pay as much.
The above message is meant for Venezuelans, who — though bogged down by out-of-hand inflation, alarming scarcity, and despair over what might come next — choose to attend “community provision” days.
On Saturday morning, my sister-in-law decided to go to one of these events in a poor neighborhood in the heart of Caracas. She did it because organizers had announced that meat, fish, deli meats, and chicken would be available. She arrived at 6 in the morning, was given number 250, and waited in line for seven hours.
To appease my curiosity, I joined her for the final two-hour stretch.
The following is an attempt to describe what the common Venezuelan experiences at this type of event nowadays. I say it’s an “attempt,” because finding the precise words is no easy task. And I haven’t been able to find a better description, a better title, than one that pretty much works for nearly all — if not all — Chavista initiatives: an atrocity wallpapered in propaganda.
The intentions behind the community provision day are clear at the door. Placards with photos of presidents Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro posted at the entrance say: “If it wasn’t for them, this sale would not have been possible.”
The same is going on inside. There is not a single square meter in the crumbling warehouse that doesn’t show either a picture of Chávez and Maduro, a quote from Chávez, or a picture of Chávez with Fidel Castro. The latter perhaps is an attempt to justify the photos of Maduro sitting with Castro in Havana on the 89th birthday of the caudillo, amid the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.
Maduro didn’t go on his own; his wife and other officials went with him. Presumably, he charged the expenses to taxpayer funds from the country in which cancer patients — children — have to leave the hospital to protest in the street because they don’t have access to chemotherapy.
“You will be able to buy fish; the meat truck did not come, since it overturned on the way here … inside you will find corvina, white snapper, sardine, mackerel,” says one of the organizers. Here’s the first disappointment: there’s no meat, or sausage, or chicken, and no corvina or snapper, the only good white fish. Instead we must settle for mackerel and sardines, and at not much of a discount (half price relative to regular supermarkets).
The second disappointment: once you enter the warehouse there is no direct access to shopping. Instead there is a new group of chairs. Here, people are made to hear the monologue you have read at the top of the page.
Applause comes only from those who organized the operation, a community council from the area. Apathy reigns among the rest of the audience, and animosity clearly sets in among most, when they see what they can buy: ugly, green potatoes (one kilo per person, hand picked by the person handing them to you); carrots (about the same); some tomatoes that cause a reaction somewhere between repulsion and shame — while boxes of beautiful red tomatoes remain stacked against a wall.
“When will you sell those?” I ask. “Later,” they reply. I suspect they’ll sell those on the side, on the black market, and I’m not alone in my suspicion. The peppers are shamefully small. I get three micro-peppers, no more.
I can also get juices and oatmeal drinks (not milk, which is scarce), which Los Andes produces. The government has expropriated this previously ubiquitous brand, so now you can only find their products at this type of operation. Please click the link, so you can see what this dairy company’s website is for: propaganda again.
At that moment, a woman with a megaphone yells: “these are the achievements of the communal economy. We are growing.”
Raúl Castro used to say “each day, Venezuela and Cuba are becoming more and more the same.” That was in 2010, and even the most feverish mind could not have imagined an experience like the one I had on a Saturday morning. But he was telling the truth. If this is what socialism can offer, we are going to starve.
People begin to show their anger, but in a low grumble: “this is no good,” “I can’t have lost a morning for this.”
Nobody revolts, though. They know that such a person would be an “enemy of the nation,” and therefore subject to being thrown in jail, just like in any other good old fascist state. Complaining in the queue is rebellion, and the government, though inefficient in everything else, is plenty efficient at repression.
Notwithstanding, the country’s general disposition is prone to an impending uprising. Human-rights NGO Provea has been warning about it for a while; President Maduro knows. Even the community council know, though they said, as if to excuse themselves: “No one can despair. It is time to be united. We are facing an economic war. It is very difficult to explain.”
Of course it’s difficult to explain. It is very difficult to explain how the largest petrol boom in the nation’s history ended up in this shipwreck; this “Haiti” sans the earthquake. How does one explain the riches of the Chavista nomenklatura? How could anyone explain to the people waiting in line for six hours that the meat and chicken didn’t arrive, and that they will have to settle for a very few, rotten vegetables?
How long can this go on? It seems uncertain, but I don’t think the people will take it for much longer. It’s clear there is no food.
It is very difficult to explain socialism, simply because it has never worked anywhere. On the other hand, capitalism can explain itself. It’s as easy as what a certain lady said to me: “30 years ago, there was a supermarket here, and you could choose what you wanted and pay cheap for it.”
Mind you, the Venezuela back then wasn’t paradise. Yet this one, compared to that one, is definitely hell on earth. They are trying, in the most miserable, despicable way possible to tie hunger to votes, but using such bad food that the propaganda becomes anything but. It’s anti-propaganda.
Editor’s note: the author of this article expressly asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.