Life in Caracas right now is anything but normal. Last night, I tried to go to the supermarket at &:30 PM as I had little to eat where I stay, but just as I got there, they were closing, as students had started to protest in the neighborhood. Except for some crackers and a precious tangerine, that was all I ate through the Beirutesque evening near Plaza Altamira. Not a bad diet, if you want to look at the positive side.
Today, many people did not go to work, they could not get out of their neighborhoods or they decided they would not hassle the traffic in the evening another day. Thus, Caracas was quite empty, little traffic, quite nice. This despite the almost total blackout and censorship of the news.
But it is getting close to sunset and the student movement is doing their thing, actually moving around, trying to keep the authorities in check. What was a disorganized band of protesters without leaders has by now become a fairly organized movement, with strategies and plans. Last night they were surprised by the strength of the attack, tonight they will not be caught off guard. I saw preparations today, which I will not talk about here, which imply a level of organization not present even two days ago.
And at 4 PM sharp, the students began blocking the Francisco de Miranda Avenue, which last night became a rather violent place. More violent than at anytime in the 2003 strike, more violent than I have ever seen it.
Here were the students setting up at 4 PM:
The Government also knows there is more organization, as helicopters flew over Caracas until a few minutes ago as the sun set.
And today the Government formally announced the Sicad 2, foreign exchange market, creating a third official exchange rate, ignoring the history of all such systems in history everywhere in the world, all of which have ended badly. The more exchange rates there are (there are four if you include the unmentionable) the more in trouble country’s get into.
And Minister Ramirez said that the new “market” (The Government will fix the price) will start on the 24th., don’t believe it for a minute, this thing is as crude as you can imagine. But in the end it is a devaluation, as airline tickets will be paid at this rate (which I think will be south of Bs. 20, but near it). This is another victory of the radical-radicals over the radicals who wanted a floating permuta market.
For foreign companies who have no access to Sicad 1 or Cencoex, this is another devaluation. For prices, this si another push up, more inflation ahead, full speed Nicolas!
And now, I think the effects of the violence and the feeling of being in a Dictatorship prevail over the increasing economic chaos the country faces. The students will not leave the streets, the crisis will deepen and it all be Maduro’s fault. With bodes badly for him. Timing is hard to predict, but I can tell you I don’t believe for a minute Maduro will finish his term. And I don’t want to be too bold in my prediction and say it explicitly, but I think he is doomed if he follows the path of repression and using the armed “colectivos” with the military to repress. By May, add 100% inflation annualized to the mix and things really will be complicated for whomever is in Government.
Tough days ahead for Venezuela. Last night felt like a mixture of the Caracazo and 2003. It was only during those two periods that I have felt that the Government lost control of the situation. It can only get worse at this point, unless Maduro decides to back down.
But he does not appear to be ready to, but neither do the students.
It’s showdown time!