I know, I know, I have been away for too long. I agree. Somehow this happens now every time I am in Venezuela. It is not writer’s block, it is more like information overload. Everything is a story, but in the end nothing appears to be one. The lack of information and the lack of transparency, in the presence of a thousand daily headlines, makes it impossible to understand most things. Let alone write about them.
I spent the week trying to find good news. Not that I am a masochist, but I figure if I can find something positive to write about in Venezulea, that alone will make it a good story. Everything seems to be so negative. But good stories are hard to find, every time I think I have one, I find a wrinkle in it, some orthogonal feature that makes the good news somewhat iffy.
Take Chikungunya. Before I went looking for experts on it, I learned to spell the word, I didn’t want to be like Maduro and call it something else. I talked to a couple of people that suggested that something was up in Maracay, but.. It is the but that gets me intrigued. The but is that there is so little information that it is not clear whether it is the Ch. word or it is dengue that is to blame for what is going on. That is certainly good news, until I am told that the number of dengue cases is ballooning to levels not seen in the country’s history. To top it all off, people who either get dengue or the Ch. illness need Acetaminophen, which is in lvery ow supply in Venezuela. It seems like Chikungunya is not the good news story I am looking for, even if I learned how to spell it.
I then turn to the release of political prisoner Simonovis, who has been been given house arrest instead of jail for health reasons. This is certainly great news, at last the Government seems to have shown some compassion for someone in the vast array of injustices that go from political prisoners, to crime, to persecutions and to human rights abuses. But then you start to see the wrinkles in the case. The measure is only temporary and he is taken to the hospital shackled and treated like a common criminal. But worst of all, you see the dark side of Chavismo in the outcries of the radical Chavistas who find this humanitarian measure incomprehensible, filled with hate, unable to have even a the slightest empathy for human beings. Unable to even consider, not only Simonovis’ role in the affairs of 2002, but to realize how Chavismo got away with murder and murders in the 1992 coup attempts. They were all forgiven. They got away with it. From Chávez to Arias Cardenas, to all of them. Many of them rule the country today.
What happened to Venezuela and Venezuelans, that hate and politics became more important than humanity and compassion? How can sending a very sick man home become a subject of protests and revolutionary symbolism? As if this was not enough, a friend explains to me why Simonovis was finally given house arrest: Don’t believe anything you read, Maduro was just worried that he may die in jail. It was a political move, nothing more. Another good story dies at this point.
I then turn to shortages. I go to the market and see milk, margarine and even toilet paper. Surely this is good, no? Except that now you can’t find diapers or cleaning products. It is the rotation of priorities. The Government devoted all of its efforts to make sure there was toilet paper, but forgot about diapers, it imported milk, but forgot about margarine, and there had never been shortages of cleaning products, so the Government did not even understand they could be in short supply.
The worst part is that by now, the shortage mentality has taken over the population. There is milk in the shelves, but you don’t know how long it will last and take home as much milk as they will sell to you. The fact that there are limits, people reason, must mean that there isn’t enough for everyone. Everyone hoards whatever they give priority to. The end result is that it will be quite difficult to bring inventories up, it is sitting in people’s homes..
Take water, for example. It is raining cats an dogs in Caracas. The dams are 70% full. Reportedly, the Government is punishing middle class neighborhoods limiting their water supply. But the shortage mentality has taken over residents too. Water is rationed even when there is plenty of it. In my building, they cut it off at the usual time mid-morning, despite the fact that the tank is half full and water is coming in. This means that everyone will be ready at 12:30 to wash all the clothes, fill all the pails, pots and pans and shower again just in case. The end result is more water consumption, all clothes are clean all the time and most people (like me!) take extra showers, just in case.
Hard to break this vicious cycle. Shortages are definitely not a good story either.
And then there is Convenio Cambiario #30, some analysts hail it as a sign of further “adjustment”. A positive. But all I see is a decree allowing Pdvsa to have total freedom as to whether it gives Bs. at three different exchange rates, to opacity-ladden-Fonden, so that Maduro may have more funds at his convenience, simultaneusly creating a new perverse mechanism for printing money: Pdvsa exchanges with the Central Bank at Bs. 50 (Sicad 2 rate) but the BCV can turn around and sell those same dollars at Bs. 6.3 per US$. All stages of this may be done with total discretion and no disclosure. Sorry, not a positive, another negative.
And the I notice something. The new President of PDVSA has been talking only about oil since he took over the position. First, he said that he will reactivate one thousand wells to increase oil production. He talked about modernization, met with managers and talked about increasing production by 60 to 70 thousand barrels of oil a day. He then intervened the marketing division of PDVSA, where Maduro said there were “mafias” involved in the commercialization of products. Finally, yesterday Del Pino called for making investments in the Orinoco Heavy Crude belt a reality. After years of his predecessor announcing projects and projects but little happening, Del Pino wants it to become reality saying “it is time to go beyond the presentations to financing and building the projects”. Wow!
The best part, Del Pino seldom mentions the party or politics, even if he can’t help mentioning the almighty Hugo. He apparently wants to be President of PDVSA and see if he can increase production of oil in Venezuela. What a concept! He is praising the company’s workers, trying to improve moral. For now, I will give Del Pino the benefit of the doubt. He is saying the right things and concentrating on what he should. And that, in the current Venezuela is a HUGE positive. And that, my friends, is the GOOD NEWS!
And now that I have given you the good news, here is the bad news. One Bolívar fuerte is now worth less than a penny. That is not even bad news, it is simply depressing: