Manuel who?

JayDee says:Finding myself in El Valle yesterday with little to do, I swung by José’s bodega again for a beer.

Surprisingly, the man recognized me as soon as I walked in the door, even though it had been 4 months.

“You’re the journalist,” he said with a warm grin, handing me a Tercio before I had even asked for one.

The store was filled with the same variety of characters as before. Two men sat shirtless in the doorway, cradling empty bottles of Malta and smoking Belmonts. A women stood at the counter, awaiting her five slices of queso amarillo.

“When I was here last, we talked about Chávez and the elections, remember?”

He nodded, accepting the women’s money and turning his attention to me.

“Last time you said you would vote for anyone but Chávez. So, is it Rosales next month, then?”

Jose sighed and threw up his hands.

“I don’t know, I haven’t decided. I don’t even know who Rosales is. I might vote Chávez,” he answered.

“Really – That’s surprising,” I said. “What changed your mind?”

“I don’t think Chávez can loose, so it doesn’t really matter,” he continued, “But I am scared of what would happen if he lost. This area is pura Chavista, and I think there would be rioting and a lot of problems for my family, my store. Looting and violence and police and all sorts of stuff I don’t need. Besides, who is Rosales? I don’t know anything about him.”

I asked him if he was scared for his personal safety if he voted Rosales. Did he feel intimidated to vote Chávez?

“Not at all,” he said with a wave of the hand.

And criticizing Chávez to an international journalist?

“Tampoco, you can use my name in any report you want.”

“So what happened?” I pressed on. “Last we spoke, you were angry at the damage the Mercals have done to your business.”

“Oh, I still am,” he replied, “I don’t like how this government gives away everything for free. We are not instilling the people with a good work ethic in Venezuela. Everyone thinks they are automatically entitled to something without working, and that is the source of so much trouble.”

“Look, I like that Chávez wants to help the poor,” he continued. “But some of his ideas aren’t very well thought through.”

“Have you considered turning your bodega into a co-venture with Mercal?” I asked. “Wouldn’t that help you out?”

“Ahh the paperwork and the wait,” he sighed, rolling his eyes while handing me another beer.

“It takes forever, the bureaucracy. And the products are inferior quality. The rice and the pasta aren’t very good. But this is my store. I am 73 years old. I have been running this place myself for 30 years. Why should I be forced to suddenly take the government on as a partner in order to survive? I’d rather sell my beer and cigarettes.”

“And you don’t think Rosales would change things?” I tried one more time.

“You keep asking me about this Rosales guy,” he answered with a chuckle. “And I keep telling you; I don’t know him. I’ve never been to Zulia.”