Now we’re cooking without gas

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Quico says: One thing I always struggle to convey is the nearly complete divorce between revolutionary discourse and practice, the yawning, widening gap not just between what is said and what is done, but also, more and more, between the staples of the chavista discursive diet and the kinds of issues that actually concern normal people in their day-to-day lives here.

Long the province of the hysterized opposition media, this divorce between media-reality and real-reality has become pervasive in the official media, to the point where serious social problems are basically blacked out (and I use that term advisedly) by a state media focused like a laser-beam on Chávez’s highly abstract and mystifying ideological agenda.

A shocking case in point is the deepening supply crisis surrounding cooking gas canisters. Now, unless you live in a third world shantytown, you probably associate portable gas canisters with camping. Not so for the Venezuelan poor. While legally constructed housing gets its cooking gas delivered through a pipe, just like households in rich countries, Venezuelans who live in self-made housing have to buy their cooking gas in heavy metal canisters that they have to wheel into shanties.

Except, due to price controls, they can’t. There’s a serious cooking gas canister shortage. Reports from some barrios all around Caracas say cooking gas trucks haven’t been up there in weeks. The government has pledged to set up Canister filling stations in downtown Caracas, but that’s no solution: you’re not allowed to take bombonas onto public transport (for obvious safety reasons) and for people living high up on hillside barrios, lugging a heavy canister up the cerro to their houses is never easy and sometimes not really possible. (Think of the elderly.)

Without trucks, there’s no gas, and without gas, you can’t cook: that’s pretty much the situation thousands upon thousands of poor households face today in the Western Hemisphere’s premiere energy exporter.

When you think about it, this is really a disaster for poor people: if rice is in short supply, you can always switch to pasta or cornflour, if milk is in short supply you can more or less do without, but if you can’t get gas, you can’t cook anything. People are having to resort to fire-wood, which they have no safe way of burning and no easy way of obtaining. This is a major problem for people already living in precarious circumstances, the kind of thing that can turn your life pretty much upside down…and, guess what? You won’t hear anything about it on state TV beyond generic assurances that don’t pan out and never get followed up.

It’s not hard to understand why…if VTV, or Vive, or ANTV, TVeS or any of the growing constellation of chavista mouthpieces on the tube were to touch the subject, the people involved would find themselves out of a job pretty fast. The shortage brings up too many questions: not the least of which is why this is happening just after PDVSA spent $125 million to take over Vengas and Tropigas, the leading private sector gas canister distribution companies, precisely to “forestall speculation and hoarding” of gas canisters. (The respective purges apparently have not paid off.)

This morning, thousands of poor urban families in Venezuela woke up to mull the irony: now that, finally, the government has managed to get some staples back on store shelves, they can’t cook them. Having milk, which has reappeared on the market, is nice and all. But the iconic “café con leche” you can forget about: there’s no way to make coffee without cooking fuel.

But what, I imagine, will piss them off the most is that when they turn on their TV channels, the ones their taxes pay for, the ones that bill themselves constantly as belonging to all Venezuelans, they’ll hear obsessive, wall-to-wall coverage of a shootout in some jungle hideout a thousand miles away that bears no relation whatsoever with their ability to fry an empanada.

Quiarrechera, mi hermano.

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