Cubazuela Chronicles

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“This is where I bring the Cubans,” he says.

I’m with my buddy Joaquín. We’re in one of those upscale Caracas cafés that makes you wonder what people in Venezuela complain about.

The place would not look out of place in a Scandinavian architecture magazine. We are surrounded by sumptuous food from all over the world, and by what has to be Caracas’ most beautiful people, the crème of Chacao fauna. A couple of ladies-who-lunch sit next to me, busily chatting about makeup. Three intellectual wannabes sit across the hall discussing Chávez’s yet-to-be-disclosed illness. The post-modern criollo sound of Huáscar Barradas, at just the right volume, fills the air. In short, it’s one of the few remaining post-modern Venezuelan oases.

“Wow,” I respond. “You must really like them. This place is pretty nice.”

“No, no, no. I bring them so they can feel sorry about their miserable little lives. I hate those coñuemadres.”

Joaquín has been a friend since college. He had always been interested in government work, but after graduating, he couldn’t get hired by the Caldera administration, so he went into private business instead. Resentful about the IVth Republic’s antics, he voted for Chávez, but quickly realized his government was going nowhere.

After a brief stint abroad, saudade for his country was strong, so he decided to head back. This was 2003, right when things were in upheaval and the entire government was being renovated.

Thanks to lifelong leftie connections and a brief dabbling with subversion, Joaquín was deemed a perfect fit for the growing chavista bureaucracy. He is now a middle manager at a government office, making BsF 4.500 a month, in charge of, among other things, international relations.

In other words, he is in charge of dealing with the Cubans.

“It always has to be the Cubans,” he says. “You can’t really bring experts from other parts of the world. The Cubans take precedence.”

I ask him why the bad attitude toward the Cubans. After all, it’s not their fault.

“It’s the way they behave when they come,” he says, “their sense of entitlement. I don’t care how good their education is, they think that just because Chávez has a man-crush, they can come here and treat us like savages, like they’re coming to do our job for us. And you cannot believe how uneducated they really are – they’re twenty years behind on everything. Even when they write, their grammar is bad.”

He tells me how it usually goes. The Cubans send them a list of the people that will be coming, typically for a one-month stay. The Venezuelan entity in charge of their trip has to pay for their airfare.

“And then, usually a day before their trip, they call you up to tell you they can’t come because their passport is expired.”

According to Joaquín, the passports of all the Cuban bureaucrats are held in some vault in Havana. Their handlers only check the passports a few days before they have to travel, and it’s frequently the case that the passports are expired. This means their plane tickets have to be changed at the last minute.

And who picks up the tab for the enormous fees the airlines charge? Doña Petra de la esquina, that’s who.

Negotiations with the Cubans begin and end with discussions of their daily stipends. They don’t really care what they are coming for. According to Joaquín, all they care about is how much money they are going to receive. Inevitably, tensions arise with the local underpaid bureaucracy.

“After a few of these trips, I began to realize how connected they really are. One time they asked for a daily stipend that I thought was excessive, so I told them that we were considering whether they would get any stipend at all. A half hour later, the Minister calls me up. He tells me that the Cubans have informed him that we are not open to giving them what they need, and that if I’m not going to help them, I have to resign.”

“The Cuban minister called you?!” I ask, slightly confused.

“No, no. The Venezuelan minister, my boss’s boss’s boss. The Cubans have a direct line to those guys.”

He tells me of the Cubans’ resentment at Venezuelans’ way of life. The Cuban he brought to the café was a particularly annoying one, always angry because Joaquín was sending him emails via his Blackberry.

“Oh right,” he apparently wrote, “you send me messages from your little thingy. Lucky you.”

“The worst part,” he says, “is having to take them shopping.”

It turns out the Cubans are terrified of walking the streets in Caracas alone. Aside from the crime problem, which is much worse than in their country, they have felt intimidated by Venezuelan shopkeepers. More than once, they have been kicked out of trendy stores because of their accents.

And stores are what they want to see, everything from TVs to underwear, from jeans to medicine. El Palacio del Blumer is a particular favorite. The Venezuelans who accompany them help carry their bags, pay for their bills, ask questions, and arrange the shipping.

“We even have to pay the excess luggage fees,” he says. “Boxes of flat-screen TVs, suitcases, you name it. We max out the allowed limit on each trip.”

You can imagine the resentment this breeds on the local bureaucracy. Luckily, Joaquín is single and he makes ends meet, but BsF 4,500, though considered a great salary in Venezuela, is peanuts for a professional with graduate studies abroad. A secretary, or a doorman, make but a portion of that. They’re not stupid – they see what the institutions’ budget is used on.

The dislike of the Cubans seems to run deep in the Venezuelan state apparatus’ rank-and-file.

I know Joaquín is not chavista, but I ask him about his bosses. Are they all convinced chavistas? Don’t they see this simply isn’t working?

“Oh, they’re very critical. They started out believing in the revolution, the ones higher up. But they know this isn’t working anymore. They go to the marches and wear red, but what choice do they have? It’s not like before.”

Still, I tell him, I bet they go and vote chavista anyway.

“Yeah,” he tells me. “I think so too. Because, you see, this doesn’t work, but at least now they are getting their slice of the pie. At least now, they’re inside the bubble, working on something they like, and they are being taken into account. They know that if Chávez goes, so does their job. It’s all a matter of survival.”

I munch on my profiteroles, wondering what this place will become once the Havanization of Caracas is complete.

1 COMMENT

  1. I have been told by people that visit the Palacio de Miraflores, that you will see more Cuban passports at the sentry station than Venezuelan Cedulas (you have to leave these documents while you are inside the Palace). Also everywhere there are pictures of Bolivar and Marti. In Alba Hotel (Ex -Hilton) you can see Venezuelan and Cuban flags.

    Theri accents and expresions always betray them (“guagua” for bus, for example)

    According to Caracas Gringo, they do not like to venture far away from Caracas.

    • But they do go outside. There are many of them in Carabobo.
      Actually, we should approach them in a different way: abajo la dictadura de los caudillos Castro.

  2. Reading your vignette, JC, just proves I was right and it both saddens me and pisses me off.

    You know, I hate to say this because I am may come across as an ass, but I remember telling anyone who would listen, way back in 1996, that Chavez would win if he ran for election and that we would see an influx of “Ratas, iguales a las que tenemos ahora pero mas flacas y hambrientas” (Rats, just like the ones we have today, only skinnier and hungrier).

    Most people I said those words to in 1996 looked at me like I had 3 eyes and two noses.

    The question I have, JC, is if the bosses are likely to vote Chavez next year, what about the rank and file? Are they likely to vote Red, or is there a chance that many will decide they’re sick of carrying water? It would seem the bosses might lose their jobs if there is a change, but I don’t see a wholesale firing of rank and filers, at least not at first.

    • Roberto N,

      I know how you feel.I predicted Chavez’s win much before he won.Nobody believed me.I had a dream that he was connected to drugs, and people thought I was nuts.Then after he won and 4 years after, I couldn’t take it any more, and I realized I had to get out to save my daughter from a bad environment and also because I knew if I didn’t I would lose so much money that it would later be hard to leave…I told my boss i was quitting and that it was” salvese quien pueda”, and she looked at me with total shock and disbelief.

      People are still in denial and will remain that way.People are slowly being put in a box, in such a way that it is not that noticeable to them.

    • the rank and file will vote red. The upgrades to the evoting system will see to it. Fear is the name of the game. With the new system, I will vote red!

  3. After reading posts like this I can’t help but think that one of the biggest problems in Venezuela is that nobody seems aware of the concept of “evidence”. Is it that their lovely Blackberries can’t record sound or video? Is it that those complaining about constant government corruption never thought about recording such acts as they take place? Is it that they don’t understand the difference between rumors and Wikipedia-leaked-emails, government-toppling-caliber evidence? Is Makled the only one who thought about it?

    I’m not saying that the story isn’t true, but goddammit, at some point can anyone do more that just tell an old wife’s tale? It’s not like recording voice and/or video is particularly hard these days.

    And while we’re at it, is it still a faux pas to publicly wish the death of all Cubans on Venezuelan soil? Or have everyone finally understood that they’re an invading army and so it is not only “politically correct” but an actual patriotic duty to shoot them on sight?

    • Huh? What exactly is your complaint, that we can’t get this person’s voice on the blog? People are scared…

    • Do you think they just make it up wholesale, like most of the. anti-Cuba propaganda? When I see this kind of stuff I assume it is just a tale of pure fiction (unlike say the confirmed human rights violations of the US in Afghanistan or paramilitaries in Colombia).

      • And yet you keep coming back… I think your feedback is most relevant over on the other thread. You know, the one about that “report” you claimed we were too lazy to even read.

          • As if you have any idea whatsoever as to what that path might be. So, tell us, Judi: when was the last time you were in Venezuela? Really, anywhere in Venezuela? How about, close to Venezuela? Somewhere? Panama? Chile? Anywhere?

          • When have you been to Iran, but I bet you criticize them right? I don’t need to go to Venezuela to know the truth about it, there are many oversees sources that are reliable like the carter center or Venezuela Analysis.

          • In other words, you have never been to Venezuela, and thus, you don’t really know what you are talking about, do you?

          • Yeah, the Carter Center, Judi… That’s an oversees (sic) source, for sure. The breadth and depth of your research on Venezuela is astonishing, as is your attempt to deflect by using Iran.

          • there are many oversees sources that are reliable

            Too bad so many of them are Inexpressible…

          • Great counterattack Judi, Bravo! You know you have a million dollar response in front of your eyes when you see someone attacking a person and not the reasoning behind that person’s arguments! Comments like this tacitly -sorry explicitly(!)- prove whose reasoning is more correct, so keep on posting ; )

        • Hey! New PSF on the blog! I was getting tired of Arturo. You know us rich oligarchs dispose of old commenters like old cars, or maids.

          • Don’t you find it odd that Arturo / Pygmalion disappears & Judi pops up 2 days later on both MO’s forum & here..
            They are all the same person!

            When they lose credibility with one name they just create another.

      • Ahh, Judi, Judi, Judi.

        Tsk, tsk, tsk. Now that you mention human rights, please tell us why the IAHRC mission are personae non grata in Venezuela?

        Why are they never allowed to come and report?

    • “Or have everyone finally understood that they’re an invading army and so it is not only “politically correct” but an actual patriotic duty to shoot them on sight?”

      You are as ridiculous as Judy Lynn

    • There you have an idea. Recording these things and if you are fearful and the Venezuelan media is too cowed for this…

      Use voice distorters and post the evidence, including videos to YouTube or Filtradas.

      On the second idea, let me say this to you Hate will get us nowhere, Kirano! That is not only criminal and callous, it’s DOWNRIGHT STUPID.

      After we get rid of Hugo we will have to strike preemptively and in retaliation against the Castro tyranny. We need to subvert and end their foul regime for our own sake. We will need Cuban defectors and Cuban emigres, and we will have to be in good terms with Cubans in Cuba.

      Also to Judi Lynn: I would very much like to be among the Venezuelan subversive “tourists” in Cuba spearheading the counterrevolution. Toting two suitcases chock full of DVDs, books and magazines, maybe a scanner/printer and cameras, encryption software and censorship workaround software. Documentaries, movies, books in electronic and paper form, economics, politics, news, opinion, testimony, messages from relatives. All the stuff the Cuban tyranny does not let the serfs watch, hear and read, use. Materiel to bring down the Castro tyranny peacefully.

  4. Great posting lately, JC. Your writing skills as a blogger in the field are at their best. I´m feeling a little saudade myself. Keep it coming

    • Well, I took a few liberties. It’s in a new mall they made in Sebucan, up by the Cota Mil. Not technically Chacao, but the fauna was pure Chacao at least.

      • I can see it now .. Judi Lynn gnashing her teeth, banging out another diatribe against the profit-eating role-playing oligarchy at a trendy Caracas café.

        French lefty pipes up, “eh, Judie, les profiteroles sont un dessert.”

        Judi Lynn: Well whatever. Down with the oligarchy!

  5. Priceless!! Vividly clear. One of your best. Thank you for describing the
    Cuban behavior.
    “It’s the way they behave when they come,” he says, “their sense of entitlement. I don’t care how good their education is, they think that just because Chávez has a man-crush, they can come here and treat us like savages, like they’re coming to do our job for us.”
    And how you gave examples of their connections to “top Chavez government”
    Every Venezuelan should read this!!
    “wondering what this place will become once the Havanization of Caracas is complete.”
    Your last words- -absolutely prophetic. Remember-Chavez-is “speeding up the process..

    • “It’s the way they behave when they come,” he says, “their sense of entitlement. I don’t care how good their education is, they think that just because Chávez has a man-crush, they can come here and treat us like savages, like they’re coming to do our job for us.”

      It’s a Cuban Thing…. you wouldn’t understand.

      🙂

  6. Cubans are worms and the hangers-on from the nomenklatura that get to travel abroad to….Venezuela…are among the worst offenders. It’s simply an obscenity to allow such an obsolete government to even exist among the Latin American community of nations, imperfect as we all may be. The description of the Cubans abroad sounds like Soviets going to East Germany in 1971 and thinking it’s amazing. The fact that Chavez loves them so much and purposely picked one of the most authoritarian, backwards and useless societies on Earth to emulate should piss off any Venezuelan. However, the vast majority of Venezuelans probably don’t know/care enough about the Cubans wandering about. I’m not even Venezuelan and I get pissed off when I see a Cuban wandering around on a legal tourist visa. If their government allowed them to go abroad, they’re probably true believers or complete turds. End rant.

  7. Loved the post. This is from my post of last month:

    Venezuela debe ser el único país en el planeta que, de manera voluntaria, le ha entregado su autonomía a un país más pequeño, menos rico y más dependiente que él: Cuba.

    I think this is part of the resentment: that we have given up soveraignity to a country that does not present an improvement from ours. Here’s the whole post:

    http://cuentosintrascendentes.blogspot.com/2011/06/la-havana-capital-de-venezuela.html

  8. Those Cubans don’t give a rat’s ass about Venezuela. The ones that travel there are interested in shopping and shipping back items they can sell at home, like Bloomers and TV sets.

    Goes to show you, 50 years of “revolution” have not gotten rid of the desire for material things.

    Verga, “chopping jala mas que D-9” has become the new expression!

  9. Juan, my heart got racing when I read … I don’t care how good their education is… fortunately Joaquin finishes the paragraph with “And you cannot believe how uneducated they really are – they’re twenty years behind on everything. Even when they write, their grammar is bad.”

    Actually, I can believe it. Although my experience is a bit dated, 2008, I have to say a trip to Cuba is all it takes to realise, almost instantly, that the canard about Cubans education is, quite simply, unbelievable. The place is in a near absolute state of destituteness, but the people are just as well. I had the chance of meeting with the very best and brightest of a young generation of Cubans, in the opposition to Castro of course, and some of the old timers leading the opposition, Mason leaders, writers, librarians, most important bloggers, etc. And yes, their courage is something that shocks considering the consequences they face, but their general knowledge, is not 20 years behind, is 60 years behind. They are aware of politics outside Cuba, to an extent, but regarding technology, medicine, biotech, economy, etc., they do not have the slightest clue. This, of course, is not their fault, given the inaccessibility of information. Going to Cuba is like travelling back in time, to the 50ies. Then one has to see that Chavez goes to Cuba to get treated, after how many billions thrown at the alternative health system in Venezuela? Then one has to read Otto Reich -who is Cuban and should know better- saying that Chavez is getting “the best medical attention money can buy”. Well, I am sorry, but Chavez is as stupid as they get if he thinks that medicine in Cuba, whether public or private, is anything to go by. There’s nothing in that prison island that qualifies as “the best money can buy”, unless of course we are talking about Stasi-style population control.

    The salary of Joaquin seems low, I know of secretaries of ministries that are paid more than that. Has he been blacklisted?

    The recovery road to sanity, and a semi-functioning democracy in Venezuela starts by adopting those Cubans who want to stay, are sincere about the commitment to live in freedom and are prepared to abstain to participate in politics for, at least, 15 years. Most of them are slaves, are forced to go to Venezuela, and would jump ship instantly if the conditions were right. This, however, would be a humanitarian act, for they are not high skilled workers. Their contribution, in a democracy, would be negligible but they deserve a chance, as much as anybody else. Venezuela, or rather chavismo, is the great destabilising factor in Cuba. People sent over to Venezuela, in whatever condition, return converted after short stints in our country. Imagine, being able to go shopping for electronics, to be able to eat meat and more than 10 eggs per month, seeing all those blackberries and tetas postizas, mind you it is effectively the other extreme of what they have in Cuba, and the effect is profound.

    It is the German Sanchez Oteros we need to worry about, not the lowlife cubanos struggling to get by.

    • Thanks Alek for your insightful comment. Although adopting the Cubans who are in Venezuela sounds like a mighty noble gesture, I’m not sure how palatable it would be to the general population. My impression was that there was a lot of bad blood between the two camps. It will take leadership, that’s for sure.

    • My experience with Cuba is even older than Alek’s, but I spent several months there for my work, back in the late 90’s. Cuba’s vaunted education system was a joke. These are my personal observations, but I had the opportunity to meet a lot of people there. Here are some observations about the typical Cuban I met, who lived in the capital, La Havana, who had completed Colegio (High School), but not attended university or had any other sort of higher education:

      – He/she had never heard of WWII or WWI.
      – Had never heard of the Egyptian, Greek, or Roman Empires.
      – Had never heard of the European Renaissance.
      – In daily speech, they did not use more than three tenses (present, present progressive, and past). Any person capable of regularly using the future tense, the passive tenses, or even the co-preterite was considered very highly educated.

      They did have a fairly solid command of basic science and math. What was lacking were history, language, or anything else that might develop critical thinking skills.

      • They did have a fairly solid command of basic science and math. What was lacking were history, language, or anything else that might develop critical thinking skills.

        Math and science do not help develop critical thinking skills? Such as geometry proofs?

        • Boludo Tejano,

          Granted, you are correct. However, when I said “basic science and math”, I meant that they had learned to do arithmetic, not that they could derive equations. As for science, the Cubans are not superstitious barbarians. They are well-versed in such basic science as is needed to promote hygiene and to be trained to perform all manner of skilled tasks.

          And they are taught history, but only the history that relates directly to Cuba, starting with the discovery of the New World. However, I found they had no broader historical context to compare Cuba’s experience to.

          My point was that it appeared to me that they had been taught the bare minimum necessary to make them good “worker bees” without giving them the full complement of tools needed to question authority.

      • Perhaps you mean they could multiply fast?
        I don’t know many Cubans. I was recently talking to a Spaniard who has to deal a lot with Cubans at high level and he was telling me there was something faulty about their reasoning skills, that they could time after time think they had arrived at “logical conclusions” when there was no logic whatsoever involved.

        I do know most Venezuelans know very little about history.
        I wrote about this on Crónicas: I asked several questions to Venezuelans who had finished their university studies or were at the university. The answers from half of them were just amazing.

        * In what century -approximately- was Jesus Christ born? (whether you believe in him as historical figure or not)?
        > 6th century? Eighth? (wild guesses)
        In what century did we get our independence – MORE OR LESS?
        > XII? XX?
        What language is Spanish primarily derived from?
        > Arabic? Greek?

        No wonder.

        • Kepler,

          I hate to have to tell you this, but in spite of the limitations I have mentioned above, I found the Cubans to be more diligent and competent workers than the Venezuelans.

        • Learning to parrot Fidel-speak and the Communist catechism , which Cubans have to do in order to survive, will not develop thinking skills.

    • We have to adopt them, because it’s humanitarian. And they are not useless. Like any immigrant, they learn quickly. Cubans are versatile if anything.

      We need to adopt them, because we will need to strike at the Castro tyranny. To end this once and for all. Venezuela has been subverted, indoctrinated and lately colonized by Castrism. From about 1962. They succeeded at last in turning Venezuela into a colony in 2002-4. We have to pay them back, we have to take away this refuge for hardcore chavismo and to insure they will never again do that by destroying their mecca.

  10. Too sad, and too proper that the hacks and bureaucrats are giving your friend his impression of Cuba and Cubans. Because those are usually the ones that get to represent their nation abroad, under communism. More so than any artist or scientist. Just a little lesson to Venezuelans, if they feel hostility, say in Bolivia.

    I have met Cubans, born under the Castros’ “Revolution”. Most of them scientists. Wonderful, studious persons who struggled with the reality of Cuba’s backwardness. None have chosen to go back to Cuba, whenever they get the chance to leave.

    The other sad side is that Venezuela has become a colony of Cuba complete with some monopolies. Move over Guipuzcoana! The “metropolitan” bureaucrats naturally behave as if they owned the place, or maybe as they would behave towards a subordinate countryman. “I have power and I don’t care that you might have more education and experience”.

  11. More than the Cubans, who really infuriates me are specimens like this local Venezuelan bureaucrat who are opportunistic, resentful and on top of all incompetent.

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