Going south, deep in the red, yet surviving


The liquidation of my sorta-hometown bookstore today brought mixed feelings.

I’m sad to see a place that I visited so often go down in flames. But on the other hand, capitalism is like that. Businesses thrive and fall, creative destruction allows for new enterprises to prosper on the ashes of old ones, and mankind somehow progresses. If it wasn’t like this we’d all still be watching Betamax.

That bookstores are going the way of the Dodo is a fact of the world. The world, that is, beyond Venezuela’s borders.

Witness the thriving chain of Venezuelan bookstores called Librerías del Sur. The stores are everywhere, from La Grita to Puerto Ayacucho, from Maracaibo to Altamira.

In case the name doesn’t give it away for you, the chain is owned – and heavily subsidized – by the State.

In it, you will find an assortment of left-wing propaganda and discussion books, as well as a complete treasure trove of chavista apologetics.

It wasn’t surprising to see them well stocked with many copies of the anachronistic The Chávez Code, but other titles simply left my head scratching.

Want some literature for your kids? Well, prominently featured is “Los hijos de Fidel,” by Domingo León, a collection of short stories told from the lap of the octogenarian dictator himself.

Interested in economics? Have a shot at “Buenos Muchachos,” by José Natanson, a detailed exposé of neoliberal economists.

This last one piqued my interest, and I quickly flipped through it, curious to see which of my friends was being trashed. Imagine my disappointment when I realized both the book and its many subjects focused on Argentina.

I’m no marketing genius, but a detailed account of the many foils of Domingo Cavallo and his team strike me as being of little interest to readers in Upata.

The bookstore is a barren wasteland, both in terms of the literature and in terms of customers. Witnessing what Monteávila Editores’ collection has been reduced to depressed me. The tired face of the cashier almost made me suicidal.

And yet, it’s thriving. By my counts, there are 48 of these stores scattered in each and every state. And you can bet not a single one of these is profitable.

Someone should have told Borders CEO Mike Edwards that one way to save his chain was to sell his soul to the sugar-daddy of the South, and become a sort of ideological and literary Citgo, peddling left-wing rubbish deep in the heart of the empire. I’m sure Ann Arborites would have been thrilled.

Maybe then he could have saved the 10,000 jobs being lost today.

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      • Well, it is not thriving. It is being kept alive. And I just think how many maths, biology, physics, chemistry books could be printed for children in Antímano or Punto Fijo.
        Hell, I’d rather see the money spent in documenting Uruak and Sapé, two Venezuelan languages that have no relationship whatsoever to any other language on Earth. If a couple of scientists read that and ponder on how Venezuela became populated in the first place they would have done something way more transcendental than if anyone read Castro’s rubbish.

  1. It is virtually impossible for me to look at anything Chavismo does and not think about zombies.

    They are not alive in any meaningful sense of the term. They have no meaningful cognitive functions. All they want to do is to eat (read: destroy) other people’s brains and at the same time have them join their cause. Yet, they thrive and multiply and grow, sometimes faster than actual living, intelligent beings. And it is the fact that they are dead (inside) that allows them to grow because they are not burdened by the petty limits imposed on living beings.

    You think, since they move so slowly and are essentially brainless and dead, that you have no real reason to be afraid of them. But they’re scarier than, say, vampires because they are completely mindless. Vampires understand that if they kill all humans, they’ll starve to death. Zombies don’t understand anything, furthermore, they don’t need to eat brains to survive, they just have an irresistible urge to eat them and to kill (and transform into one of them) all humans they meet. A brainless enemy is the scariest enemy: he cannot be reasoned with, he cannot be taught to avoid you no matter what you do, and he will continue trying to fulfill his one and only purpose until his last breath.

    Zombies destroy everything they come into contact, yet doing so doesn’t threaten their own existence, in fact, the more they destroy, they more they grow in numbers because it is this destruction that gives them life.

    And of course, if the cancer kills Esteban, Fidel has a dozen Haitian high priests ready to turn him into an actual zombie…

    • I dunno bout that Kirano,
      Recently GEEKS=Zombies 🙂

      I believe they’re called “geeks” because original zombies didn’t eat people, they were only after their victim’s brains.

    • Chavistas are not brain dead. Far from it.

      There are the realistic and to varying extent unscrupulous/smart ones. These intone the approved mantras and get the benefits of passing for truly pious, or are useful, smooth operators for other unscrupulous ones. They are astute, know the score, and actually benefit from Librerias del Sur and other initiatives. Financially, not culturally.

      There are those who choose to be gullible. They can be quite smart, but their cognitive functions have given way because they have rock solid belief in a future society, and that anything goes because it’s being built. Never mind evidence to the contrary, or that they are usually skeptical of anything not crackpot economics and sociology, read marxist. These are the guys who can go through (or write) the Librerias del Sur books; they can discuss their favored fantasy world like Star Trek/Dungeons & Dragons/Star Wars/Lord of the Rings geeks until the Sun goes cold.

      There are the ignorant. These cheer for Hugo Chavez, would not bother with more straightforward literature; certainly not with the bricks on offer in Librerias del Sur. They will get the ideas in those books through the mouth of Hugo Chavez or acolytes as propaganda. However, it’s much easier for them to come to their senses and weigh reality as is, than the second, supposedly more sophisticated group.

      If anything in this situation reminds you of faith dynamics, it’s no coincidence

      • Loro,

        Well written comment and right on point.

        I know one gentleman of the second category. He is intelligent, foreign educated and has no apparent excuse for his delusions. He is a pleasure to speak with on nearly any subject other than Venezuelan politics. Since Chavismo came into power, he has spent all of his savings on various Chavista communal enterprises that have all failed and he is practically destitute. Nevertheless, he continues to believe in his Comandante and Chavismo with all his heart.

        As the political situation and the economy has worsened, he has only become more wedded to his “ideals”. Unfortunately, my friends and I find we can no longer socialize with him, because the he now takes offense at the slightest of anti-Chavez comment. For him to admit any error or fault in Chavez would be to shatter his entire belief structure and self-identity.

        Most of the people in the “ignorant” category at least have enough sense to ask, “What have you done for me lately?”

      • I second the motion. Check this out:

        Reading the article, it turns out that the chief judge of the supreme court (no caps, on purpose) decided not to proceed with the “antejuicio de merito” because the person who introduced the request “does not belong to the PSUV”.

        Not because of the merits per se, but because the person bringing the action has no standing in the party!!!

        Jesus H. Christ, on a pogo stick!!!!!

        • People like Luisa Estella probably belong to the first group.

          Still they are not brain dead. Just plain stupid. You know, keep the charade going, that Venezuela is not ruled despotically by the PSUV and Chavez and that there are independent powers.
          I am not familiar with the Antejuicio de Merito procedures. Has to be handled the Supreme Court. But the rest…

          But it has to be some party representative to get heard? Any of them? Isn’t justice about establishing facts and judging them, to get at the truth? How come they expelled the guy and then retroactively his allegation is no longer acceptable?

          Why do I risk an aneurysm trying to find some logic to this mess in the light of accepted legal practice under the rule of law? Venezuela is a definitely not a Republic with a Constitution anymore. But… these guys don’t even try to hide the fact.

      • Let me play supercilious:

        Fine! Vote me down.

        Let us think “chavistas”, those who vote for the Chavez government are brain dead and do not have their own individual interests, histories and motives. Let’s not think that “chavistas” are a segmented group with heterogeneous interests that can be used to our advantage. Let’s think with the guts. We’ll get our hides plastered over the walls come next election.

        “Chavistas” are not zombies. The institutions they created are zombies. Ergo, we have to get them to realize it and get out of “chavismo” before the zombies get to eat them.

    • The zombie metaphor works amazingly well with this example; when I read Kirano’s comment I immediately thought of zombie banks.

      Zombie bank: A bank or financial institution with negative net worth. Although zombie banks typically have a net worth below zero, they continue to operate as a result of government backings or bailouts that allow these banks to meet debt obligations and avoid bankruptcy. http://www.investopedia.com/terms/z/zombie-bank.asp

      Replace bank/financial institution with bookstore, and bingo. For that matter, replace those terms with government-initiated cooperative, expropriated/nationalized business/tract of land/hotel, etc, etc, etc. I won’t say this fits chavistas, but it fits basically anything economic chavismo does.

      • That’s closer to the actual truth. Suppose that generally, individual humans have the intelligence necessary to follow any discussion (however slowly!, or amazingly fast).

        It’s the chavista organizations that work like mindless zombies, randomly destructive and infecting whatever they touch.

        How potent is the negation of rational discussion and individual initiative? Extremely. If they had real discipline, at least they would have the destructive power of well oiled and uncritical weapons, those needed to collectivize nations, no matter how many die. Or like MIR Publishers (after all it’s publishing we talk about), produce excellent textbooks and amazing science dissemination.

        In taking the appearance of discipline, the chavista organizations produce retoric and propaganda, and not precisely the best kind thereof, because Venezuelans in general are not enraptured by it.

        It’s the use and abuse of the color red, once again…

  2. Interesting facts, thanks, Mr. Nagel !
    Sure, I can bet these bookstores are not profitable.
    I wonder what kind of prices you pay for a book in Librerias del Sur.
    Perhaps not much. Would these books still be more expensive than toilet paper?
    I hope that they at least sell some good coffee.

  3. July 19, 2011 at 2:33 pm
    Interesting facts, thanks, Mr. Nagel !
    Sure, I can bet these bookstores are not profitable.
    I wonder what kind of prices you pay for a book in Librerias del Sur.
    Perhaps not much. Would these books still be more expensive than toilet paper?
    I hope that they at least sell some good coffee.

  4. I always go inside just to see if I can find a book I can like. I mean, at 10 Bs. a book (or less) there has got to be something worth reading…but no, there is nothing. Not even a good book for children. I think I may have gone in about 15 times, I have only bought one book.

  5. Why go to a ex-Kuaimare What can posses you, besides curiosity, to actually enter in one and buy a book there? They sell their catalog by cheaper in every fucking book fair organized in the country, after all. I’m tired to see their stand and the mountains of books, from whom only one or two are actually interesting (I’m including the occasional republishing of great authors and theater scripts).
    Still, even with the humongous lines, ther book mountains never go small. And if you search on those you can find strange things, like all the books wrote by those closer to El Mísmísimo. Once, the Beloved and me found a short stories book written by Mario Silva. Yes, El Hojillero himself. Beloved actually bought the book for the lulz, since it was ridiculously cheap. Actually not bad written (in a formal sense, I mean, at least he get the spellchecker before sending to print), but not that good either. At least it wasn’t Tarek’s poem books or Barreto “communicational” books and their unbelievable and unbearably long back-cover texts

    • I can’t help it! It’s a bookstore with ridiculous low prices! I gotta go in, sort through the shit and hope to find a real gem…


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