An allegory of domestic bliss with a dark, dark ending…


just-married-coupleVenezuela right now is like a marriage where the wife, let’s call her Populus, has only partial information about the financial affairs of her husband, let’s call him Hugo. Every month, Hugo shows Populus his credit card statement, so she knows how much debt he has. But Hugo flat out refuses to show her the statements for the savings account he keeps at Fonden Bank.

To most people, that’s a footnote. What matters is that it’s a happy marriage, everyone can see that. A real love match. Eccentric in some ways, yes, but nobody really doubts Populus’s devotion to Hugo, which endures despite his sporadic jealous rages.

The money helps. A lot. Over the years, Populus has grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle, and Hugo has made all kinds of promises that that lifestyle is built on solid rock.

Populus knows Hugo had a run of good luck in recent years: he made a big windfall from his backyard mining business. But since Hugo won’t show her the statements for his savings account, she has no way of knowing how much of the windfall he saved, how much he has since spent, or how much is left on hand. Hugo likes to brag about the lovely gifts he’s bought her with the savings from that Fonden savings account, but when Populus asks to see the statements he just clams up, flat out refuses her requests.

In fairness to Hugo, she doesn’t ask very often. As long as her lifestyle is sustained, she’s happy to not know.

Sure, there are some signs that things may not be all that rosy. Those credit card statements are coming back fatter and fatter each month. Insofar as Populus worries about that, which isn’t actually very far at all, she’s puzzled. She knows he pays 12% interest on that credit card debt, and only gets 2 or 3% interest on his savings out of Fonden Bank. But, again, she doesn’t ask too many questions; she’s minded to trust him.

And why shouldn’t she? Life is great! They have this thing they do in their family where every six-years they renew their vows and boy, Hugo really makes it rain at those times and he’s just wonderful and she’s in love, damn it, in love. 

Some of Populus’s curmodgeonly uncles, though, can’t help but question her: is their lifestyle really sustainable?

They try to point out to her that until she’s seen those Fonden Bank statements and evaluated the rate at which they’re getting drawn down, and then matched those up with the rate of new debt on the credit card statements and with their overall spending, they can’t know if their cushion is growing or shrinking. They try to piece the puzzle together on the back of a million envelopes, but key bits of data are missing. They try all kinds of work-arounds to try to infer how much money is probably left in the Savings Account now, but they know that that is a poor, poor substitute to actually seeing the account statements.

All that second-guessing really annoys Populus. She really doesn’t want to be bothered with the details. Hugo tells her their lifestyle is rock solid, and that’s that as far as she’s concerned.

But there’s a plot twist: Hugo falls ill. Very very ill. And he leaves all his assets to Populus in a trust fund. Populus is the beneficiary, but Mr. Mature is the trustee. Populus has heard Hugo speak effusively about how wonderful Mr. Mature is over many years, so she’s somewhat positively pre-disposed to him. But she’s sure as hell not in love with him, and isn’t anywhere near as viscerally willing to trust him blindly as she was to trust Hugo. Besides, Hugo, when he was in his prime, assured her again and again that they’d turned a corner, that things would be fine and, again, as far as she’s concerned, his word is gold.

Now, my question is: what happens if Hugo passes away and, say, 6 months or a year afterwards, Mr. Mature comes to Populus trying to explain, “erm, well, turns out the bank account was mostly gone by the time he passed, and the credit card is totally maxed out, and the Trust really can’t afford the next payment on your BMW, and probably you should live in a smaller house cuz those mortgage payments, yow!, oh and something has to give with those shopping bills…”

I humbly suggest to you, dear reader, that Populus will throw an almighty tantrum at that point.

She will smash the china, she will kick and scream. She will not take this lying down. Coming from Hugo, she might have. Coming from a different trustee after she had divorced Hugo of her own free will, she might have. But coming from some random suit she has no emotional connection with just months after his tragic death? It will feel like a horrible, horrible betrayal to her.

Believe me, china will be smashed.

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  1. Is this a marriage or a pyramid scheme?

    If Bernie Maddoff had died in 2007, his name would be legend by now.

  2. Just to go all curmodgeonly uncle all over again here, the other twist is that Hugo KNEW FULL FUCKING WELL he was dying of cancer when he decided to just spend the hell out of his savings account to keep Populus sweet on him ahead of last October’s Vow Renewal, coño. He knew he was creating a massive problem for her down the road.

    Did he care? Not a bit…

    Is that love? You tell me…

    • Populus will prefer to believe Hugo didn’t know he was sick again. To those of you who have seen a cancer patient in remission I ask: How often does the patient get screened? Every 3 months? Every 4 months? You tell me… The whole point of the screening is to catch a recurrence at an early stage to get rid of it before it spreads too much.
      But I bet populus, in the need to maintain her faith in Hugo’s word at such difficult time, will repeat herself over and over: HE DIDN’T KNOW

  3. Hugo’s hard-earned massive savings, squirreled away in multiple foreign bank accounts, will take care of his children/ other blood relatives for the next 1000 years. Populous, his non-blood wife, in good Venezuelan tradition, will get little, or nothing–she was only his wife, for Chrisake! The barragana would have made out well, but he probably didn’t have any…..

    • yes but in the modern world it is becoming increasingly difficult to squirrel away money! However exoerience tells me that IF (big IF) the oppo came to power they would not seek tomrecover stolen monies (sets a bad precedent doesnt it) the same way that Chavez did not touch the funds ofnthose that stole behind him.

  4. Populus became a spoiled, bipolar little bitch. To think she once had the balls to divorce Pérez Jimenez, back in the day with no marriage counseling bullsh!t.

  5. Populus really needs such a shock to wake up from her honeymoon…or was it moneymoon? Populus the typical spoiled gold digger!

  6. Momentito, Quico. You spring Populous’ divorce on your readers, but only in the last paragraph without anything leading up to it? #CONFUSING.

    You say Populous will turn on Mr. Mature? I’m not sure. Mr. Mature will have had 6 months of target practice on the perfect scapegoat: the opposition. Populous, being a sucker for this kind of story, won’t realize she’s being manipulated.

    China smashed? Not if Mr. Mature’s associate, Mr. Hair, starts wearing olive green fatigues – daily, from the 6 month mark forward.

  7. I really wouldn’t like to see what kind of China will be smashed when the new narco-malandro-militar suitor decides it’s time to put the fatigues on and impose himself out of the dictatorship they are bound to create.

  8. Man seen standing next to an ox cart in a Monty Python sketch, “Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!” But, to the consternation of Maduro and Cabello, he’s not dead yet. What if he lives another week,? …another month? ….till August? How do you declare a new election,….if the family objects! OMG! What they hell are they gonna do? Amazing stuff.

    • I understand Venezuelans want closure. but I personally hope Chavez holds on for months or even a year. So long as he hangs around his flunkies will be running around like a headless chicken, the inevitable economic chaos would finish off the already tarnished name of his so called revolution.

  9. So “no-one really doubts” that the population enthusiastically supports Chavez, and this is because over a long period of time he has delivered a much improved lifestyle for most people, by which you can only mean rising living standards, minimum wage, health and education programs etc.

    So after 14 years of ridiculous opposition lies, cries of fraud, coups and business strikes, all designed to delegitimise the democratic choice of Venezuelans, you finally admit the truth: Chavez wins elections because he delivers.

    And after 10 years of strident blogging and inane student theorising you are left with nothing more substantial than that old perennial, your ever-predicable prediction: it’s all going to come crashing down. You remind me of the old man who used to walk up and down London’s Oxford Street holding a placard that read: The End of the World is Nigh. Sadly he passed away before his dream could be realised.

    As a writer, you have some talent. As an analyst, you are both hopeless and elitist, concerned with froth and trivia rather than substance. I cannot deny that your blog is sometimes entertaining, but ultimately it is little more than a Venezuelan version of ‘Westminster gossip’. If I could change your strapline, it would read: “An in-depth study of the superficial”.

    You’re probably completely unaware of it, but one of the reasons you and “Mrs Populus” are barely on speaking terms these days is because you address her in condescending tones as if she were a ignorant child, not a grown woman who has experienced life and has a voice of her own.

    • And, once more, the Fonden scandal passes a chavista 100% by…

      $100,000,000,000 + handled off budget, illegally, secretly, with zero accountability or oversight, in CLEAR contravention of the constitution Chávez personally championed = the superficial

      Que lindo vale…

      • And what about the rest of the money spent by often-illegal “emergency powers” Presidential decrees? But all of this is beside the point–the Country is in economic shambles. As for the frothing, we have the Hydra Troll. As for Mrs./Mr. Populous, we’ll see them tomorrow, pululando around the Asamblea, with newly-issued red shirts, clutching handout little blue “Bichas”, which they haven’t read, and couldn’t understand anyway, and then queuing up on Sunday at Catia PSUV headquarters to receive their per-diem wage.

    • “They’re baaack…..” (Please, turn off the TV, and any other electric appliance (e. g, computers), since they can be damaged by the flickering electrical interference….)

    • So if there is a major downturn in Venezuela and a debt crisis, you will admit the opposition was right all along? Nice of you.

    • Winning elections doesn’t give you the right to steal the government money and spread it among your buddies. You morons simply choose to deny this fact. Just wait when the thug dies and we can shed some light on the massive corruption that has been going on.

        • You know that did occur to me as I was sitting down to write it, but I did it anyway because, basically, it is SO SO SO SO fucking hard to think of any other way to discuss the problem with Fonden opacity in a way that won’t put people to sleep, I’m basically just desperate.

  10. Mr Chavez delivers …..illusions , not sustainable welfare , only hand outs , shiny baubbles and trinkets bought with loans which cannot be paid or with resources which are profligately misspent at a tremendous loss to the country’s interests. His method reminds one of the Wizard of Oz, who makes a cowardly lion feel brave on receipt of a medal for valour , a straw man feel intelligent on receipt of a diploma , a tin man feel it has a heart on having a heart shaped ticking watch put arround its neck. He is indeed a master at substituting form for substance .

  11. Francisco, this is one of your best posts ever. You chose a clever way of delivering a pointed message is a way a grade school student could understand, though with insight and clarity that scholars can also appreciate. Thank you for sharing, and for your devotion to your craft.

  12. Off Topic:

    The quote by Alejandro Armengol after the header:

    Well, don’t know… An almost unknown Cuban blogger you found by chance is the right choice? I say, I don’t know… Not the best selection… Too close, too full of “antichavista” feeling…

    Better Celia Cruz:

    “¡Que le den candela! ¡Ay!, ¡que le den castigo…! / Que lo metan en una olla / y se cocine en su vino…”

    Better quote known people, don’t you think?


    “Misfortune, and recited misfortune especially, can be prolonged to the point where it ceases to excite pity and arouses only irritation.”
    ― Dorothy Parker

    I would take something by Vallejo, dudes.., really. “Los heraldos negros” o “Redoble fúnebre a los escombros de Durango”: “Padre polvo, sudario del pueblo, / Dios te salve del mal para para siempre, / padre polvo español, padre nuestro”. Something like that…

    Or this wonderful poem, by Edward Baugh, a famous poet, from Jamaica:


    In the name of the people
    I give you the People’s Constitution
    in which the rights of the people
    have been enshrined.
    So now that the people’s rights
    are enshrined, meaning dead,
    let us get on with the business
    of building the nation
    for the good of the people.
    But remember: be vigilant.
    Anybody who trouble me trouble you
    for you is me; I am the people –
    in the name of the people
    and the people
    and the people

    If you go this way in your “quotes”, in two weeks you’ll be quoting yourselves… and that would be too self-referential, even for yourselves…

    Algo así como “mis propias frases célebres”…

  13. It seems to me there’s a glaring inconsistency in recent posts. You say there’s a lack of transparency in the accounts but then you are also certain of economic collapse this year. Which is it?

    • There’s huge uncertainty about the TIMING and SCALE of adjustment, but not on the eventual need for it. If Fonden is towards the low end of the estimate range and oil prices tank, we’re looking at a more sudden, more socially disruptive fiscal adjustment sooner. If Fonden is towards the higher end of the estimate range, and oil prices stay high, then we’re looking at a more gradual adjustment. What’s for sure the pace of growth of consumption we’ve seen in the last couple of years is very clearly not sustainable. And the longer Chávez hangs on and no decisions are made, the tougher the decisions will have to be down the road.

      • And if the long term trend for oil prices is up, and production/exports also rise gradually, then…you’re saying there’s no problem?

        That scenario’s a pretty safe bet for me. I don’t know if peak oil theory gets much traction in these parts, but Chavez certainly knows about it.

  14. There is but one option left – they can sell whats left of the family silver and jewels handed down from previous generations

    There is an old almost forgottin long lost uncle in Houston called JR Ewing who has the cash, technology and resources to help out when needed…….he is already putting behind him all that family feuding over the past 14 years recalling the good ol times before the young upstart Hugo and those meddlesome Chinese, Russians and Iranians came on the scene – they were the best of times in the family history whilst populus hasn’t forgotten either and still has a longing and admiration for her long lost uncle in the North.

    Mr Mature could do worse than give ol JR a call…..

  15. Only problem one can have with the characterization of Mrs Populus is that it leaves out the fact that some 45% of Mrs Populus does not only not love Mr Chavez but downright hates his guts. A minority this size cannot be disenfranchised from active participation in public decisions which is what Mr Chavez partisans do with the added aggravation of making it the target of threats and insults .

    • Good point. It is almost exclusively “Mr Chavez partisans” who address this sizable population as an active political agent. Meanwhile, one can discern a distinct proclivity among CC contributors to simply write off this substantial portion of the population.

      • Meanwhile, one can discern a distinct proclivity among CC contributors to simply write off this substantial portion of the population.

        Your fantasies get the better of you. Maybe you can cite examples of where any of us have given any indication of writing off “el pueblo chavista”. Where we differ from the chavista government is in wanting deeper reforms, better planning, and the inclusion of all segments of the population. Kind of what happens in your own country, pcv, but what you obviously consider too good for “el pueblo chavista”. So instead, you fall prey to the messianic palaver that makes a bombastic show of giving the pueblo: a better education (it’s not, really, illiteracy rates were not eliminated), broader opportunities (rather than a focus on hand-outs); better quality of housing (rather than the sh*t holes that were rapidly and half-assed built during an electoral year); an increase in solid, well-built infrastructure; and so forth, all of which you’d think would have been possible with better planning, especially as oil prices have produced a windfall for most of the time that Hugo Chávez has acted as president. Finally, I believe that all CC contributors would welcome finding a country that allows all segments of the population to live in peace. Like they do in your country, pcv, but which you appear not to want for Venezuela.

        Have I managed to brush away some of those cobwebs that have hijacked your vision?

        • Once again, you fail at basic reading comprehension, syd. Wasn’t it just a few days ago when I had to sit you down like a kid and explain things clearly to you?

          Bill Bass complains that Toro’s characterization of Mrs. Populus “leaves out” consideration of the “45%” of the population that voted for the opposition. He says “a minority of this size cannot be disenfranchised from active participation….” In response I write that it’s “‘Mr Chavez’ partisans who address this sizeable population as an active political agent” and that it’s Francisco and Juan who tend to “write off” these folks (again, as active political agents). Maybe they don’t intend to–it’s just an observation.

          Why would you ask me to “cite examples of where any of us have given any indication of writing off ‘el pueblo chavista'”–when I was speaking about CC contributers ‘writing off’ “el pueblo opositor” not “el pueblo chavista”? Like with the mistake you made re: ‘royal pronouns’, you seem to have a problem correctly identifying antecedents. Work on it.

          Lastly, I cannot fathom how you could imagine your comment having the potential to “brush away some of those cobwebs that have hijacked your [my] vision”, unless you genuinely believe that the difference in our perspectives comes down to: you wanting “better” education, housing, etc. and me wanting “worse” versions of these things.

  16. It is fucking hilarious to watch the excitement with which Toro regurgitates decades old right-wing talking points about how the government is spending beyonds its means (whenever it invests in housing, education, health care and other social programs) as though he is discovering this tired and unconvincing claptrap for the first time.

    • And, once more, the Fonden scandal passes a chavista 100% by…

      $100,000,000,000 + handled off budget, illegally, secretly, with zero accountability or oversight, in CLEAR contravention of the constitution Chávez personally championed…it just never actually registers…

      • Would you like me (a Chavista in your mind) to raise my hand every time the opposition raises a concern that I share about how the Chavez government is run? To be honest, the partisan atmosphere (to which I’ve contributed, by trolling) in your comments section is not conducive to such a thing (which is why I was hopeful about your ill-fated reforms). You have repeatedly made clear, to me and others, here in the comments section, that you are uninterested in conversing with those slightly sympathetic to the Chavez government. I’m not sure if it’s occurred to you that some of the Chavistas (again, those to whom you would assign this label, as though our views could not be slightly more complex) who read CC and other opposition sites regularly do so because we’re genuinely interested in hearing from your perspective, because we know some of your concerns about the Chavez government are valid, even if we don’t think it justifies a change in political power. It is for this reason that I lament your shift from impartial political analyst to opposition pundit. What I read about FONDEN does concern me (of course I favor increased accountability, oversight, transparency, fucking democraticization within the PSUV) but your blantantly partisan attempt to make the story bigger than it is–in order to justify hauling in this tired conservative narrative about the inevitability of future austerity measures–is repellent. It’s like FOX NEWS’s endless harping on BENGHAZI as a scandal of the Obama presidency. And, guess what, you’re fooling less people than you think. My point is that I wish you were as interested in generating honest political insight as you are in scoring one for your team.

        • Let me preempt you by acknowledging my own hypocrisy as displayed on the site, seeing as how my comments obviously fall short of the standards I am holding you to. All I can say is that I am posting anonymous comments on a weblog, and you are writing op-eds for the New York Times–which of us should be held to a higher standard?

          • oh and two other things. Fonden isn’t just a giganourmous whale of a scandal sitting right in front of your eyes that you’ve somehow decided isn’t important enough to merit your attention, it also doubles up as:

            1-A kind of allegory for a government that wantonly privatizes public interest information for its own ends on all kinds of policy fronts, making secrets out of things that are obviously and unquestionably of the public interest and that the constitution mandates that they release. (Yes, the constitution Hugo used to call “the greatest in the world.”) It’s the same data hoarding instinct that keeps them from, say, actually publishing murder statistics, or data on the prevalence of domestic violence, or reliable data on oil production, or the results of the investigation into the Amuay disaster, or the quality of drinking water in Maturin following the Guarapiche spill, or the prevalence of Chagas disease in the Western Llanos. And, of course, it’s the same one put on dramatic display this week as the ruling clique plays with the entire nation by refusing to properly account for the president’s health. In all cases, the ruling clique can’t seem to get it through its head that they don’t own public interest information, it doesn’t belong to them. They have, in a way, simply stolen it.

            2-An actual salvaguarda crime, in that in the absence of actual information on the government’s foreign asset holding, ratings agencies and the markets can’t actually price Venezuelan debt accurately, and end up forced to presume the worst, which actually adds to the nation’s cost of borrowing, creating hundreds of millions in added, unnecessary interest payments, payments the revolutionary people’s government pays directly to Wall Street investors rather than spending on schools or roads or hospitals back home. Under ordinary reading of Venezuela’s Salvaguarda laws, people are supposed to go to jail for wasting the public’s resources like that.

            But it’s a detail, we’re not supposed to sweat it.

        • I don’t understand how a fund that handles half – HALF – the investment funds of the public sector can be treated as some sort of footnote. CAP was indicted and jailed for misdirecting an amount of money 4 orders of magnitude smaller.

          Fonden’s illegal handling of ONE-HUNDRED-BILLION-DOLLARS – Jesus, it’s a fucking third of yearly GDP!! – isn’t some footnote, dude. It’s the central fact of chavista fiscal policy over the last 8 years.

    • mmm… he’d be probably the frog prince. He keeps on telling that he’s a prince, but there’s no way Populous will be kissing that ugly charmless amphibian any time soon!

  17. whats most dissapointing in most troll comments is how they present us with a view of reality which is so warped and false and abstract and innacurate to anyone who has access to direct first hand case by case information on how the regime actually operates at a day to day level . The real real story is so much bigger and shitty than even Mr Toro’s most virulent comments make out that one finds oneself wondering of whether the trolls have any minimal contact with Venezuelan life or are totally blinded by their righteous ideological piety . Most common chavistas outside the beast ( the ruling institutions) have either minimal knowledge or even the capacity to understand how really fucked up and corrupt the regime really is. They live in the rosy tinged, artificially spruced up world of pugnacious passions and manipulated fantasies .
    this not because they are necessarily stupid but because they have such a hunger for illusions that make them feel strong, empowered , special that they are blind to any percpetion of reality that obscures their intoxicating dreams .

    • agree wholeheartedly, BB. Well expressed. What motivates these trolls — who have ZERO invested in Vzla — to derail our discussions, time and time again, is a need to take out their personal resentments with a crusader’s glee. That’s why, in the face of a now stronger backlash, pcv’s crocodile tears and his no-one-understands-me schtick comes across as a false note.

      • Just because somebody disagrees with your viewpoint doesn’t mean they “don’t really understand” Venezuela, PSUV etc

        I recall all the same crap during the election that it was all going Prince Charming’s way right up to the moment Chavez won it again

  18. Revolutionary romantics have no long-term commitment to Venezuela; there will always be another revolution just over the horizon. Transfer of allegiance can easily be done when everything in Venezuela falls into dust; no one will be watching them as the revolution’s supporters slink away, eyes fixed on Bolivia, or perhaps Mars. In the meantime, justification requires shielding one’s eyes to the “aberrations”, which constitute much of the lived experience within a “revolutionary” country. Historically, communism and fascism are extremely bloody and unjust paths to capitalism. But no true romantic can admit that this God has failed; better to repeat the same farce, but with the words “21st century” appended for reasons of merchandising.


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