Suspended Animation

In Venezuela, during this strange inter-regnum between Chávez and what comes next, beef and cement have become privileges. But these days, the mother of all luxuries is certainty.

Just ask Andrea.

Andrea is finishing her undergrad at Universidad Católica Andrés Bello. She was supposed to turn in her thesis last week, but since classes were suspended for several days, her faculty advisor was forced to re-shuffle the time-table. Now she’s trying to reschedule the celebration trip she meant to take this week and had to cancel, but she can’t peel her eyes off María Gabriela Chávez’ twitter feed, because elections will happen in 24 days and she’s obsessed.

She’s constantly interrupted by calls from her mother, Gloria, who keeps badgering her about selling the dollars they’d saved up to buy a car, but Andrea wants to hold off because, with every passing day, you can get more and more bolívares for every lechuga verde.

They want to buy a car because the ‘92 Honda Civic they share to get around has been in the shop since the beginning of March for transmission issues, but Sr. José, the owner of the car-shop, cannot give them a proper estimate on what repairs will cost because all spare parts are bought from abroad, and now is not a good time to set a price.

Sr. José’s son, Wilmer, works as a lighting technician for a show venue. He gets paid per gig, but the flamenco act that was scheduled to play for an international medical corporate event this week was cancelled, once news arrived that elections will happen in 24 days. Nobody wanted to travel to Venezuela given fears of social unrest.

Wilmer was banking on the gig in order to take his girlfriend, Jocelyn, to the coast this past weekend, the only time he can take off work, but figures it’s all for the better, because all exits to and from Caracas were closed on Friday due to a certain funeral.

Jocelyn, in the meantime, really wanted to go to the beach, but having missed four waitressing shifts at the sushi restaurant she works for due to funeral-related closings, a Saturday-night shift can probably make up for lost tips, which she needs.

Her mom, Gisela, who sells empanadas from a street stand in Chacaíto, had to stay home on Friday because schools were not functioning and her grandson Josué would need a babysitter that day.  Jocelyn really needs to pitch in, but ten days of Ley Seca have kept customers away, so the restaurant is empty, and Jocelyn’s tips will probably be scant as well.

The alcohol sales-ban, which will start again for this coming Semana Santa, also forced Ana Elisa to postpone her wedding, which she had paid in full and was set to happen that same Saturday. Days before, the National Guard visited the party venue and claimed they could not guarantee the safety of revellers, lest the Círculos Bolivarianos deem it insensitive. She’s now packing for her un-postponable honeymoon as she waits to hear back from the catering company on when would be a better time to get married, after the elections, of course.

Given the circumstances, Ana Elisa’s husband-to-be, Jorge Luis, is a bit reticent about going on the trip. He works as a budget planner for a local municipality. Due to financial uncertainties facing businesses who want to hold on to inventory since they have no idea how much it will cost to replenish, and also given the several days of sales they’ve had to forgo, tax contributions have been slower than usual this month, and he’s working overtime to try to shield municipal employees’ pay-packets from any kind of hit.

Jorge Luis’s work has been a circus for more than just that reason: all his budget allocations had been planned under the premise that municipal elections would be held in July. Now presidential elections will be held in 24 days. But a previously planned municipal change of government has been indefinitely postponed; he has to reprogram everything.

The reworked election schedule is kind of a bummer for Andrea, the college student, too: she’s already been accepted to a grad school program abroad, and was planning on updating her voter registration when the National Electoral Registry was opened up for changes. Except now nobody knows when that will happen, either.

For most people in the world, there might be two certainties in life: death and taxes. In this state of suspended animation that is La República Bolivariana de Venezuela, the only certainty in life is…uncertainty.

*Most of the people in this post are real, their names have been changed to preserve their privacy. “Jocelyn” is an composite of people I know of in very similar circumstances.