“I moved here two years ago because I wanted to get deeper into witchcraft."


iO5jvLuk8xusBloomberg scores the Quote of the Day in this eye-opening exposé of Caracas’s deepening water problems.

The water from Lake Mariposa, polluted by sacrifices and garbage from a local cult, is pumped to a 60-year-old treatment plant that lacks the technology to make it safe for drinking…

Well worth reading in full.

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    • Santería isn’t the problem. The fact that the government can’t get its shit together enough to prevent Santeros dumping animal carcasses into a drinking water reservoir, THAT’S the problem…

      • Of course, impunity is the main culprit. But this SOAB (and others) who launches animal carcasses and many other stuff into the lake is indirectly damaging me with his bullshit religion! that doesn’t mean prohibit santeria itself, but this guy should be locked away. Of course, that ain’t gonna happen.

      • Yes that’s it. If chavistas own an arepera they would have to close due to bad management. Until when the idiots who vote cannot get it.

  1. Religion?! Since when is religious freedom synonymoyus with polluting the water source for a city of 5.5 millon? Presos deberían ir los bichos esos.

  2. The whole post-apocalyptic feel to the story was masterful. It blends santería, the collapse in infrastructure, the lack of investment, price controls, and the complete lack of accountability (now there are unnamed sources who say “no comment”! not even saying no comment is safe for these guys). Great work.

    • Have you ever read a more succinct “putting the boot in” than –

      Shortages of imported goods ranging from sugar to beef are stoking the world’s second highest inflation after Iran. Real wages fell 9 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, according to the central bank. The public-sector deficit will finish the year at 11 percent of gross domestic product, according to Bank of America Corp.

      The deficit wasn’t used to finance investment in the water industry. The budget of the Caracas water monopoly Hidrocapital fell 49 percent to 25 million bolivars ($9.7 million) in 2010, the last year the Environment Ministry published a detailed report on spending plans.

      The yield on benchmark sovereign bonds due 2027 rose 0.11 percentage point to 12.36 percent on Sept. 3. On average, Venezuelan sovereign debt yields 12.48 percent, almost double the average in emerging markets, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.

      • you just made me realize that the implied exchange rate here is BsF 2.6/USD, meaning that back in the good ol’ days of dual exchange rate the water industry was considered ‘prioritary’ (as can obviously be inferred from reading this article)

    • Yes, at least Bloomberg is telling it like it is — disgusting. There are all kinds of environmental and health nightmares like this going unreported.

  3. with this water issue I have to recognise my father is a one of a kind visionary. When I was in school (about +/- 25 years ago) we suffered frequent and long water shortages (I have not-so-fond memories of the doñas I had for neighbours turning into feral beasts fighting over a camión cisterna), so my dad decided to invest in building a second massive water tank (it can supply up to seven days worth of water), and most importantly, as water started to come out yellow from the faucets, a giant state-of-the-art industrial Pasteur filter for the whole house, which up to this day lets my family drink water straight from our faucets! His friends thought he was crazy (who’s laughing now, ha!). Now I understand why we were so cash strapped when I was a kid, but it was very well worth it. At the beginning, the dirt accumulated by the filter just needed to be rinsed every 4 to six months, as time passed by, the filter had to be rinsed more frequently and today it has to be washed a manguerazo limpio every week and what comes out is a very nasty black mud! Guacatela! It just occurred to me that maybe my dad coul set up a home business selling water to our neighbours, jejejejeje… (oh well, he is an engineer and would rather die than become a buhonero XD)

    • The incredible thing is that the government itself could filter the damn water … but not on a measly $9.7 million budget.

        • Take it a step further. Even if they doubled the budget between 2010 and now to 50 million bolivars, just to keep up with inflation, that’s a real budgetary number of $7.9 million, or a parallel rate of $1.4. Why would I care about the conversion to the rates? Because I would be willing to bet the needed technology isn’t locally produced in Venezuela. That’s depressing.

          To give something of a comparison, even though it isn’t apples to apples… the local water board here (a PPP) supplies a bit over 600,000 people (half the metro area) with annual revenues of around $55 million and expenses of $45 million, of which 25% goes to debt service on past capex, for 2012.

      • I would think a boiling/condensation method would outperform a filtration method, but it definitely sounds like 9.7MM isn’t nearly enough either way.

  4. Most Santeros are as law abiding as any Venezuelan Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or Jew. Sanitary regulations are often applied over religious wishes (the institution of public cemeteries, for instance, was one of them).

    Some people also note that Santería practices violate animal rights or, even more clearly, laws against animal cruelty.

    I have a tutee who is doing his Licenciatura thesis on Freedom of Religion and Santeria. A common problem is that, unlike mainstream religions, there are a lot of unregulated and non-sanctioned practices. There is a national federation on these religions (Santeria has a number of branches), which has existed for many generations.

  5. As a side anecdote, during my fist year in College -around ’96-’97- I worked as a cartoonist for a magazine in Santa Rosalía/Quinta Crepo. I normally walked from Capitolio down to the magazine’s offices when delivering my cartoons. There was a budding Dominican community in the zone and, perhaps coincidentally, a number of “Perfumerías” and other Santería related shops (there are also shops of Catholic paraphernalia all over the city, so I just chalked it ups as part of the “local colour” of the place); these were simple shops. Earlier this year, I went back to that part of Caracas on an unrelated business, and I saw not only more shops (about four times more), and some of them were quite luxurious, with security guards and bullet-proof doors. Obviously, there are better-off Santeros, and it is becoming more mainstream (Cuban influences, more Santeros in positions of power, etc.).

    Nonetheless, Latinobarómetro doesn’t register santeros -or a similar category- on their studies,. Only GIS XXI has them on 1% as of 2011. It might be that Santeros fear declaring their identity or that they are formally linked to a different and more formal religion. Both the Catholic hierarchy and Pentecostal Churches denounce Santería every now and then.

      • Well, even at 1%, that’s around 300000 people. Since they might be a more salient (you can “tell them apart” with their accesories, which would be hard for, say, any kind of Christian), perhaps there’s a distorted perception on the matter. Jews, for instance, poll at 0,09% at Latinobarómetro (as of 2007).

        As for Catholicism, it has droppes from the higher 80s to the lower 70s, with only around 10% declaring the regularly attend mass and other religious events.

        • GIS XXI (estudio año 2011)
          Autodefinición religiosa
          Católico 71%
          Evangélico, otros cristianos 17%
          Agnóstico, indiferente 6%
          Otros 2%
          Ateos 2%
          Santero 1%
          NS/NC 1%
          Judío 0%

          Citado en AGUIRRE, Jesús María (2012): Radiografía Religiosa de Venezuela: Imágenes y representaciones. Centro Gumilla/UCAB, Temas de Formación Sociopolítica N° 51, p. 17.

          • De acuerdo a la data de Latinobarómetro al 2007

            Católicos 73,75%
            Evangélicos 13,66
            Bautistas 0,25
            Testigos de Jehová 1,76
            Pentecostalistas 0,16
            Adventistas 0,08
            Judíos 0,09
            Agnósticos 0,25
            Ateos 0,25
            Otros 0,25
            Ninguno 5,99
            NS/NR 3,6

          • Moreover, people can worship whatever mainstream religion and still appeal to other mystical services (Santeria, New Age, and whathaveyou).

          • Well, that’s what I meant: people don’t see Santería as an either/or proposition with regard to mainstream religions.

            BTW, I refuse to believe that Latinbarómetro takes a large enough sample to be able to say *anything* meaningful about 0.08% of the population minorities.

          • These are interesting stats. They explain, for example, why when someone describes their background as Protestant, they get a blank look.

            I think you are right that a lot of people have their mainstream religion, and then a sort of sideline in something else. The categories seem pretty flexible sometimes.

          • Even in Japan, I read, they might report being Shintoist and Buddhist.
            A huge amount of Venezuelan Catholics are superstitious in a way that allows one to say they are into Santería (of course, some people will consider Catholicism just another kind of superstition, but whatever way one sees it, it’s another line of believes).

            I also see this classification a little bit problematic. As far as I know, Baptists and Pentecostal people can consider themselves evangelicals (although we need to talk about the set of Baptists intersecting the set of evangelicals).

            About statistics in Venezuela: I would take with a grain of salt the statistics that even the INE produces (or particularly those).

          • I don’t believe those figures.
            First of all: a lot of Venezuelans are very fuzzy about their religious preferences. They can have several “religions” simultaneously, just like they can change sides politically according to convenience.
            The figure for “evangelicals” is strange. Are Baptists and Pentecostals counted always apart from those?
            The amount of people who believed in old Venezuelan witch crap was huge before. Since the Cubans arrived to Venezuela, the Santería thing has gone through the roof.
            Are Muslims and Christian Maronite included in the 2%? There are some 400 000 Maronite believers in Venezuela.

          • As part of some old research project, I tried to ask people in the Catholic church some basic statistics on itself.

            I came up empty.

  6. La Mariposa Reservoir is part of Tuy 1 water system, which feeds part of Caracas (maybe 25%), this is not reported by the Bloomberg article… The bottled water comes from several wells and fountains located in the Alto Mirandinos Region, located between 1000 and 1300 mts. near Caracas. The Pao Cachinche problem in Valencia is much, much worse, see this link: http://development.thinkaboutit.eu/think3/post/tap_water_doesnt_means_drinking_water_interview_with_the_movement_for_water/

  7. Maybe in the countryside people are still pious, but in urban places most people although declaring themselves catholic arent very pious , they go through the basic motions , attend church once in a while , have their kids baptized , but the kind of really pious catholicism that you see elsewhere is scarce
    As for the evangelical and santeria religions I suspect what really attracts some people to them is that they are so theatrical , so gaudily exhuberant that people really enjoy joining the show they make , scenifying their frenzied rites. !! not that they dont think that their beliefs are real but that what unconsciously renders those beliefs credible is how attractive they are to their hyped up emotions !! John Adams said a phrase Hannah Arendt gave a lot of thought to., he said that what drove people to politics was a Passion for Distinction , for what we would call in spanish Protagonism (Latin for being lead actor in a play) , I suspect that the same ´passion drives many people to strindent religions .!! Venezuelans really like protagonism and melodramatic play acting , look at how popular telenovelas are here , look at Chavez meteroric career !!

    • I think Evangelicals are a real challenge to the Catholic church in Venezuela. I think you will see more and more electric bass, cowbell and clapping at Catholic services, at least outside the big urban churches, to hang on to the constituency.

      • Right you are Canuck !!, there is already a “charismatic’movement within the Church that resembles Evangelists in their clapping , singing , ‘mystical’ raptures etc. The Civilization of Spectacles of which Vargas Llosa wrote about is fast spreading its influence to religion !!

  8. How does one know (as Bloomberg mentions) if the bottled water is properly purified for consumption? It seems easy for crooks to simply fill bottles with tap water and sell it as potable. Government certification required? Well, we all know how to get around this little inconvenience.
    Otherwise, government officials are probably afraid to move against the Santeros, fearing their wrath of being bewitched

    • If you buy the quality brands you should not have problems, Minalba, Nevada, Alpes, Zenda. One way of checking unkwown brsnds is to let the bottle sit for several days, it should not change colors

  9. A bit off topic, but I wanted to draw attention to the fact that Ramirez just announced a price hike to gasoline.

    In the Guajira border with Colombia the price went from 1.86 BsF/liter to 4.90 BsF/liter.
    The price in the Tachira border with Colombia at SAFEC stations (Sistema de Abastecimiento Fronterizo Especial de Combustible) went up to 12.00 BsF/liter.

    Apparently, the price for contraband gasoline is 20 BsF/liter, while the national price is 0.07 Bs/liter.

    So at least Ramirez (when prodded by the Colombian finance minister) understands a tiny bit of basic microeconomics (en la frontera, solamente, obvio).

      • It is not a flourishing business, Mike. It is a thriving business. It’s literally a billion dollar a year business, apparently controlled by the FANB and FARC. This price hike just lowers the margins for smuggler a bit – if at all.

        Cool bit on cigarette smuggling!

    • I can only say this is a good thing.

      Perhaps that could be the jumping off point for a national gas price hike, done area by area?

      • Different pricing in different areas for any product, creates arbitrage opportunities that will be exploited by “smugglers” and inevitably results in more corruption and shortages in the low price areas.
        Sorry but this can only efficiently work if implemented in the whole country and we all know that it would carry a very high political cost and is therefore unlikely to happen, unless Cuban style total repression goes hand in hand with it.

        • Mike is right. Area by area would give way to smuggling. This has to be done at once and everywhere.

          I don’t agree that it always carries a high political cost. I bet we’ve all forgotten the last time gas prices went up in any significant way. No, it wasn’t in 1989 right before el Caracazo. It was in 1996 and prices went up something like 600% to meet conditions imposed by the IMF for financing.

          Nothing happened. Not one car was burned. Not one person died. It was done with a media campaign that informed people of what was happening.

        • But if we have low gas prices in the center of the country, let’s say Caracas, and progressively increase them as we move towards the frontiers then most of the smuggling added value would remain in Venezuela, and on top of it all, generate a lot of employment in trying to reassign economic resources correctly 🙂


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