Venezuela: Not so "chévere," by @xavi_dasilveira

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What passes for "public transportation system" in Venezuela.
What passes for “public transportation” in Venezuela.

Today, I got hold of this open letter addressed to Tourism Minister Andres Izarra by a Uruguayan tourist named Javier da Silveira.

In its fifteen pages, he recounts his experiences during his recent one-month trip (from February 23rd to March 23rd of this year) to our “land of (dis)grace.” Even if you can say his unfortunate trip can simply be a case of “bad timing”, what is really surprising is how he describes the unbelivably awful treatment by public workers, most notably those working in the Tourism Ministry.

Just for starters, Da Silveira found out that Venezuela is a pretty difficult place… to research online. In order to do justice to his story, I’ll put quoted parts of his experience and how he tells Izarra about it:

First stop, let me tell you how difficult it was to find tourism-related information in the Venezuela “nation brand” website. It was not too detailed in the information it provides. More so if we talk about the multimedia elements like videos, which can only be accessed via prior registry – when in fact you do register, there’s only one video available. Another alarming issue is the lack of maps of cities and tourist sites. Only three cities have maps through the websites of the States’ Tourist Boards: Guanare, Mérida, and San Cristobal. Finding a map of cities like Caracas or Maracaibo is quite a challenge…”

There’s more. Mr. Da Silveira decided to go to the Tourism Ministry’s offices in Caracas in order to get a map of downtown Caracas, and other recommendations. Instead of a warm welcome, this happened:

When I got close to the building’s outer grille, a Ministry security guard went out and stopped me from entering, by barking at me: “What do you want?”. When I explained the reasons for my visit and the need for a city map, he responded “We don’t have any right now. Come back in 15 days”. The whole rude experience left a very bad impression of the treatment given by state offices to tourists like me, who want to come to Venezuela, even if it’s in an unsuitable situation for tourism.”

During parts of his trip, Da Silveira stayed in state-owned Venetur hotels in Maracaibo and Mérida, and basically confirmed what Peruvian journalists found out in Puerto La Cruz. What else can be expected of a hotel chain where partisan politics come first.

The whole letter is a must-read, specially the part in Tachira, when he got caught in the middle of an immigration quagmire. His TL is also very illustrative of the recent days in Venezuela. Check it out.

I don’t know if Minister Izarra has heard of the letter, but I’m sure he will find it delightfully amusing. However, I can say this: When Bolivia’s tourism ads are way better than ours, that speaks volumes.

1 COMMENT

  1. I wonder what the funding appropriation was for the Ministry of Tourism’s “chévere initiative”, and when those funds began to be tapped, vis-à-vis the results (shabby website, the obvious lack of a code of conduct towards tourists, abysmal facilities, etc.)

    • Izarra himself joked about how not even him know why he was chosen as minister for tourism.
      Also, the guy’s known for being quite the troll anyway.

  2. Wow, whoever coded that website needs a basic web design class. I could have coded something better after my first semester in college.

    http://consumer.discoverohio.com/discounts/default.aspx

    There’s a site for a state in the US with a population about a third of Venezuela’s.

    What is the budget of the Venezuela tourism ministry… based on the quality of their work I’d guess somewhere around $2,000-$3,000? Maybe $10,000 if their web designer really ripped them off. Their server hosting costs are obviously negligible since it’s evidently hosted on someone’s home server running on a DSL connection.

  3. To hell with tourism, will he complain about not having Evian available in his hotel frigobar too? What about Lindt chocolates, could you find them, Javier?

    He should have written about the colectivos killing students and Venezuela being a brutal dictatorship.

  4. When I was a child in Venezuela in the early eighties I had some pen pals in Eastern Europe. I went to the Ministry of Tourism both in Caracas and in Valencia upon Cabriales (there is or was a building next to the now robbed Siete Enanitos). I inquired at the entrance whether I could get some tourist information for them (I received quite interesting stuff even from Albania, of all places, not to mention Czechoslovakia). The guys in Venezuela looked at me as if I came from Mars and told me what they did there was “administrative work”. I never understood what the hell the Ministry of Tourism was supposed to do then, apart from distributing posters stating “Venezuela, the World’s Best Kept Secret” (the irony: they were the keepers of the secret).

    But things have gone really from bad to worse since then: from the moment you to through customs and then the “maleteros” tell you you have to pay them and cannot use the trolley cars (“porque ahora somos socialistas”, one bloke said) to the Guardias Nacionales trying to scam you, swinging their guns around as if you were in Somalia – to some extent we are -.

    Then the people. Half of the population is still incredibly nice but half of it is trying to rip you off. I couldn’t get away from my foreign friends because people would arrive to them and bug them like they do only in the poorest sectors of Guatemala or Senegal, not in Mexico or Chile…Geez, not even in “poorer” Colombia.

    • Half of the population is still incredibly nice but half of it is trying to rip you off. I couldn’t get away from my foreign friends because people would arrive to them and bug them like they do only in the poorest sectors of Guatemala or Senegal, not in Mexico or Chile…Geez, not even in “poorer” Colombia.

      Years ago, I arrived in Anaco by colectivo taxi at 2:30 a.m. from a Bolivia-Maiquetia flight without any phone number or address for the company office in Anaco. [Thanks, management in Bolivia.] That night met both types you described. There were some chamos in downtown Anaco who wanted some money for information or assistance. No thanks. I went to the police station. They didn’t have the phone number for my company’s manager. [Greenhorn that I was, I didn’t ask them to call the company office- that was certainly public info.] The police let me sleep in their dorm, and drove me to the company office in the morning. Very hospitable. At the suggestion of management, I gifted the Anaco cops an expense account funded bottle of rum, which they well deserved for their kindness.

      Regarding Guatemala- I hardly ever felt bugged if at all, and some of the areas I stayed in downtown Guate were definitely declasse. [“You do realize, Mr. Gringo, that your $5 hotel room will not have TV.”] I have worked in Guatemala and also gone there many times as a tourist. When you are in a textile/handicrafts market, certainly the vendors want to make a sale and see the tourist as a walking dollar bill. But the tourist sees the bargains. No problem- quid pro quo. Most of my time in Guatemala has been spent in friends’ homes, so my perspective is not that of the typical tourist. One time in downtown Guate someone dabbed some mustard on me and apologized and offered to clean off the mustard. I kept moving, as I interpreted this as a scam to stop me and pick my pocket. But that was one time out of many trips.

      Colombia- a mixed bag. From my experience, it has more con artists than most places, but if you follow your intuition, you won’t get scammed. I never got scammed, but I once came close. At the same time, plenty of salt of the earth Colombians, at all economic levels.

  5. I liked the wit but really, under present conditions, you have to be either insane, in love, or a Belorussian living under a rock to go there for any reason other than business.

  6. Tourism in Venezuela will never succeed. We see attention and service as a Jala Bola attitude or cachifa’s work. We undermine any service as a second level citizen activity and never as a business.
    A close friend opened a Posada in La Sabana and he is doing very good but his main problem is to find employees that are willing to serve the client without feeling less important. And let me be clear here, this is not something that came up during Chavismo it has been like this for decades.

      • And in the US you see very wealthy teenagers working at McDonald’s, taking care of the neighbours’ gardens and children for just a couple dollars. It has to do with our Iberian roots, we seek work as a burden/disgrace.

          • It is more common among the middle class and upwards, which is how they learn to prosper…among the poor in the US we do see some people who feel that work is beneath them.

            For most of us however, an honorable job is just that, honorable.

          • I can report with some confidence that the idle rich are well represented in the USA, as in other parts. You just don’t see them most of the time because they have their own special places where they congregate, whereas the idle poor frequently live on the street.

            And Roberto has a good point. I don’t think Venezuelans are any more or less lazy than anyone else: they happen to have an economy managed by a regime that squashes hopes, dreams, abilities and efforts as a matter of general policy.

            The example of Mexico is a good one because service in Mexico used to be notoriously bad, and checking into a hotel for example was a half day enterprise managed by about 10 people (as it now is in Venezuela), but now the whole situation in Mexico has changed. I remember going into restaurants in the former East Block and you basically would be told where to sit and what to eat and how much toilet paper you could use, and then you would wait half a day and get something completely different, and there would be no toilet paper… and that situation has changed.

          • The thing about the poor being lazier is indeed something you come up very often with, Firepigette. It might have to do with the kind of upbringing you had (I know, you told us).

          • Kepler, I didn’t say anything about lazy….go back and read…I was referring to choice of work…which has more to do with pride than with the willingness or unwillingness to work.And notice I said SOME of the poor not even most.

            Such a problem you have with reading dear.

        • The famous “Iberian Roots” canard rears it’s head again.

          “If only we had been colonized by the English!”

          This view of it being somehow not really our fault, but the fault of those who stopped by in 1492 (over 500 years ago!) is rather a convenient crutch.

          In Venezuela’s case it goes more towards the Petro State largesse than anything else the fact that we have not managed to instill a respect for a job, any job.

          Speak to folks who were in the workforce in the 60’s and 70’s, and even the 80’s and you’ll find quite a few that had the right attitude about jobs, any jobs.

          Travel to Costa Rica or Cancun and tell me those Latinos there don’t know how to take care of tourists!!

          • Roberto,

            It is not that we were “colonized” etc.
            A fact is that Venezuelans are, genetically speaking, 60% European (basically Spanish), so it’s not that it’s their fault as much as we as a nation did inherit quite some traditions from all of our ancestors (Spanish or not).

            One thing is hospitality, quite another service as in “work for another” and yet another work on one’s own. In the last two that we have had our issues for ages – at least since the XVI century. Of course there are such and such people and I can tell you of a lot who worked harder than most Germans or US Americans I have seen. But the general attitude of working hard to build something is definitely not the same. I am not talking even about planning things, just working for a long term goal.

            You just have to read primary sources from visitors to Venezuela from late XVIII through the XIX century to see.
            And things are not static, of course, but some general attitudes have prevailed. A fundamentally feudal attitude to society was one. Tragically, Chavismo has brought back bad habits, worsened others and introduced new ones, also bad.

          • “Chavismo has brought back bad habits, worsened others and introduced new ones, also bad”

            Shit like Chavismo can prosper in Latin America because we have never get rid of a very peculiar Iberian trait: envy. We don’t care about getting rich, we feel more pleasure in seeing the rich getting destroyed. Spain and Portugal are the poorest countries in Western Europe for a reason. I don’t have a doubt that every single company expropriation by Chavez’ made his popularity increase among the people (and not only the poor!!!). The same kind of people that see a rich man crashing his ferrari and say: “Well deserved! That bastard has too much money!” That’s the optimum environment for Chavismo. Just like the secular anti-semitism in Germany generated the optimum environment for Nazism.

          • Kepler:

            Regardless of our ancestry, work habits are learned behavior, not inherited genetically.

            My position is that time and again it has been shown that work culture can be changed if the right incentives are applied.

            Saying “Well our tourism industry sucks because we descend from the Spanish” as someone else posited above is ludicrous.

            Our tourism industry, at least most of the government run facilities, sucks because no real motivation exists to bring in profits that depend on ratings and repeat business. Witness what happened to the Hilton or the Sheraton Hotels.

            Plenty of examples abound of independent operators that do an amazing job in Venezuela.

          • Sorry, I expressed myself badly. I agree virtually everything is inherited by means of social interaction and not genetics. The genetics were meant to express we were not “conquered”, but we were produced.
            I wanted to express we cannot blame it just on some external factor and tell us we are victims but rather a continuation.

            And I agree behaviour can change. It does take a lot of time and recognition of where we are.

        • Speaking as a gringo in Gringolandia, the notion that very wealthy teenagers work at McDonald’s or take care of their neighbor’s yards or babysit is extremely unusual. Most wealthy kids do nothing of the sort.

          Part of the college game here, if you have kids approaching college age, is to stack their prospective applications with “activities”. Sports, clubs, some charity work, but mostly community or school organizations, not jobs. A “diversified” application looks much better than just a GPA and a job when applying to a top 10 school, which most very wealthy kids end up at and which very wealthy parents start strategizing for when the kids are still in elementary school. Remember that most kids in the US that are wealthy will graduate from high school, which is when they turn 18. School here typically runs from 7-3 with activities, particularly music, sports, or academic, carrying on an additional 3-4 hours a day requirement (in sports, this includes summers when kids are “off” from school). They simply don’t have time to work.

          For those kids that do work, it is likely as some permutation of an internship at wherever their parents’ work or at a friend of the parents’ doing a favor. It is rarely more than 10-20 hours a week, if that, and the work is hardly taxing.

          Labor laws really limit kids under 16 from working unless they are paid under the table. Those who do yardwork or babysit are typically 12-14 years old looking for cash because they can’t do much else legally (and are subsequently paid under the aforementioned table). The majority of teenagers (16+) that do work are low to middle class kids who are either single parents themselves with a child to support, are working for a specific goal (car or college), or are assisting with the household expenses.

          Simple truth here. There is a big difference between the haves and have-nots. Not good or bad, just different.

          • This rings true, but there is probably a generational thing going on here. The “McJob” was something of a rite of passage for many middle class people back in the 1980s and 1990s. Now, I guess the McJob has been replaced by a huge amount of debt. I don’t see middle class high school and college kids working in fast food chains. Maybe they all work at Starbucks. It is a bit of a mystery to me what they do now….

          • I also don’t think it’s as easy for a young kid to get jobs like that nowadays. I worked in a bowling alley in high school and a hostess at a restaurant. Classic story, latina single poor mom. I helped raise my little brothers. I got scholarships and went to a very wealthy private liberal arts college where most of my friends didn’t receive any sort of financial aid to go there. Everyone I knew had worked a job though. Yes, it’s true that the wealthier kids tended to have worked with parents at fancier sort of places, and the poor kids usually did have random labor jobs like the ones I had. But not all. I know millionaire kids who worked at McDonalds. And I’m only 25, so I’m not talking generations ago. My boyfriend from Venezuela was constantly trying to come up with get rich quick schemes and I never really understood why he wasn’t able to just buckle down and work hard for a little while, and he was equally amazed at me for being professional and “established” at such a young age. For as many “lazy” Venezuelans I know, I also know an equal amount of very hardworking people who did sacrifice and do what they needed to do… I miss Venezuela.

    • Could we stop with the cultural argument thing? The reason tourism sucks in Venezuela is because of the entrenched CHAVISMO SYSTEM which does not value work ethic at all. Add to that economic distortions, crime, red tape, bureaucracy, and corruption.

  7. Why the hell is anybody coming to Venezuela on a vacation anyway? The murder rate is at 80 per 100,000 people, which is almost twice that in South Africa and three times higher than Brazil.

    Venezuela during the 80s and 90s might have been a nice holiday destination, but nowadays Colombia seems to have overtaken us.

  8. I love your closing sentence Juan, and I would like to add that not only Bolivia but also Ecuador has amazing & impressive tourism ads. Both countries once dreamed to be like Venezuela, now they can teach us how to run our own country…in nearly all levels.

  9. In the year 1992, so, long before Chavez, i rented a car in Caracas to go touring around. I’m from Holland. So I was a tourist. Not even an hour driving out of Caracas the car broke down but i just managed to reach a gasoline station. It was getting dark. I asked the boss if i could make a emergency call to the car-rental company. After a lot of talking i had to bribe the guy with 20$ to use his telephone. Welcome!! This reflects the venezoelan mentality towards tourism, and so does Chavismo as well. Why something sick like chavismo could happen in Venezuela? The deeper reason of the problem is the wealth of the oil. Read on the internet about “petroleum cultures”. A serious part of the population got infected, they got abusive, sick, corrupt, lazy, arrogant and shit. Many venezuelans are wonderfull people. Don’t understand me wrong.

    • Oil is the main reason things suck in petrostates. Lets’ face it: Costa Rica is nice to tourists because their livelihood depends on it. If they enact an institutional, “Hey gringo, fuck off” policy, they will starve to death. However, when your entire wealth is literally sitting beneath your feet all other areas of the economy are incidental at best. It’s why chavismo can engage in a full frontal assault on private industry and let things fall apart at an alarming rate: Ultimately, that’s not where its lifeblood comes from.

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