It must be frustrating to cover Venezuela for international news organizations. The country is crappy enough to make it burdensome to live there, but not nearly crappy enough for you to earn journalistic prestige points for covering it as opposed to, say, Iraq. Add to that the notorious lack of transparency of the “no comment revolution,” and you have a veritable shit cocktail waiting for you to drink it.
That is what makes this story, by Bloomberg’s Michael Smith and Anatoly Kurmanaev, such a compelling read. What they have to say is what we all know – that chavistas are raking in the big bucks thanks to contracts assigned to former military buddies with no public tender involved.
The way they document this, however, is absolutely novel – chavistas are now openly either boasting of their newfound riches, or in the case of Víctor Vargas, defending themselves from claims of indecency.
You can tell that Smith and Kurmanaev became masters in the ancient Venezuelan sport of “ladillar hasta que se cansen,” because getting these folks to open up in this way was probably not easy. So kudos to them for doing the job that Venezuelan journalists can’t, or won’t, do. Our dying public sphere thanks them.
The money quote comes from the beginning:
In 1992, Biancucci joined 140 other officers in staging a coup attempt led by Chavez. Although the coup failed, Chavez was elected president six years later — and Biancucci’s business thrived. Socialism, Biancucci says, is the solution to poverty, Bloomberg Markets magazine will report in its September issue.
Chavez’s socialism, he says, has made him personally rich.
“I’m a socialist, but I love having cash in my hands,” he says, shaking a fist holding an imaginary wad of money. “Socialism is wealth.” … “I’m building a business empire,” Biancucci says.
And another one from the end:
“There’s a new social group that has flowered since Chavez, a new elite, which I am part of,” Biancucci says.
In Puerto Cabello, 200 kilometers west of Caracas on the Caribbean coast and a few hundred meters from ships loaded with grain and beef, Maria Melendez, who runs a fried-pastry stand in town, is standing in line with hundreds of others to buy two rationed bottles of cooking oil for her business.
“Everything has become one long waiting line,” she says. “It’s hard to earn a living as it is. Instead of frying, I’m here, waiting. This is our new existence.”
Biancucci and his cadre have arrived, and they want to rub their success in our faces. Which, I guess, makes our job easier.