Before we start, let’s make the proper introduction. I’m Alex and I have been living in Catia for the last 27 years. Born and raised where the melao is, I’m used to roaming through its crowded streets, walking past people in a permanent hurry and of course, traveling by Metro de Caracas.
As I get out of Gato Negro Metro station after a busy day at work, a middle-aged woman hands me a leaflet with a couple of paragraphs talking about how Chavismo is thriving in Catia and the people are happy to stand in long lines for hours to buy basic groceries. A man walking behind me is given the same sheet and immediately crumples it. Folks aren’t very happy with the so-called hijo de Chávez.
Easy guess: with the latest measures taken by Nicolás Maduro, the people living in this iconic Caracas neighborhood aren’t exactly cheerful. With the recent closure of Venezuela-Colombia border, the government promised to bring back scarce food; alleging Colombian bachaqueros were the cause. But Nicolás forgot something: a significant number of Colombians live in Catia, and some are forced to sell products in the streets to make ends meet.
On the west side of Caracas things took a nasty turn. In the once well-stocked Día Día “practi-market”, long lines of people waiting for their turn to buy food can be spotted almost every day. Despite what Jacqueline Faría recently said, standing in those lines is nobody’s idea of a good time. You can easily spend 4 hours to buy toilet paper or butter, whose idea of sabroso is that?
The current minimum wage in Venezuela is Bs. 9,468.14 and most people in Catia have to get by on that. Their last resort is precisely these lines in stores like Día Día. A routine like that in turn affects people’s job schedules and sometimes they miss their lunch hour to make it and buy anything that is available and haven’t bought the week before. Sky-rocketing prices of basic goods also affect Catia residents as they struggle to find the available supplies. What if they simply couldn’t buy, either because Catienses don’t have the money or can’t find the product they need?
Our good government has everything covered. Back in 2003 they created Misión Mercal which was meant to supply food at spectacularly low prices. But right now, it’s not that simple. These days, Mercal stores in Catia open sporadically and when they do, all the available products disappear within minutes. For some folks, it’s a matter of hunting when one of these small stores open.
Otherwise, we have the option of local “Mercalitos”, a government sanctioned “entrepreneurship” program where a person can turn their home into a small Mercal and retail subsidized products. But to get in on that deal you need to be a member of a Consejo Comunal. Don’t want to be part of a government structure? Too bad.
Next there’s the fact that we’re still dealing with scarce goods. I’ve personally witnessed coñazas – proper epic fistfights – over a bag of food. Remember, if I get a bag of food you might not get yours. I will eat for the week, you might not.
Crime levels are a whole other issue. Robberies in broad daylight are now a common thing in Catia. You better have two pairs of eyes, one in the front and one in the back: Criminals on motorbikes approach you at gunpoint to snatch stuff from your hand. The smart thing is not to resist. The Metro de Caracas, once a relatively safe way of getting around the city, has recently witnessed mass robberies (Agua Salud and Caño Amarillo stations, Catia side) where heavily armed thugs literally hold up an entire wagon at a time.
Naturally, we assume that people from Catia would wipe out Chavismo in the upcoming elections. The problem is, there’s (still!) not a strong local opposition that can face Ernesto Villegas and Freddy Bernal.
Here’s a rundown of MUD candidates for Circuito 1; comprising Sucre, La Pastora and El Junquito parishes, which are some of the most densely populated areas in Caracas. Jesús Abreu and Marialbert Barrios, both from Leopoldo López’s Voluntad Popular party will try to get the Assembly seats under the Venezuela quiere cambio banner.
Both are luchadores sociales – social activists – with a solid grounding in their respective communities. Their strategy seems to be to pasar agachados – drawing as little attention as possible to what they might do and keeping the spotlight on a government everyone hates. Jesús gave an interview in Globovisión’s “Primera Página” and he barely spoke about what Marialbert and him are planning to do if they made it to the National Assembly, beyond of “bringing parliamentary development along with neighbors in order to make the National Assembly solve the problems directly affecting the people”.
More than trying to win the election, Jesús and Marialbert are relying on chavismo to lose it. On the stump, through El Manicomio or La Pastora zones, their speech is basically “Venezuela needs change”, “you’re standing long hours in lines while the government does nothing”, “don’t let the government keep lying, vote on 6-D” and the such. The conventional wisdom is that this is smart politics: in a “referendum election” people are largely expected to vote on the basis of their rejection of incumbents. That may even be right. Part of their campaign even included a motorized caravan across Caracas (motorizados have historically supported Chavismo). It sure leaves me cold, though.
Will it really work? Chavismo is the group with the cobres, folks. The government is strapped for cash, for sure, but what money they do have they’ll spend trying to get their people to the polls. Freddy Bernal had already begun to distribute food in Blandín and repair elevators in Catia, as well as giving away materials to revamp +200 houses in the Ojo de Agua zone (Caracas – La Guaira highway). I don’t know about you, but if someone came and gave me food when I really need it, hell, I’d start to think that person deserves my vote. Catienses are angry about Nicolás Maduro, but there are big emotional hurdles still in place for a lot of people before they can allow themselves to vote for the apátridas.
The other side isn’t going down without a fight. As the election approaches you can be sure Sucre Avenue in Catia will start to look spic and span. Repainting of public-buildings facades, waste collection on areas normally flooded in garbage and a splashy no bachaqueros policy (i.e. police will confiscate basic groceries being resold on the streets).
On October 19th there was an election simulation at Miguel Antonio Caro school, Chávez’s old voting center and Nicolás’ current one. The road to get to it from my home has been bumpy for the last 3 years or so, but since Nicolás votes there, guess which road got its pavement patched up? That’s right!
Efficiency or nothing!
Everyone hates the government. And yet, I really won’t be surprised if Chavismo wins once again in Catia.
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