Chronicle of a deep red circuit where everyone hates Maduro.

Long lines, food shortages and crime mean growing discontent towards Maduro's government in Catia. Is this enough to sway the vote in a Chavista stronghold?

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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.

30 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for your real comments from the streets, Alex.

    “The current minimum wage in Venezuela is Bs. 9,468.14 and most people in Catia have to get by on that.”

    Can you please explain how do these people pay for :

    Food
    Rent or electricity or cable tv
    School supplies
    Car or moto repairs
    Doctors or medicine
    weekends on the beach (sometimes in Morrocoy)
    shoes, clothes, make-up
    movie theater a couple times a year
    barbecues
    Food

    I have a cheap calculator on my phone, and it just doesn’t add up.

    • I’ll try to explain this the easiest way possible:

      Food: like I said, people depends on those long lines they make in Día-Día or Mercal or whatever small store. Subsidized prices allow them to buy some stuff.
      Rent: If you don’t have your own apartment/house, you probably live in a “rancho” i.e. a sort of improvised building, without a single bit of planning. Electricity is a cheap service in Venezuela, almost as cheap as gas. CANTV, the local telephone company, offers a crappy Cable TV service, also cheap. The adventurers might even pay for DirecTV. This means you can spot DirecTV antennae in some ranchos. Wonderful, isn’t it?
      School supplies: A bit tricky, since these supplies’ prices have sky-rocketed too. Moms can opt for school fairs, also sanctioned by the government. They don’t have a choice.
      Car repairs: You can’t do this, spare car parts are missing. The ones you can find come from China and hence they usually are low priced.
      Doctors or medicine: People in Catia use the CDIs (Centros de Diagnóstico Integral) where you get medical attention for free. Yes, also medicines. But if yours is a serious illness, the wisest option is to suck the most of your medical insurance. Clinics today are usually crowded even when you have to pay!
      General entertainment: Didn’t you ever read Venezuela was the happiest place? We find the money (como sea!) to fund those little luxuries. Prices are absurdly high, but that’s another whole issue I might write about later.

  2. I honestly cannot conceive how they can continue to vote for Chavismo, unless they feared their ability to feed or house their family would be immediately threatened if they did not.

    At the very least, don’t vote at all or waste your vote.

  3. “Everyone hates the government. And yet, I really won’t be surprised if Chavismo wins once again in Catia”.

    Why? Perhaps 85.78% are enchufados in one of the 35 Ministerios bolibarianos and make way more than minimum salary? Or are they just a bit masochist and a tiny bit ignorant? They still Love el Comandante Pajarito Eterno, today, could it be because one day they got a free refrigerator or toaster oven a few years ago or because they are leeching big time every day?

    • Naw, more like because they fear to lose the chance of getting their food. One of the premises used by Chavismo is: ¡¡¡Si la derecha gana, se acaban las misiones!!!

      Si se me acaba la manguangua, pues no voto por quien hará que se acabe.

  4. Experimental psychology has taught us that for a die hard fanatic even the flimsiest of excuses is enough to shore up their deely rooted convictions specially if it involves the self gloating hatred of an emblematic enemy , even if the world turns upside down they will see it as right side up because the survival of their cherished ideological identity comands it .

    For those whose fanaticism doesnt totally blind them to the harshness of their living reality ,they will have the capacity to seek an out to their deplorable life conditions . In no barrio will everyone be a die hard fanatic , there will be many who not being hard fanatics will either abstain or vote for the alternative that represents the chance of a change in their current condition .

    Under current circumstances we can easily assumme that the number of the latter will be much greater than when conditions where more tolerable.

    If you watch out for the language used by the regime leaders , it gives away their awareness of their weakening position , they talk of the People getting ‘confused’ by oppo messages , but calling on them to place their trust on the Revolution coming thru, Maduro is reported to have said ‘dont let us down’. This all points to their realization that they no longer command the support of many of their former followers …..

    They know they can game the system and manipulate appearances up to a point to remain in power , but they also know that they become vulnerable where a large mayority of people reject them in the voting polling stations , they lose their hallowed mayority and that will be extremely demoralizing , it will make them appear as the losers and one thing people in this country hate are losers which will further erode their base of popular support. !!

  5. It is a deep red circuit alright. Maduro won the Sucre parish (Catia) 60-40. If the country gets swept by a huge MUD wave, I don’t see why this circuit can’t turn blue. Otherwise, say hello to the deputies Freddy Bernal and Ernesto Villegas.

  6. Like I been sayin’, Chavismo will lose. But what exactly does that mean? Racism, yes, racism, or classism if you want to be all academic, is the only real problem the oppo has. Why in all hell can’t they get a positivistic (as opposed to default) message going in the barrios? These “activistas” are just missionaries, their racism is more to the tune of “let’s help these poor beasts not be SO miserable.”

    The opposition still has no soul with the wider Venezuelan population. So, yes, even if oppo wins and is able to hang on to power for even a long period of years by capable economic management, the ghost of chavismo will be there… waiting…

    There’s no going back now. AD used to be the bridge between classes, but chavismo irreversably destroyed that bridge (AD are now considered right wing!). So. Get your shit together, politicians. Look at Capriles… At least the man is making an honest effort!

    • “Look at Capriles… At least the man is making an honest effort!”

      By saying EXACTLY the same “racist” message you said in the beginning of your reply, yeah, way to go, dude.

      Also, everytime I hear somebody justifying something on the basis of “racism” in Venezuela I can’t stop laughing at how stupid that notion even sounds, because you can be racist in a country where 98% of the population shares the SAME racial phenotype (Brown skin, dark hair, dark eyes)

      • “Seething hate for the poor,” if it please ya better. Racism is a more honest word because it contains a level of irrational hate that “classism” doesn’t quite convey. And, anyway, bonafide USofA racism is also at bottom just classism. Ergo the term “white trash.”

        Capriles is still a bit racist, but he’s making an effort. That’s my point. He’s not telling them “you’re blind and stupid but I’ll take care of you,” he’s saying “I get why you’ve made the choices you’ve made. Stick with me, I don’t yet fully understand you, but I’m there beside you hechandole bola.” There is a difference between “dedicating some spare time to better the beast’s life” and “working where the ´others´ are to try to forge a hereto unexistent unity.”

        Take LL, for example. I had an enlightening conversation with a young VP activist once. I asked him why they were called Popular Will, how they could possibly identify what the People Willed. He told me that the People haven’t got a clue, and that VP is there to inform them what the Will of the People is.

        • Well, let’s see where do I begin here…

          Ok, let’s check your answer by parts, incoming wall o’ text, by the way:

          *1) ““Seething hate for the poor,” if it please ya better. Racism is a more honest word because it contains a level of irrational hate that “classism” doesn’t quite convey.”*

          “Hatred for the poor” and the “neo-racism” are two ideas that serve to manipulate people, in Venezuela, a lot of folks have complexes (both of inferiority and way too much of superiority), let’s tackle the “hate for poor” complex first: It serves as an excuse to justify a streak of stupid envy, which came almost all on those who don’t have all what they want and envy those who live better, thus, they convince themselves that they’re not envious, but that those who are better (because in most cases they worked their asses off to accomplish that) hate them, and “block their progress in life”; examples of this are idiotic crap like “the rich fags look at me with ‘ojeriza’ because I’m poor.” They’ll never accept that it’s their own choices in almost all the cases which have landed them in the putrid misery they’re living now.

          Now, the racist complex: For this one we have to blame Venezuela’s history through the colony era all the way to the feudal governments, everybody here knows how it was: The whiteys were the masters, the indians and blacks were slaves, and the “half-bloods” were considered sub-humans anyway. That history was bound to create complexes on those who, again, would use racism as an excuse to justify their envy, and hatred, like the “class hate” I said above.

          Who are the ones that manipulate rasicm today in Venezuela? The chavistas, you just have to look at their propaganda, like one they got during past yeat, justifying the slaughter of pacific protesters, claiming that those “blonde, blue-eyed white fags” were harrassing the “poor black soldiers” with their whining and thus, so it was fine to put a bullet in their heads (chaderton dixit); in fact, “bullet-in-the-head-chaderton” might be the most racist person in this country (after the rotten corpse, of course, who called himself a zambo but neither of his parents were indian nor african-black to begin with), as he constantly appealed at such idiotic excuses whenever he talked, like that time when he said that “All news anchors for the right-wing fags were brought from NORWAY”, and that justified destroying Globovisión.

          *2) “Capriles is still a bit racist,”*

          Too bad for you that Caprilito “I wanna be a slimmer shiabbe” shows exactly ZERO racism, and I DARE you to bring here a VIDEO proof that could be used against him to accuse him of racism, you’re just talking for the sake of talk here, dude.

          *3) “He’s not telling them “you’re blind and stupid but I’ll take care of you,” he’s saying “I get why you’ve made the choices you’ve made. Stick with me, I don’t yet fully understand you, but I’m there beside you hechandole bola.””*

          Wrong again, his speech towards chavista base is “you were right, shiabbe was a SAINT, he deserves to be the second Bolívar plus Jesus Christ and he was driving Optimus Prime too; don’t worry, I won’t lift a finger against ANY of your self-appointed gods”. You see, that’s the problem when you’re trying to appeal chavista bases, he’s rubbing their pride (moronic pride, but pride in the end) by NOT BLAMING the corpse for ANYTHING that was clearly his fault like talking on how “shiabbe was good, it’s that others took advantage of his generosity”, and mentioning some stuff like “shiabbe’s legacy” as a good thing, which are the stuff that chavista bases ACTUALLY care for, their little stupid idea that they were right all this time and those they hate, the “stupid working fags” they loathe so much were wrong because “viveza criolla”. So, you failed again there.

          *4) “… He told me that the People haven’t got a clue, and that VP is there to inform them what the Will of the People is.”*

          This last one sounds dangerously chavista, and I mean, chavista in the sense of their hyperbolic ridiculous propaganda that paints everybody else as grotesque baby-eating monsters.

          chavista bases are complexed people who only care that they were right, and they’ll invoke ANY excuse to avoid recognizing they made ANY mistake in their lives, they’ll go outright to attack you by claiming idiotic stuff like “it’s that you have a degree and think you’re above me because of that”, “you don’t understand because you had your food brought to you every morning by a servant”, “you don’t know what is to ‘pasar coleto’ because you had slaves for that”, and these are my fucking favorites: “you don’t understand me because you could eat ‘punta trasera’ any time you wanted and I NEVER ate meat before 18” and “what the fuck do you want? Just walking into the market and BUY WHATEVER YOU NEED WITHOUT LINES ANY TIME YOU WANT?”

    • I don’t understand where your comment is headed to. Why are you assuming the activists are racist? Have you ever seen Jesús Abreu? Part of their strategy is precisely go to these populous sectors and let themselves be seen with the “poor beasts”. Chavismo lose, but I doubt racism will play a significant role.

      • I get that, and I agree that racism won’t play to big a part in THESE elections, or any elecctions directly. I’m saying that the issue behind the lack of messaging you point out is that even these activistas consider it below them to explain things to the very same people in the barrios they dedicate their time to.

        • Or not even explain, this they try to do, but make an effort to cohere their college and home pre-conceptions with the ideas and feelings of the people living in that other Venezuela we cifrinos know so little about (and, anybody that has experienced different can correct me, find perfectly acceptable in polite conversation to call the people living in it anything from beasts to monkeys to choros to whatever, and use a tone that is a mix of fear and disgust). These are the families these activistas come from, and being there expanding the party’s reach isn’t nearly enough to bridge this gap. This is why I point to Capriles: what he is doing as opposed to, say, VP, is establish a dialogue.

          • I don’t even know where to start. You are precisely replying to a “monkey”, “choro” or whatever nickname you can think about. The fact it’s still acceptable to carry these stereotypes in a “polite conversation” (sorry, that’s nothing more than mandibuleo for me) is part of the problem. Do you mean that people from Catia (or any populous zone for that matter) can’t understand the message they are trying to spread? I doubt it. When hunger is literally behind you, you must reconsider and understand a couple things. That’s why I think MUD has a disadvantage: they cannot send a Mercal truck, or lower down food prices. They must point out to the ineffective measures taken by the government which led them, the pueblo, to their current situation.

  7. “Class struggle” pandered freely by Chavismo over its tenure is such poison.

    I remember a few months when Maria Corina and Lilian, dressed in white, entered the court for Leopoldo’s trial while angry people jeered. Their looks, their poise, the life of privilege that you could intuit. Everything about them was enviable to the people at the other side of the police line, and their anger was proof that it was understood that what the ladies had was unattainable.

    This you cannot reconcile. This is a zero sum game. Of course, some material things I can take away from you, but others the fact that you have them just reminds me that I don’t (think Tintori blond versus Luisa Ortega hair).

    Of course most of the pueblo are good people that suffer daily and feel used by Chavistas demagogy, So as Nacho said before, people like Capriles are indispensable to build the bridges of trust.

  8. “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.”

    That’s brainwashing is for, folks, it reminds me of the pathetic imbeciles who kissed Perón’s butt so many times, even claiming something like “Perón, you might be a thief, but we love you anyway!”

    • Even funnier are the folks who call Pinochet or Perez Jimenez Thieves, corruptos, and assassins. Apparently they have never seen what such abominable tyrants built, the infrastructure that they left, compared to the “dictatorship” horrible years we had to endure at those times. Guess you all prefer ad/copey/mud/chavismo, they are so democratic and loviingly, except the country goes to hell and 20000 people are killed every year. Decade after decade.

      • Everything is relative, I’ve heard some folks who preferred right-wing dictators just because they could live in some degree of peace.

  9. Most of the “pueblo” people (whoever that is) are perfectly honest, wise, hard workers, innocent victims. But 80% of them still love Chavez and somehow mysteriously survive on “sueldo minimo”. Bailame ese trompo en la uña and cry me a river en reggaeton.

  10. I think this report highlights what lies at the heart of the regime’s continued support at the ballot box. People lining up may not like lining up, but they know that they are lining up for huge bargains. They know they are getting huge bargains because they know what they would have to pay in the “free market”, which in Venezuela is the black market. If those subsidies are taken away, the lines will go away. But the consequences for these consumers for this action would potentially be devastating.

    I can see how not supporting the regime but voting for it can be completely rational behaviour, from the point of view of the street and of pressing, day to day needs.

    Thanks for the interesting post!

  11. The incompetence in Venezuela is large as those lines long. What a waste of time!
    Here in the USA the government simply give persons of low income a Card with limited funds that allows them to buy food anywhere. Food prices keep responding to supply and demand so no parallels market, nor smuggling, or price controls etc takes place.
    I dont care what ideology they have but wasting most of their life making lines is not exactly what anybody dreams about for their country.
    And lets not bring the fact that time is money so any money saved by getting those products is just an illusion because at the end the real price is paid with time unless you have nothing better to do. Venezuela must be one of the most inefficient countries in the world !
    It is all about electing competent leaders that are not blinded by simplistic ideologies.
    As I recall back in 1998 things were though with the oil at $8 but where not this bad.

  12. I have read some of the comments and I respectfully say, yes, there is racism in Venezuela:

    – Gather a bunch of black dudes and try to get them in a local at the San Ignacio. Good luck with that.

    – All publicity surrounding the good life almost always use European or a mixed race people with predominant European features. Now, go on ask for money, a donation or just get “El Pueblo” and you will see a lot of “brown” popping out.

    – Venezuelan movies and TV soap operas el malandro is brown or black. Very few poor bad dudes that are white. Eudomar Santos knows that as well as Rodilla or that other dude in Sicario.

    – You may say that you have a good negro friend and generally speaking you may not care a lot about skin color. But when “mi pana el negro” starts to date your daughter then you would say “que hace esa carajita con ese negro!?”. The opposite also is true when she dating a “catire”, I have heard countless of times that “catires” improve the race.

    Just few domestic examples that kinda show that perhaps subtle, there is racism in Venezuela.

    I grant that we do not have the kind of racism of US and whatnots but saying that there is no racism in Venezuela shows a severe case of shortsightedness.

    About Capriles as politician and with potential for becoming Venezuelan president. I think the guy is unremarkable.

  13. Alexis I thought your article was fantastic. Two weeks later I’m wondering if you have changed your mind or your analysis for Caria. It’s a key circuit that we need to win. Do you think we have a better shot now?

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