Can El Centro Thrive with Public Employees Taking Fridays Off?

No one's really sure what long weekends by Government Decree mean for everyday life in downtown Caracas.

Last Wednesday, President Maduro announced an additional cut in public employees’ working hours: for the next two months, in order to save energy, every weekend will be a long weekend! Beginning last Friday, April 8th, the public sector’s working week runs from Monday-Thursday, and then only in the mornings. ¡Eficiencia o nada! As with most recent public policy measures, it doesn’t seem like this decision was ever really debated or properly thought out.

Carmen is worried about what will happen to her job with all those lost sales. We said goodbye, as we took opposite ways in the crowd.

I needed to look something up at the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia’s library for my research, so I took the long Metro ride from La California to Capitolio. The woman sitting next to me is also going to El Centro. We got to talking about our President’s latest announcement.

Her name is Carmen, she lives in la carretera vieja Petare-Guarenas and she left home at 6:00 am so she could get to work by 8:30. She cooks at a restaurant near Plaza Caracas and she’s worried about this Fridays off thing. The small restaurant where she works serves mainly public employees, both in the dining room and through a lunch delivery service that goes out to a few ministerios.

Fridays are usually their best days: the week is over and more people take it slow and go out for lunch. Plus on Fridays they have remate de caballos at this restaurant, which also ups the take. Carmen is worried about what will happen to her job with all those lost sales. We said goodbye, as we took opposite ways in the crowd.

At Capitolio, I hop on a por puesto heading north to Los Mecedores, through Avenida Baralt. The sightseeing on this ride is depressing: people waiting in endless lines at every pharmacy or grocery store. It’s early, there’s no traffic yet at 8:00 am. It’s easier to ride a car or a bus than trying to walk in these thronged streets.

Bad luck at the library: the report I’m looking for isn’t there, despite a press note I’d read announcing it was submitted to TSJ two years ago. They tell me I should look for it at the institution that produced it. It’s bad news, I came all the way out here because I knew the library would be open and also I know the staff here is polite and hard working.

As I’m leaving the building and returning my visitor’s pass, I remember Mr. Maduro’s announcement and ask the security guard if they will work this Friday. He says he doesn’t know, they have to wait and see what the magistrados will decide.

My next stop is Defensa Pública, and I decide to walk. Bulevard Panteón is one of my favorite walks in central Caracas, with its trees and many places to visit (like Casa de Estudio de la Historia de Venezuela). It is a quiet walk, as it always has been: no buhoneros or bachaqueros to be found. But the street looks dirty, garbage here and there is a constant reminder of the uselessness of our mayor, who doesn’t seem to care much about his duties. And a motorcycle running across the pedestrian boulevard tells me that anarchy has extended here as well, there is no consideration for my favorite walk at all! It’s only a couple of blocks from Foro Libertador and I arrive to my destination.

A security guard receives all the people who come here for legal assistance, directing the crowd into the different offices where they can get help. When my turn is up, I ask for the library. He’s as surprised as if I had asked about an office for paranormal affairs.

I tell him about the stats on their website and the report I’m looking for. He sends me to Atención al Ciudadano and seems so stressed I don’t dare to ask if they are working this Friday. Fortunately, the line is small and moves fast. When I get to talk to a clerk in Atención al Ciudadano, she too is amazed by my request. I guess I’m not going to get any data that isn’t already published online.

It’s time to go to my office, so I walk to Capitolio. At the Plaza Bolívar, I find the usual chavista red-shirt crowd looking ever more organized. At the south west corner there is a big tent, with seats arranged as an improvised meeting room where a group is watching a big HD TV. Here and there you can see groups in their red t-shirts walking around.

Just in front of Capitolio there are huge speakers and loud music. Then I remember the demonstration against Amnesty Law (or, erm, “Criminal Amnesia Law”) called by the President.

I stop and breathe a sigh of relief for Ms. Carmen. They may not be going to work, but I’m pretty sure after their demonstration here, plenty of the public employees will turn up to her restaurant for lunch on Friday after all.

Lissette González

Is a PhD sociologist and researcher at Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales and Sociology Professor at Escuela de Ciencias Sociales, Universidad Católica Andrés Bello. Blogger and collaborator of SIC Semanal and