It’s a fantasy I find myself indulging a lot these days. The year is 2056. I’m an old man, past 80. Out of the blue one day, my grandson, now in his final year of high school, turns up in the teleporter, sits down with me, and asks to talk.

He tells me his history teacher gave him an assignment to interview an older person in his family about what life was like in the months before Bolivarian socialism finally collapsed. His assignment isn’t to get an explanation. His assignment is to get a story: a nugget that reveals what 2016 meant.

What would I say?

How would I transmit the flavour of this period to a kid growing up in a radically different kind of Venezuela, a country that, by then, has refound its normality, a country with problems, of course, but normal country problems, not the riot of dystopian dislocation that now engulfs it?

There’s a virtual infinity of ways to approach this, of course. But this week, I fancy that conversation would go something like this:

“Mijito, where to even start? Ummm. OK. I know.

See, towards the end, there was a big problem with bread. You know, just bread. You gotta understand, chamo, molecular recombinators hadn’t even been invented yet. If you wanted bread, you actually had to go to a shop — a ‘panadería’, we used to call them — and buy a loaf they’d make there in an oven…”

“Wait, a what?”, he’d ask.

“Um, it was sort of like a primitive recomb…a big hot thing they made bread in, but let’s not get into that…”

“OK,” he’d mutter, and I’d see him scribbling ‘recomb=oven’ in his notes.

“The government had decided there was a maximum price panaderías could charge for bread, and a maximum price suppliers could charge panaderías all the stuff you needed to make bread: the flour, the electricity to run the ovens, the sugar. But none of the prices made any sense: they were all way, way too low.

“Not surprisingly, at those prices, many more people wanted to buy bread than there were people willing to sell it. 

So, of course there were these immense lines all over the place. It figures, bread was almost free. There was just never going to be enough to go around. Toward the end, bread had become almost impossible to find.

“Now, that’s not my story. My story is about how the government reacted. Mind you, people — all kids of people — had been telling them for years that until they stopped fixing prices, the shortages weren’t going to stop. They were sure those ‘opinions’ were part of a conspiracy, though, so they refused for years to pay attention to them.

“So you want to know what they did instead? What their best, brightest idea was for facing up to this bread crisis? What the combined ingenuity of their collective wisdom came to as a solution to this problem? Go on, guess…

 “Wait…wait, what?” the chamo would say, rubbing his temples and struggling to make sense of what I just said.

I don’t know if I’d be proud or seriously concerned if my grandkid guessed right at this point. I’m guessing the later: it would take a very twisted mind to guess this one right.

“They decided to fine bakery shops if they had a line of people outside waiting for bread! That was their solution!”

Unless I’ve grandfathered an idiot, I’d expect some pushback at this point.

“Wait…wait what?” the chamo would say, rubbing his temples and struggling to make sense of what I’d just said. “How would that even…I mean…how would…how is that even supposed to make anything better? Wouldn’t that just…because…wait WHAT?”

At this point I’d have him right where I want him.

“I swear I’m not making this up. It really happened. In August, 2016, if memory serves. The National Superintendent of Fair Prices babbled something incoherent about dismantling the strategy to generate anguish among the population that bakers were supposedly conspiring to implement.

“But grandpa,” the chamo would say, if he’s avispao, “that makes no sense at all!”

“I know!”

“But, but, but…what possible reason would bakers, of all people, have to roll out some enormous conspiracy to piss off all their clients?!”

“I know!!”

“I mean that’s crazy! How would that even work?! Didn’t this superintendent dude see that if even a single baker decided to break the cartel he’d end up buried in money by just supplying all the bread himself while all the other panaderos sat out the opportunity?!”

“I KNOW!!! It was totally, totally insane.”

“But here’s the thing, chamo,” I’d say, pressing my advantage, “it’s not just that I know that now, and knew it then, it’s that everyone knew it. Outside the government, it was actually hard to find anyone who didn’t find it totally bleeding obvious, bang-your-head-against-a-wall-in-frustration obvious. Unmistakable, really.

 
My worry is that the chasm in lived experience between us would be too wide to ford with words.

And it wasn’t just bread. The entire country was run this way, by people spouting non-stop non-sequiturs, looking sternly into a camera and announcing things any moderately bright ten-year-old could see were complete non-sense. It wasn’t this decision or that decision made by this official or that official, it was a wall of gibberish coming straight at you day and night from men with guns determined to make your life impossible.”

I don’t know if he’d still be with me at this point. My worry is that the chasm in lived experience between us would be too wide to ford with words. But it wouldn’t matter, I’d have built up a head of steam by then. There’d no stopping me and he’d know it.

“It’s no wonder anybody who could leave the country, did leave: all through that time there was this bizarre dislocation, this mismatch, between the total inability of the people in power to find solutions even to the simplest problems, on the one hand, and their absolute and unquestionable power.”

“And that’s the thing, really, that sticks out when I think back to that last period before the whole cockamamie scheme collapsed, the thing that makes the memories of that time so dreamlike, so strange.

The total, total uselessness of the people who ran the country perfectly matched their total, total lack of accountability. The way even though everybody could see they hadn’t the faintest idea what they were doing, they were nonetheless empowered to make the big, transcendental decisions that would reverberate through millions of people’s lives. The way failure seemed to propel careers ever upward, onto planes of even more power where their utter inability solve any problem could spread more and more chaos into more and more people’s lives.”

I’d pause.

“That’s what it was like to be Venezuelan in 2016, chamo. Write that in your school report.”

I imagine my grandkid walking out of that talk staggered, and not quite sure how much of what he’s just heard he should really believe.

If he’s smart — and I hope he’s smart — he’d walk out unconvinced. Skeptical. The gap between what he would have just heard and life as he’d understand it should set off all kinds of warnings. If he’s smart, he’d walk out telling himself to double check and triple check everything he’d just heard before putting any of it in any school report.

And if he’s a proper intellectual —and that would be such fun— he’d soon find himself in whatever the 2050s equivalent is to a Wikipedia hole, digging deeper and deeper into period sources and slowly coming to grasp, to his amazement and horror, that grandpa wasn’t even exaggerating.

That holy shit, in August 2016 the government really did announce it would fine bakeries if they had lines of people waiting to buy bread outside. That Power and Common Sense really can end up that radically divorced from one another, divorced to a point distinguishable from comedy only by the amount of misery created.

33 COMMENTS

  1. Your story assumes Bolivarian socialism ended in 2016. Sorry to point out we are running out of year as fast as bakers are running out of flour. It better happen quick!

  2. Todo este surrealismo absurdo será verdaderamente recordado durante mucho tiempo. Hay que escarbar mucho en los libros de historia para encontrar gente “determined to make your life impossible” que al mismo tiempo te repite una y otra vez que está ahí para protegerte y mejorar tu vida. Venezuela es un país que te deja boquiabierto ahora, en el 2056 y siempre que alguien vuelva a repasar los hechos con un mínimo de sentido común e inteligencia.

  3. I surely hope you’re right. Because in the cuban/dystopian nightmare I’ve been having, in 2056 Venezuela is one of a handful of countries that don’t use teleporters or recombs on a massive scale. Where on March 5th that year, the huge (and most probably rich and powerful bay then) Venezuelan communities in Madrid, Miami, Bogotá, Santiago and many other cities will helplessly see the #a43añosdetusiembra on twitter while sipping a glass of the bittersweet drink of the diaspora, “Venezuela Democrática”.

  4. After reading this post, I just realized something very scary: This morning, when I read on the internet that they are going to fine bakeries if they have long lines of people waiting to buy bread, it didn’t surprise me at all. I didn’t roll my eyes, I didn’t gasp, it did nothing to me, as if it were the most normal of things in the world.

    What the hell???

    I’m freaked out it didn’t shock me sooner, i.e., I’m shocked that I wasn’t shocked.

    Is the government finally succeeding in turning me (us) into a mindless zombie?

    • No. Is just normal.

      Abnormal would be if you could keep being surprised by the billionth time they shoot themselves in the foot. And the Venezuelans in the stomach.

      • Yes, I know they’ve done pretty crazy things in the past, but it looks like they’re always trying to break world records. They really broke the insane-o-meter with this last one. I mean these people make this guy look like the sanest person you’ll ever meet.

    • Just one more intent to increase egg production by strangling the chicken. So long as they are utterly convinced that it is the producers of goods and services fault, these outrages will continue.

  5. Young Venezuelans tend to be largely indifferent to the past , to history , which is reduced to some easily digestible fable laden set of colourful generalizations ……in fact thats also the case for most young adults , their knowldege of history is as sketchy as its superficial. people here live in the pure present and maybe have dreams about the future but the past is made up of boring old folk tales and has nothing to do with them .

    I see it in much of what i read from blogs in which even smart people contribute their opinions …..the ignorance of events of even the recent past tends to be abysmal…..thats why efforts by CC to focus attention on events like a caracazo ( one proyecting a long dark shadow into our lives) are so commendable …..and lets be frank …so exceptional.!!

    I hope someone with talent appears to credibly explain this whole period of our countrys life to the future generations , someone capable of giving an account of these miserable years , perhaps someone who lived through the thick of them……of course hoping that we can look on them as being part of our past and not as something which still shadows our present.!!

  6. Viejo, a mí ya me cuesta hoy en día explicarle a un extranjero la situación en Venezuela, hay quienes todavía no terminan de entender cosas como el dakazo o la devaluación de más de 1000000 de % que ha apaleado al bolívar.

  7. By 2056, Venezuela will have gone through two more cycles of fascist and socialist governments. Your grandchildren will not need anything explained to them!

  8. I’ve been walking the same path in my imagination in the past days. There is no way that anybody will believe me when I tell them that when I was a 20-something I couldn’t buy shampoo, or soap, or toilet paper in the nearest store, or in the next one, or in the next one, or even at the biggest super market in the whole country. Everyone with some common sense will think I’m mad. As you perfectly expressed: “distinguishable from comedy only by the amount of misery created”.

  9. Oh I always see all the craziness as how am I’m going to explain this to my kids.

    I also sometimes have this nighmare where they reply to me “but dad, that’s because the economic war was destroying the legacy of our eternal commander, you should listen to Mario Silva”

    That’s when I say Jesus Christ I need to get the hell out of here.

  10. One question: how long is too long?

    I mean, at what point is the line long enough that you may get fined? 5 people? 10 people? 20? 100?

    Another question: What are the bakeries supposed to do to prevent the lines from forming? They don’t own the street outside the bakeries. They can’t tell people not to stand in there if they want to. If they do dare to tell them that, then I predict quite a few lootings will happen…

    At this point I don’t know if this measure is more stupid than it is crazy, or crazier than it is stupid.

    • They shut down. Who is going to wait in line a bakery that is no longer open for business? If I owned a bakery, I would feel that is my only option.

    • They simply won’t sell basic, cheap bread but bake only “special” breads like “campesino” and such if any, maybe they just won’t take the risk and won’t bake any bread at all. The lines are for bread and specifically “canillas” (something like baguettes…basic french-like bread, among the cheapest and most consumed), bakeries sell pastries and such also.

      But fear not, this is Venezuela, some unfortunate bakeries will serve as scapegoats so Maduro can make his show on TV and the lines for bread will get longer and longer as the situation worsens over time…

  11. That 2056 kid looks like he’s gone through some sort of Basic Economics course, hopefully during his Elementary school years. If Basic Economics (and I don’t mean an introduction to Keynes) was mandatory, maybe we wouldn’t be waist-deep in shit. Worldwide.

  12. But is it really weirder than saying that once a government thought to kill all the birds because they were eating their crops and then an insect plague came upon them.
    Or that one other time when they thought working in the fields was primitive and everyone ran out of food and died.
    Your grandson would had it easier than present Chinese children, if they were allowed to write about it.

  13. Goddamn Quico. That was masterful. Belly hurts and all.

    Still, seriously speaking. People don’t realize. 40 years from now we might be explaining the 2025 genocide, or the super-weird ’33 war, which lasted 5 years, waged in vzla between nationalist terrorists supported by BLOC powers and the massively corrup gvt propped up by NATO.

    Or why civilized people don’t live south of Panama anymore.

    Or how through weird twists of fate Vzla became the new intellectual and cultural beacon of the world.

      • Brazil is going out of the communist club fast with the imminent ousting of Dilma, Putin doesn’t waste time financing guerrillas in other countries, he just orders them carpet-bombed to the ground as he’s doing with Syria right now, China doesn’t engage in armed conflicts and India, what interest could have the India in invading another country, when they can barely manage theirs?

  14. Wow.
    In 2006 Mike Judge wrote and directed a futuristic satire comedy film named Idiocracy.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiocracy

    It’s a brilliant little film. Bombed at the box office, but since has a cult following.

    I used to think that it was a funny SciFi movie about a dystopian future. Now I feel that it is more and more a documentary. Honest to God, if you live in VZ, and you watch this movie, you would recognize the ministers in charge of VZ as the same idiots in charge in the movie.

    Getting back to the post. You could have your grandkid watch Idiocracy and explain to him “Yea. It was just like that here, only 500 years early.”

    As an aside: Here in the US, whenever I see candidate Trump, I picture him as our own “President Camacho”. Scary.

    • I saw that movie! It was so ridiculous I just about turned it off, but something about it kept me watching. More than once, watching Trump speak has reminded me of the “President” in that movie.

    • The morons are very vocal in those pages, remember that GV became another chavista sewer outlet after it was bought by Diosdado’s minions, so they must have a “moderator” that purges any uncomfortable comments from their sections and leaves just the stupidest ones.

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