This country battered me as much as it has dazzled and repulsed me.
Driving through the Western Caracas slum of Catia, on the road to the airport, I thought of the brave women from there whom I had met at march against the presidente and thug-in-chief, Nicolas Maduro.
The ladies no longer bought the lies of the Bolivarian Revolution. After years on the Socialist gravy train, they realize can’t live with no food, no medicine, and little decency. They told me they had “no fear” of reprisals from Chavista thugs, who tend to be violent with those they consider disloyal.
Officer Perez took one look at my yank passport and said, “Inspection.” I said nothing, and tried to smile, yet was perspiring like a liberal at a Trump rally.
Upon arrival at seen-better-days Simón Bolívar International Airport, my driver Luis shrugged when I asked how long he was going to stay here, “until I die, I don’t have the money to leave.”
I made sure to get there five hours before departure yet there was still a sizeable line at the Avianca ticket counter. When I finally got to passport check, Officer Perez took one look at my yank passport and said, “Inspection.” I said nothing, and tried to smile, yet was perspiring like a liberal at a Trump rally. I tried to make small talk, ‘how long have you been a customs officer?”
He glared at me, and asked, “What do you do for work?”
“I’m a bartender,” or at least that’s what I told the Venezuelan consulate when I got my tourist visa. Press freedom here is close to nil and foreign reporters? Keep a low profile because the fourth estate are targets for beat downs. The Maduro regime prefers sycophants and brown nosers, so I didn’t even bother applying for a journalist visa or a visa de negocios. Many reporters are detained or turned back at the Airport. In fact, the Miami Herald Latin American correspondent, two Al Jazeera staffers, and a LeMonde reporter, all with visas de negocios, were turned around and sent home recently.
One reporter I talked to from a major American daily flies to lovely Margarita Island where he clears customs, and then hops an internal flight to Caracas, where his passport isn’t checked again upon domestic arrival. Oh, yeah, and he hangs on a pretty lovely beach, some call it silicon beach, for a couple days doing “research.” There’s a reason why Venezolanas win Miss World and Universe again and again. There is a strong culture of beauty here. I had plenty of time to think, Officer Perez walked slowly and I had a bad feeling that leaving the gigantic crime scene masquerading as the Venezuelan capital was going to be difficult.
We walked about the length of three football fields, almost the entirety of the Departure Hall, and arrived in room with three officers sitting Kafkaesquely at a table while several Venezuelans’ luggage was being searched. As usual I was the only gringo.
‘Pete, you’re done, you’re going to the Caracas jail to be passed like a bitch between thugs for cigarettes,’ I thought to myself. The cop then went through my backpack and quizzically looked at my laptop, Bose speaker, and then he found my press passes.
He found the rum, and put it off to side, out of eyeshot of the humorless Kafka tribunal.
“Bartender (camerero)?” Officer Perez said, knowing he had me in lie.
“Yes, that’s from my old job,” I offered, knowing it didn’t work.
He was now glaring at me as he pointed at my duffel. Uh Oh, I had two bottles of delicious Venezuelan rum in there wrapped in Venezuelan propaganda newspapers. Smart move, Pedro. He found the rum, and put it off to side, out of eyeshot of the humorless Kafka tribunal. I suppressed a bowel movement. He then looked at me, smiled, and asked in English, “can I have a present?”
“Yes,” as I handed him forty bucks, he smiled. I smiled back and let out an audible ‘I didn’t die’ sigh.
Perez put the rum back in my bag, and we walked back to the ticket counter, mejores amigos. We cut in line as he took me straight to an agent. The customs officer was just trying to get by like everyone else here. Fair enough, but the customs cop took years off my life.
I breezed through customs with smiles and warm waves. The first bar I saw was closed. Why are they torturing me?
I walked the length of the gates. The government keeps the airport looking OK. My gait had some pep because I wasn’t in handcuffs bouncing around in the back of some truck that usually transports trash, enroute some dingy prison where I wouldn’t exactly be down with my fellow inmates, and then I’d have to watch bent cops fighting over my possessions.
Then, I heard a lovely sound. Ice cubes tinkling in a glass. I found the BAR!!!!!!
Over an ice-cold beer and rum shot, I felt lucky not to have gotten sick in a place without any medicine.
I had about thirty thousand Bolivars left. Toilet paper has more value than the Venezuelan currency outside of the country. It wasn’t much dough but it was enough for a few belts.
Over an ice-cold beer and rum shot, I felt lucky not to have gotten sick in a place without any medicine. I filed some decent stories. Then, I felt like a selfish wanker, me me me me.
People are dying here under a government that won’t feed or heal them in what I call genocide and all I can think of is me, Pete Sullivan?
Man, other people’s misery is the only thing foreign news editors want, but the situation here is beyond hopeless.
I was happy to leave, but heartsick from this amazing, terrifying, tortured place. How long can Venezuelans hang on?