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?

22 COMMENTS

  1. “How long can Venezuelans hang on?”

    Until there is an actual organized resistance movement against the puppet invader dictatorship that destroys the country.

    Or as the thugs want, until the people die.

  2. The men of Venezuela, the true men, need to reclaim their country.
    Leave the women and children home. Go and confront these criminals with any weapon you can. How can people watch their children starve or die because there are no medicines, without doing anything?

    • Socialist supporters always get leftovers. If someone comes up with a plan to move towards free market capitalism, Venezuelans can have the main course, dammit.

      Yanquis and other capitalists want a return on their capital equal to or better than free market alternatives elsewhere. If a day laborer can find a better paying job with better working conditions, he’ll leave his old one, and take the new one. There are unknowns involved, and that is their risk, but a fair return is all they want, based on their estimates. Sometimes that return is more than their estimates, sometimes it is less or even a loss, but those estimates of theirs are what they’re willing to trade for.

      It is the communists and socialists who insist on having it all.

      Capitalists don’t want to own Margarita. They’re happy with a hotel and beach front. To me, that destroys some of the natural beauty of the island, and creates a “restricted area” where only the wealthy can go. I hate “cruise ships”, but I love the little cafes with imported food on the islands they stop at. My own private hypocrisy. But to Margarita, maybe those huge hotels are a source of jobs, and bring wealthy money to the island, as well as revenues to build up infrastructure. I don’t know. It seems like a trade-off. An arms-length transaction. There are people in Los Angeles beach front areas that hate the property development that has obliterated what used to be small towns. At the same time, there are people whose property values have skyrocketed. What is one to do with population growth?

  3. My friends from Canada, USA and England come all the time.They got tired of the Caracas shakedown so They take the Rutaca flight from Porlamar and I am always there waiting for them.Never had a problem since.

    • Speaking of tips. Pete needs friends to see him off and to stand by until he passes immigration. Being alone increases the risks.

      And if he takes a more collegial stance toward his contacts in the major dailies, he can learn some important lessons that will help him progress, like: the elimination of hackneyed expressions, phrases and ideas from his writing; having something more insightful to say about his last moments in Venezuela aside from how the problems affected him (disclaimers notwithstanding); the first rule of journalism is not to report what the taxi driver told you; and survival tips like avoiding Maiquetia altogether.

      Perhaps I am being a bit harsh, but he’s a tough guy who apparently has filed some decent stories.

  4. Please forgive for being off topic entirely, but the BF / USD exchange fluctuation is not the whole picture of the value of the bolivar.

    http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/convert/?Amount=1&From=BRL&To=COP

    There’s an article on Dolar Today with a “quickie” analysis by Luis Vicente Leon and a BF rate above 2700. Nobody get the idea I’m adopting a regime stance against DT, but looking at the rates for the BF against the Brazilian real and the Colombian peso shows approximately the same rates as existed in 2013. I don;t know how much commerce has opened up along those borders, but it seems that most food purchases would be in local currencies, and not USD.

    My guess is every Venezuelan knows this, but just in case some don’t, it makes more sense to trade BF for pesos or reales than to trade them for USD.

    I have no idea what’s going on in border towns, but big banks in big cities will have no problem with foreign exchange in account transactions done electronically. Getting actual paper dollars delivered is another story, and getting those physical paper dollars distributed to smaller branches near border towns is another story. Then getting those physical dollars to small exchange shops is another story. There may well be price-gouging for USD, as well as the costs of physical delivery, security precautions all along the way. Those costs and market fluctuations can be avoided, and so also the conversion fees, with conversions into local currencies actually used for purchase.

    Someone could make good money bringing pesos and reales to Venezuela, and people could save a LOT of money using those currencies.

    Am I being naive, just blurting out what everyone else knows and I just Googled? No se, vale! If someone will tell me I’m stupid, I’ll shut up!

  5. Only $40? They got me for the entire $300 in cash I was carrying on me about 18 months ago. Thank God they didn’t peruse the medical journals my wife (expat) and I brought in.

  6. Oh you poor gringo. Try living here. I have lived in Margarita for the last 11 years. Your story was nothing. They are all just looking for bribes and could care less about this geopolitical BS, same with domestic politics also. They just want food on their table and to enjoy some of your rum with their mates. Hey, hopefully the did a toast to the gringo who almost crapped his pants. If you know it is all a game, and you know it is a game (a very ugly game) you will save years on your life.

Leave a Reply