I was in the departures lounge at Maiquetía Airport a few weeks ago, three bills burning a hole in my pocket. They were those shiny new Bs.10,000 bills —they’d just come out— and the only thing I knew for sure I had to spend them right away: the next time I came, they’d buy much less for sure.
I have kids, so the obvious thought was chocolate. Venezuela doesn’t produce much that you’d want to take with you back to Canada anymore, but when it comes to fancy chocolate, well, you can’t really do much better.
But these three bills in my hand, they’re worth $3,000 to someone.
I start scanning the shops. They sell this super-fancy Del Rey chocolates. 72%, luscious, top quality chocolate. I do the mental math — Bs. 6,000 for one, that’s like $2 at the black market rate at the time. Hell, I could bring back 5 of these, for $10. A steal!
Then…I catch myself and realize, wait a minute: I’m about to spend $3,000 for five bars of chocolate…and I’m happy about it!
Now, ok, I know. 30,000 bolos isn’t really worth $3,000 to me. I’m not an enchufado, I don’t have the government contacts it takes to get my bolivars recognized at the insane —insane— Bs10=$1 official rate.
But these three bills in my hand, they’re worth $3,000 to someone. Probably someone right here, in this departure lounge, waiting to hop onto the same Miami-bound plane I’m about to board.
I scan the crowd, trying to guess whom. There’s the family, with the chubby girl, maybe 6, in the Minnie Mouse tank top…could it be them? Maybe not. There’s the guy, mid 30s, expensive looking jacket, tapping furiously into his shiny new iPhone 7. More likely.
I scan through the crowd again as I rifle through the three bills in my pocket once more. Someone here. Someone here can take the three pieces of paper I’m about to trade for five chocolate bars and turn them into a down payment for a car.
I go back to that moment again and again. We’re so used to the monetary insanity in Venezuela, it’s sort of faded into the background. It’s become one of those things we “accept”, where acceptance is just a word for things-we-know-are-crazy-but-can’t-do-anything-about.
Those Guardias Nacionales you see out in protests shooting tear gas canisters horizontally, straight at protesters…what are they protecting?
But it really isn’t just another insanity. Not really. It’s not an insanity del montón. It’s the insanity, the central bit of non-sense that explains all the other strains of non-sense. The meollo of this whole asunto.
Those Guardias Nacionales you see out in protests shooting tear gas canisters horizontally, straight at protesters…what are they protecting? The SIBCI talking heads marched out to read patently fake news in front of cameras…what are they protecting? Every government spokesperson, the whole bedevilled repression-propaganda industrial complex…why does it need to exist? What is its purpose?
In the end, it’s about this.
That entire system exists because the people who have the ability to turn my five bars of chocolate into $3,000 want to be able to continue to do so, indefinitely. It exists because the profits from currency arbitrage remain so obscene, so rampant, so deranged that not to protect them would amount to whatever the bolibourgeoisie’s equivalent of malpractice may be.
It’s easy to forget. But right now, as you read this, amid the squalor and the teargas and the pain, somebody is turnining a Bs.10,000 bolivar note into a thousand dollars. That’s not some historical footnote. The looting isn’t something that once happened and then stopped. It’s ongoing. It’s happening today. Right now.
And will they fight to keep it going? You better believe it.