I hate some Venezuelan New Year traditions, like that horrible race to eat 12 grapes before the clock strikes midnight, immortalized by Andrés Eloy Blanco in his beautiful -and painfully appropriate- poem. For those of you not familiarized with this ritual, the thing goes like this: About ten minutes before midnight, on new year’s eve you must eat one grape for every month of the coming year, while making a wish with each one. I always ask for the same clichées: January: health for my family, February: enough food to not starve, March: the end of communism… and so on, I usually run out of wishes by July… You are supposed to finish all the grapes before midnight but me and my cousins never do. I think the skill to gulp down those grapes without choking or swallowing the seeds fast enough is something you only acquire after you turn 40 years old.

This year, I think about the grapes as I get dressed for New Year’s Eve dinner: Tonight I’ll be the only person in that table who won’t finish his grapes before midnight.

I’ll be the only person under 50 years-old, for that matter.

It’s not that I don’t have a big family: I have two siblings in Chile, three cousins in Madrid another one in Kansas, another one in Maryland and a last one in Prague. At least three of them had been constants in every New Year’s Eve dinner since we were toddlers.

None will be with us tonight.

When I talked to them these holidays, the typical question of “how are you guys doing?” came out, and for the first time, the stereotyped “We’re fine” that I gave for an answer felt like a lie. No one in Venezuela can be fine. It’s impossible to be fine as hyperinflation turns your salary into dust, or as every year less and less chairs are placed around our table.

This can’t be fine.

But then, I feel bad complaining: we’ll have a nice, fully-loaded new year’s eve dinner: ensalada de gallina, homemade pan de jamón and baked turkey, we even have a bottle of whisky that my aunt bought about ten years ago and had been lost in some cupboard until it was rediscovered last week; take away the small number of chairs, the total lack of fireworks in the background and the overwhelming fear for what 2018 will bring and it could be a fairly “normal” Venezuelan Año Nuevo.

I know that’s way more than most Venezuelan families can afford nowadays. I am actually fine compared to them, and I’m more grateful for that than  I ever thought I could be. But I can’t help to ask myself how it’ll be next year…

My uncle dropped his usual “next year will be better” in the middle of our Christmas dinner one week ago; he was – as  always- applauded by my grandma, who cheered his optimism. He’ll probably repeat it tonight while making a toast. But last time he said that, his children were sitting next to me in that same table. The next time he does, I may not be there for my grandma to point out my lack of faith.

Next year will be the worst year in the recent history of our count. It’ll come with new faces of a crisis that were up to now unthinkable, new tipping points, and probably -and God knows I want to be wrong- with an even more depressing holiday season.

Tonight the clock will mark 11:50 but my aunt won’t bring any grapes. She said the few she could find were too small and too expensive so we’ll have tangerine slices instead. A nice change, if you ask me. I’ll eat my last slice late again, but I won’t run out of wishes this time. We have a lot to ask for in Venezuela, and who knows if we’ll have anything or anyone to do so with next year.

37 COMMENTS

  1. Feliz Chavidad!!!

    And it would be more appropriate for all Venezuelans to eat 12 balls of shit starting at 11:50…because that is what is coming in 2018.

    Hopefully “si hay” breath mints at Farmatodo (“Farmanada”) before you kiss your honey at the stroke of midnight.

  2. “No one in Venezuela can be fine. It’s impossible to be fine as hyperinflation turns your salary into dust”.

    No so sure about that.

    Granted, there are some, uh.. let’s call’em “desenchufados” who are indeed much poorer, even hungry. Granted, there are a few honest people left, hard-working people left, believe it or not, very few left, but some.

    Yet there are milions and more millions of average Venezuelan pueblo-people that (somehow..go figure) seem to be getting by just fine. Aren’t there? Somehow, they seem to be immune to hyperinflation. Somehow (go figure..) they keep getting by with ridiculous “minimum salaries” equivalent to 12 bad grapes and half an arepa. No more. Really. No much more than that. Really. How do they even survive, millions of them? On God’s green earth, utilizing any cheap calculator, pray tell, How???

    Granted, there are over 4 Million pueblo-people that are on Chavismo’s Payroll, modern slaves to the Tropical Narco-Kleptocracy. Direct Enchufados, that — supposedly — with “minimum salaries” still go on vacations, buy stuff, and only complain when they don’t get more freebies, aguinaldos or some sabotaged, pernil Portugues importado. Ahi si patalean…

    Beyond the aforementioned two categories, it’s anyone’s guess: What kind of Mega-Guiso are people participating in? What new Guisos will be invented next year? You see, in today’s Tropical Narco-Kleptozuela, almost everyone has couldn’t leave, had to reinvent themselves to supplement that laughable “minimum salary” the only way they know how: by participating in various, multiple Mega-Guisos.

    Thus, Feliz Navidad y Prospero año to the Millions of crooked enchufados who still have plenty for much more than grapes, stealing waaaayyyyy more than their “sueldos minimos”. Que sigan disfrutando sus Guisos y su querida Cubazuela.

    • “Millions of crooked enchufados ”

      Do you know what a “remesa” is ? or do you think people leave and don´t send foreign currency to their families? pretty much every single family in my residence has some family member abroad helping them out with at least a few spare dollars.

      Do you know what freelance work is? or that we are in an age where anyone can open a virtual card and find jobs online.

      Even Runescape players who sell online gold get by better than a salaryman and yet none are enchufados or are complaining about aguinaldos or perniles as you so imply. Only same old commited chavistas are in that camp. Many importers , big and small businesses , service enterprises and retail are on their daily routine rotating capital and inflating prices to get by with the inflation and they are still around.

      Not everyone who is not starving is an anchufado just as much as not everyone who is starving is chavista and “deserves it” .

      • “Do you know what freelance work is? or that we are in an age where anyone can open a virtual card and find jobs online”

        Through an online job I picked on december I made more money than in the other eleven months of 2017, simply because I was getting paid in dollars for it, and still it’s less than a minimum wage in Colombia for example, but it was enough to get through december without starving and there was a bit of money left.

        But for the typical troll the imbecilic bark of “Venezuela deserves chavismo” is simply too irresistible to stop braying it.

        • Freelance work (in $) and reme$a$ wil help some people in Venezuela as long as they are able to change to local currency (Bs.). I have seen many “Vendo $100 al cambio menos 10” (Sell $ 100 at 10 % below exchange rate) in several Whatsapp groups, which hints the increasing difficulty of exchanging $ to Bs….

  3. The blessing for those who moved to Venezuela in the early 1900’s, all through the 1930’s, 40’s when the world was at war, those who moved there all through 50’s and ’60’s after WW II was won, the pioneers from abroad who risked the perils of an unexplored territory, an undeveloped country with a foreign language, those who invested their capital and their lives there, built their homes, raised their families – the blessing for them is that they do not have to sit witness to the culmination of steel curtain destruction of the ’70’s, the ’80’s, and beyond. They occupy the missing chairs only in the memories of those who are now old enough to remember them, or are smart enough to read about them.

    En Espanol: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-KFXGxKyqc (an hour long)

    For the gringos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZkgFDzexcXM (five minutes)

    There are missing chairs for those Venezuelans who joined and led the efforts, the men and women who became doctors, engineers, businessmen. Many of them were there before The Oil. Many of them are your empty chairs, around your table, this year. Hopefully the end of 2017 will also be the end of “the revolution”, the biggest lie of all.

    For those with easy streaming on YouTube, there are many, many videos on similar topics. Bolivar Films, Tiuna Films – the trailers no one wanted to watch, run before every movie.

    My recollections are biased American. I think of all the friends I had long ago in a growing and prosperous Venezuela – all but a handful of whom left during the 1970’s and 1980’s. One might wonder if the foreigners might have done better, had they left Venezuela alone, and never moved there? But that would be a notion of paradise every bit as fictional as the socialists’ delusion.

    Start eating tangerine slices at the eleventh hour, and wish to realize and not forget how horrible socialism is, for the odd months; for the even months, wish to realize and not forget that with free market capitalism, Venezuela had nearly made it to a developed nation – and wish to never tire in rebuilding your nation to continue that development.

    • Venezuela never had free market capitalism, those foreigners filled their bank accounts with rentist oil mercantilism and made fortunes with subsidies and free tickets every government of the XXth century Venezuela offered to them,

      And they they left to enjoy the spoils elsewhere when this economy was not ripe enough. And all that capital generated in Venezuela lies everywhere else but here.

      • Not so, Vero. There are still quite a few “Musiues” still there, with the capital we generated mostly still there and our companies still fighting the good fight to the end.

        And sure, we took the subsidies and made money when we could, who wouldn’t.

        As of this writing, the company my father and uncles started has over a hundred employees still working and waiting for the day we can produce as we did before when we had 363 workers.

        There are many more like us, working in the background and surviving as best we can.

        Granted, it’s not fun nor is it easy, but the day will come when the universe rights itself.

        I just hope I’m still around to see it

        • “And sure, we took the subsidies and made money when we could, who wouldn’t.”

          It’s not the same, maybe you could build a business in an urban area and not be hindered at every turn by some imbecile bureaucrat.

          But in rural areas, it’s an ugly truth that no one wants to acknowledge that 4th’s governments always limited the rights to ownership of the land for the farmers and producers, and to a lesser extent they messed with urban based businesses too through senseless laws that only served to weaken the private sector, the 4th based its political domination of the country with those who simply sucked the country dry and took the money off.

          Those enchufados are in many cases the same ones that made a killing with chavismo too, since they were the ones that led shiabbe to power in the first place.

  4. I kind of wish you hadn’t written an end-of-year nostalgia article! Here’s one more video, en Espanol (but the puros-gringos can look at the pictures). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CuhWN2PD5GM I do not see how the socialists ever managed to convince the population that the country was being “robbed” of its resources without any benefit. The glitzy hotels and highways are only the wrapping paper, while the real story can be seen in the modest middle class apartment buildings, the little shops thriving, the cars and buses going to and from the university. The country was living a dream, the socialists couldn’t stand to see free market capitalism succeed, and resolved to CRUSH it. I wish there were such a thing as a single representative of the entire nation, so that I could ask that mythical embodiment of a population, “How do you like your ‘Socialism for the People’ now, eh? What are your wishes, eh? More crushed grapes?”

    • Before we go entirely medieval on the Venezuelan pueblo in the comments section, while lauding the wisdom of capitalists, we should also spare a thought for all those foreign owned companies that were happy to pursue the low hanging fruit under chavismo, many to this day, and without whose support chavismo would not have been possible.

      And for those companies, whose names we will never know but which surely exist, that had the foresight, forbearance and ethical sense to look at the country’s leadership under Hugo Chavez, and then his successor, and just say: “sorry, not interested”.

      • “for all those foreign owned companies that were happy to pursue the low hanging fruit under chavismo”

        Not picking a fight with you on this fine day, but could you site some examples of those foreign companies along with an explanation of how they were pursuing the low hanging fruit under chavismo?

        I’ll hang up and listen.

        • Many companies, large and small, were pursuing business, directly and indirectly, with the Chavez and Maduro regimes and some still are. Some are memorialized in the regime’s own propaganda, discussed in this blog, about how great it is doing business in Venezuela. Oil companies, banks and financial institutions, and their associated contractors and service providers, would be some of the obvious candidates, but the list would cover all sectors.

          They were all there because they saw an opportunity, thought they could manage the situation, make a buck and get out, hold their noses, or with the rationale that their role was just business. Others, as businesses do, actively supported Chavez’s campaigns.

          In other words, they were no better in their judgment than the average Venezuelan, and probably worse, in that they had a choice, and in all cases, they had the skills and information to know better than to gamble with an ill informed, irrational, military backed, populist demagogue whose father figure was Fidel Castro.

          So I’m saying, maybe not go so hard on el pueblo venezolano this New Years. That attitude takes a more balanced view of a disaster that has more than a few unrecognized parents and enablers to this day.

          • Can’t comment on the bank and financial services sector you mention because I never paid any attention to them, but I was keenly aware of what was happening in the oil industry and have to disagree with you that “oil companies” were attracted to anything Chavez had to offer. I cannot say I recall a single E&P, drilling, or oil service company entering this market after Chavez won election. There may be some examples, but I can’t recall any.

            I formed my company here during the summer of 1992 after the re-opening of the industry to foreign E&P companies earlier that year with production-sharing concessions offered by the government. We started formal operations in September and by 1998 we had expanded to the point that we were actually leasing well-test equipment, early production setups, and full crews to both Halliburton and Schlumberger. Payment from those guys was great, on-time and in dollars paid directly to the parent company I established in the Channel Islands.

            PDVSA was another story, even then, demanding billing for a significant portion of their invoices in bolivares and then dragging their feet forever on the dollar payment. Shortly after Chavez took over there began a series of devaluations of the bolivar dramatically affecting all of us doing work for PDVSA. I recall my consultant calling me one morning and asking how I felt having lost over $100,000 the night before. Easy come easy go, I guess.

            By the year 2000 I had had enough and sold the company. Many others soon followed.

            From what I recall, those E&P, drilling, and service companies that remained slowly but surely died on the vine and virtually all of them left within a few years. The only US service company I recall trying to start up operations here recently was the Oklahoma-based company, Horizontal Drilling Inc that Maduro proudly displayed on national TV during the riots. With Trump’s sanctions being announced shortly thereafter, I doubt they ever got anything off the ground.

          • MRubio

            The company is Horizontal Well Drillers. CNBC did an investigative report.

            https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/10/an-oklahoma-oil-companys-deal-in-venezuela-raises-questions.html

            The company proudly lists major clients. PDVSA is not on the client page. That seems odd for such a huge contract

            http://www.hwdrillers.com/clients/

            I tried calling you yesterday. The phone system appears to be deteriorating. On the first attempts I kept getting a recording saying the call could not be connected. I finally got through and there was no answer. You have a care package coming your way. It should be in Miami by Wednesday. Then by air to VZLA.

          • John, movilnet hardly functions here in our area now, good only for sending messages for the most part. Not surprised you couldn’t get through, but keep trying if you need to speak to me personally.

            I’ll try to log in to yahoo to see if you’ve send any emails. I assume you got mine. Of course, I’ll need whatever details you can provide on the package you sent to arrange for pickup in Caracas.

            I tried calling Agropecuaria Lozada re the Brimport seed but got no answer, not surprising this time of year. Most agropecuarias are either closed for good due to lack of merchandise, or closed until Monday of next week because of the holidays.

            As always my friend, thanks! You’re going to make some local producers very very happy……something there’s not much of around here these days, happiness.

            Things are getting grimmer by the day.

          • HI MR
            As soon as you know whether or not it is available, we can decide our next steps. While shopping for some of the other items I found a display with 2018 seeds. Kind of early for my area. I bought all of the ones that said heritage on the packs. About 75 or so. The 50 packs donated by Seeds of Change are also included.
            The 502 PRR is also open pollinated. This should put everyone in a good position for sustainability.
            Perhaps they can become seed sellers once they get the onions going.

  5. I lived all my adult life in the US, but with a Venezuelan wife, we made it a point to spend Christmas there. My, now adult children, developed a strong bond to their Venezuelan heritage, for one, they are bilingual.

    My 22 year old son, a typical aloof young man, mentioned in passing a couple of years ago “I miss Christmas in Venezuela”. It tore my heart.

    Tonight los abuelos will spend their New Years with not one descendant around their table. Maybe another Do~na del Cafetal will sit around that mostly empty table overseeing Caracas Valley.

    Co~no ‘e tu madre, Hugo!

    • My first Chiristmas there, I whispered to my wife how I thought the family’s hallacas sucked. She was outraged.

      My brother-in-law from across the table started laughing uncontrollably and screamed:

      “Ira esta comiendo la oja!”

      • I can actually picture that happening.

        Both you complaining and eating the leaf.

        Great article Jaun Carlos, sad, but fortunately reversible. Hopefully the new year brings better times.

      • Funny. I gave away a few hallacas to people who had never seen one. Lol.

        (Alright, alright … I’m not mean. Just to be on the safe side, I explained, “The leaves are not a salad – you unwrap the hallaca, and eat OFF them, but don’t eat them.”) Kind of like explaining, that in a paella, you don’t eat the chicken bones, nor the mussel shells – only the soft stuff. Pero bueno …. The ones I got don’t have enough raisins and bacon and aceitunas, no capers, but otherwise, for store-bought, they’re not bad, but not as good as las Criollas, and a bit small, too. I’m not complaining. They arrived “manana” (late), so there was authentic sabor Caraqueno.

        I finally made some decent arepas, btw, and got some “eh-pool-ed poh-rk” (?que vaina?) instead of carne mechada. Not bad. Could not find guasacaca, y sigo quejandome de no tener quesillo. Venezuelan sweet tooth is insatiable. Flan, I can do, nice quarter inch caramelized cane sugar on top, but no one likes it … “too sweet!” Sigh.

        Just out of curiosity, does anyone here know how to make a tumba rancho?

        • Amazing:

          Guasacaca was a new experience for me in VZ, with steak. Never used that kind of concoction with beef, and absolutely loved it.

          I know it’s a “common” thing with various names depending on the country, but it’s almost 30 years and nothing I’ve had in the states comes close.

          And if you think my wife is going to learn how to make it, forget it.

          When she goes to the supermarket, she still asks what aisle the toast is in.

      • “¡Ira está comiendo la hoja!”

        That reminds me the time years ago when I ate a paella with some friends and never having eaten it before, I chucked a whole shrimp in my mouth and begun chewing it, resulting into the crunchiest noises you could hear in the table, my friends were flabbergasted at first, then we were all laughing our asses off.

  6. There are still trolls in this blog , even in these trying times when to show any kind of even carefully scripted excuse for the miseries that this regime has inflicted on us is basically a mission impossible . to state that millions of people still ‘manage’ to maintain a sattisfactory or acceptable life is a monstrous libel on the harsh reality of our daily lives so filled with penuries and want . Dont have to name names , read one of the above comments and the identity of the troll will pop up isntantly …….!! I have had contact with literally hundreds of people this last month and I have yet to find even one person who doesnt complain bitterly about how bad things are , like no time before !!

    By the way Reuter has copied an article ( appearing on todays Noticiero Digital) written for today the last day of the year by Rafael Ramirez which is the most ferocious , rethorically loaded attack on Maduro and those that continue to support him that I have ever read ….its right on the reasons for his attack although of course its self serving in many respects , suggest anyone whose spanish is good enough try to find and read it . It refers to Maduro as a King Herod who is klling the children of Chavez revolution in todays Venezuela .

    Mr Ramirez is not one of my favourite characters in the revolutionary charade that Chavez started but his writing has a savage punch that no one defending the regime today can come close to ……even diehard opponents of the regime are sure to enjoy reading it.!!

    • Ramirez as a victim? That’s hilarious.
      I have seen no reports which indicate that Venezuela has withdrawn his diplomatic credentials despite his dismissal from his diplomatic post. This is interesting; it seems highly likely that the Venezuelan regime would like to block any public investigation or indictment of Ramirez outside Venezuela. Instead, their preference must be to get him back to Venezuela where he can be buried deep. On the other hand, the Venezuelan regime will never persuade him to return to Venezuela under the present circumstances. He has a fair idea of the justice he faces.

      Many of the major corruption scandals which involved Ramirez (and his nepotistic appointments in MEM and PdVSA) pre-dated his acquisition of diplomatic immunity. I have no idea whether, under the Vienna Convention, this means that he can be indicted for corruption crimes which were committed before he gained his present immunity. It seems like an important question.

      If his immunity is “retrospective”, then the present situation looks like a stalemate. He can continue to walk around legally in the US, while the Venezuelan regime snarls at him from a distance but can’t afford to lift his immunity because of its own exposure. Meanwhile a bunch of his henchmen have already been arrested or indicted.

      It’s not clear to me how this is going to break.

        • Yes, I saw an article suggesting that. I also read that he left on a private plane for Quito, that he left the USA for Spain, and that he is still in the USA trying to negotiate a deal with the intelligence services and various federal agencies. The Panama also reported in early December that he had (already) had his diplomatic immunity revoked, but this appears to have been based on Maduro’s public rant some days previously. Several weeks later, press reports suggest that this has still not officially happened.

          Take your pick. None of the rumours of his location have been verified by credible sources as yet as far as I can tell. I would be interested if anyone has verifiable information on his location and status.

  7. “I have had contact with literally hundreds of people this last month and I have yet to find even one person who doesnt complain bitterly about how bad things are , like no time before !!”

    Things are so bad here Bill that I saw a chavista walking down the street the other day with his hands in his own pockets. Yeah, I know, that’s an old one but still.

    I’ve lost contact with my die-hard chavista buddy who lives on Margarita Island. His phone number is locked away in my now defunct Digitel cell phone because Digitel dropped service to this area after their equipment was stolen for 13th time. What a shock, eh?

    Anyway, it was so easy to walk that guy into a trap when discussing Venezuela’s ever-deteoriating condition that I almost felt bad sometimes doing it to him. Almost. What always amazed me was how he could somehow manage to rationalize even the most outrageous actions or comments of Maduro et al. Never have I ever seen a koolaid drinker like that guy.

    I hope he and his loved ones suffer the most miserable holiday season they’ve ever experienced in their lives. Oh, and the horse he rode in on too.

    • My brother-in-law…never a Chavista…has a kidney problem. He was scheduled to do whatever tests they do, but the clinic or hospital cancelled it for whatever bullshit reason they made up. This was like a month ago.

      So here comes Christmas, and he takes the money he needed to pay for this “luxury” of medical care to splurge on the “luxury” of a few hallacas and a pan de jamon. And a few days later, he’s notified that they can now do his tests.

      But now he doesn’t have the money and can’t.

      Can you believe this fucking shit?

  8. Feliz año Juan Carlos.
    Me hiciste llorar desde muchos KM de distancia.
    El año pasado yo era una de las últimas de 18 primos que nos sentábamos en esa mesa.

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