Photo: José Díaz

“What pernil are you talking about? I didn’t get anything. We paid for it, but they never delivered. We gotta party all the same.”

That’s what a woman in her fifties told me as she fixed her hair outside the Capitolio metro station, two blocks from the Plaza Bolívar, where the Mayor’s Office of Caracas was finishing up the details for their New Year’s Eve party.

The woman, wearing purple trousers, was accompanied by an elder lady. Both held their purses tight as they waited for the rain to clear out. It was 6:00 p.m.

“I just want to dance” they told me. “I came from Propatria to spend New Year’s Eve here. It’s better than staying at home, at least there’s music and we can stay overnight. Why don’t you come with us?”

A handful people loitered around the square, while a band called Fórmula Familia performed on the 20-meter long stage amidst a colorful display of lights.

“I live nearby. I came because I don’t have anything at home, my children don’t have new clothes. Last year, we could get hallacas and salad here, but I don’t see that today. Looks like Erika messed this up.”

The few attendees were soon scattered by the rain, the air felt grey and cold, and not only because of the downpour. I got the impression that the participants were there because of the hope of a giveaway, more than the mayor’s invitation. On stage, two presenters kept repeating the words “love” and “hope”, asking people to shout with them that Venezuela was a happy country, but the people didn’t seem particularly cheerful.

The square was damp and after an hour of rainfall, the attendees grouped together, facing the stage. They never came close to filling half the place, they didn’t even reach beyond Simón Bolívar’s statue in the center. I could see rows of empty chairs.

“They didn’t bring tables, like in previous years,” said Carmen García, who came over with her three children. “We used to get here early and reserved a table. They didn’t let us bring alcohol, only food, but we had a good a time. There was none of that this time.”

She crossed her arms, looking at the musicians on the two giant screens set up at the borders of the square.

“I live nearby. I came because I don’t have anything at home, my children don’t have new clothes. Last year, we could get hallacas and salad here, but I don’t see that today. Looks like Erika messed this up.”

When the rain finally stopped, the two women left the subway station and walked to the square; they soon started dancing on their own, then they found partners.

“I don’t just dance with anybody, especially if they smell bad,” one of them told me. “I’m wearing my perfume, mija.”

They took a spot four meters from the stage, waving their arms, laughing and singing. Only them and other three couples were moving around the square, sticking out with an excitement that struggled to look sincere. The rest was incapable of that effort.

Only the stage was awash with light. The Plaza Bolívar lacked any special Christmas glow, the lights were opaque and the ornaments were quite simple, considering the investment made by PSUV mayor and Frente Francisco de Miranda leader Erika Farías. Over Bs. 24 billion ($215,414, enough to subsidize 2,400,000 CLAP boxes) were spent in ornaments and preparations for the party, which included two international artists such as Bonny Cepeda and Las Chicas del Can, who charged the government in dollars, of course, an amount that remains undisclosed.

“What does Venezuela want? Peace!” the presenters asked, answering their own question. After two hours, the concert failed to get people excited.

“Well, mija, as I said, we can’t stop celebrating just because there’s no pernil. It’s true that everything is expensive and there’s no food, but if Erika put up this party, at least we can enjoy it.”

Omar Acedo took the stage along Francisco Pacheco y su Pueblo, and later Erika Farías started the countdown to 2018. Everything went down fast, the countdown and the hugs, while people banged pots in several areas near the square, protesting hunger.

Was it necessary to spend that kind of money while people are suffering?

“Well, mija, as I said, we can’t stop celebrating just because there’s no pernil. It’s true that everything is expensive and there’s no food, but if Erika put up this party, at least we can enjoy it,” said the woman I talked to when I left the subway station.

The woman spoke only of pernil. When I asked her whether she had meat, chicken or eggs, she replied “How? Everything is so expensive.”

But in her revolutionary mind, shortages are induced and at least “I’m still getting my CLAP box,” after this comment, she made a gesture to end the conversation.

“We couldn’t set up a New Year’s dinner this time, so we’ll wait here until the last singer.”

Attendance in the square included downtown neighbors who came by dressed just like at home, in shorts, tank tops and slippers. There were also colectivos around, mainly from the Frente Francisco de Miranda. It was a long day (started at 5:30 a.m.) and the toast was nowhere to be found. “I just want January to start,“ I managed to overhear a conversation between two men, talking about 2017: everything is expensive, there’s no food, my children have no toys or clothes.

“At least tomorrow, we can get on the metro easily,” said a man who had come over with his wife. “We couldn’t set up a New Year’s dinner this time, so we’ll wait here until the last singer.”

Farías threw a New Year’s Eve party, ignoring the people demanding food, better public services and security, and that was plain obvious in the meager attendance. Caraqueños are angry at her because she didn’t come through with electoral promises and only a few bought the message she gave just hours before the end of 2017: “Nobody can force us to give away hope, joy and our fighting spirit.”

Many of her followers didn’t even stay around to hear her speak.

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