Just 24 hours after the implementation of the new monetary reconversion, the day feels atypical (even if it’s increasingly harder to determine what’s typical in Venezuela) and despite the usual morning we had, my suspicions materialize at noon. Every Banco de Venezuela employee, including me, would have to go to another chavista rally.
It was a WhatsApp message from management: “Comrades: rally with all the staff at 1:00 p.m. in the lobby! Full call!”
Mere minutes later, some managers give us instructions with such enthusiasm that it looks more like conviction than opportunism.
Comrades: rally with all the staff at 1:00 p.m. in the lobby! Full call!
We take our lunches quickly and, around 1:00 p.m., we go down to the street. The first thing I notice upon leaving the tower are the five Yutong buses parked outside, an alarming sight. Around me, familiar faces and eloquent absences. Of course we’re annoyed, but you learn to disguise that.
Between you and me, I had the feeling before leaving home that I’d have to attend some proselytizing event. Since I’m part of a crucial section for the business, we don’t participate frequently in politics —during the electoral farce of May 20, for instance, I had to a attend the candidato de la patria campaign closing event. Back then, I had interacted little with my co-workers and I distrusted everyone. Today, I’ve joined a sort of secret society, I recognize dissidents and their codes, and I don’t mean people just opposing the government; I’m talking about anyone who dares to criticize government policies without euphemisms.
The “invitations“ are usually made under subtle coercion, sustained by the fear of losing perhaps the only real benefit available for Banco de Venezuela employees: a bag of food that includes some proteins, a “worker’s basket” that, if properly administered, can last between 15 to 20 days for a three-member family.
In other words: gold for wage-earners.
Also, and obeying the Executive’s guidelines, we’re forced to register our workplace information on the Patria system. It’s true: in order to get a job in public administration today, the carnet de la patria is a requirement. The action takes a few minutes, if the internet connection doesn’t fail or the electric system isn’t “sabotaged” again. Some co-workers are glad with each bonus granted through this mechanism, incapable of understanding the damage that these measures do the national economy.
The “invitations“ are usually made under subtle coercion, sustained by the fear of losing the only real benefit available for Banco de Venezuela employees: a bag of food.
Or perhaps they know and don’t care: that sham money transforms into one more kilo of beef, a dozen eggs or diapers for the baby.
In any case, under the sun, I carefully join the conversations, which oscillate between jokes, emigration plans, the huge confusion about the “red package” and concern about how to survive decently until the next payday (or perhaps just survive). Meanwhile, chavista militants try to impose a mood of celebration. In these events, they usually give us signs regarding the motive for the rally, institutional caps and shirts, a sort of marching kit, and the one thing they demand from us is our best disposition to stay in a designated place. We’re mere props for the stage. Those of us who still have common sense, talk about recent events; others have spiritually surrendered. And of course, there’s a minority of fanatics.
Now, the actual rallying power is as low as Nicolás’s popularity. In my own office, there’s an abundance of voices saying he’s responsible for the separation of their families and the decline in quality of life. It’s late, minutes go by, no more people arrive, we aren’t getting any new instructions, no important bank figure appears and there’s still traffic at the Universidad Avenue.
In my experience, that means one of two things: a) The march is a failure and it’s been suspended or; b) We’re joining a march elsewhere. Few things bring me more satisfaction than seeing the regime’s plans fail and, believe it or not, after an hour and a half of waiting, someone with enough authority remembered that we are amidst the reconversion process.
Of course, if people had arrived as they did in the glory days, we would’ve ended in a mandatory broadcast with a stage, music and Nicolás spouting nonsense.
After the session of group photos (they’re proof of attendance) the small groups go back to the building. The general feel isn’t indignation or wasted time; on the contrary, I see a certain pleasure and complicity among my co-workers, between the failed rally and evading their tasks.
Now, the actual rallying power is as low as Nicolás’s popularity.
The strategy of causing the worst political, economic and social crisis in our republican history to later manage the consequences by force, has worked for the regime. We live in hyperinflation, the bolivar (with whatever last name it has) has lost value as a currency and, consequently, the payment in kind offered by the Banco de Venezuela is more convenient than any payment in cash. Here, vestiges of corporate practices coexist with socialist policies.
How much longer will that be possible? That’s the question that keeps me awake at night, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.