Photo: Arepario, retrieved

There’s a notion among caraqueños today that “things are getting better,” provoked by a series of factors that no one’s really sure if they’re real or perceived—like the decline of crime. Everyone’s talking of a “bubble” brought on by the mechanics of survival, and some folks abroad are really upset because how dare their fellow countrymen enjoy luxuries when so many people are eating from the trash, while people still in the country just want to have as much of a good time as possible, in the face of a hostile reality.

The arena for this conflict is, of course, social media—you really don’t experience it anywhere else—and the latest episode is the Cúsica Fest.

Quick explainer: on December 14th and 15th, we’re gonna have the Cúsica Fest in Caracas, a music festival that reunites most of the big Venezuelan bands, including some who moved abroad and are about to play here for the first time in years. Tickets are sold in dollars, according to the flyer, starting from $20 a day to $35 both days.

The presale of tickets began on Friday, November 15th, and by Monday 18th they were already on the second presale. Over 1,500 tickets were sold in less than a week.

The presale of tickets began on Friday, November 15th, and by Monday 18th they were already on the second presale. Over 1,500 tickets were sold in less than a week.

When I discussed this with friends abroad, most of what I got, and this is deeper the longer the person has been out of the country, was confusion. Sometimes it’s outrage, you know, “If these fuckers have dollars, they must be involved in some criminal shit, because no one else in Venezuela could spare $35 on a show.”

We just covered where dollars come from in our modern economy, and I know I’m being hyperbolic when I say that everyone handles greens today, but let’s get it out of the way: concertgoers are not enchufados and they’re not rich, privileged kids. If you live in Venezuela today, chances are you’re getting your wage in dollars. If you handle bolivars, then your wage is paid according to the black market dollar rate and not the actual minimum wage. This has been going on for a couple of months, at least, and it translates into this phenomenon were you see folks buying Christmas trees and Mott’s apple juice, and you can afford some luxuries—like $35 for a Cúsica Fest ticket, which is what I paid on the third presale.

My best friend, who left for Argentina a year ago, asked me the other day: “if I go back to Venezuela, where would I even work for dollars?”

The answer is “pretty much anywhere.”

But since this “dollarization” is happening without an actual intervention from the state, it’s all in the hands of merchants and service providers who charge whatever they believe is right, however they deem fit. Meaning, there’s a lot of anarchy when paying for stuff.

Let’s consider the concert: according to the flyer, you could buy tickets directly from the producer in Cúsica (a nightclub in El Hatillo), the Raíces store in the San Ignacio mall, or SoloTickets, either in their store in the Plaza Las Americas mall or their website.

That’s all the info you get. Because details were scarce and you only have the internet to get informed (traditional media is dead here) there was a rumor-orgy on social media, with all sorts of scary tales, including savage scalpers, humongous lines and sold-out dates.

This is how I began my quest, not really knowing how much I was going to pay, or how. First I visited the Raíces store on Tuesday, November 19th ; there was no crazy line outside. I walked in, sorta confused since this was a clothing store totally unrelated to music, and had to ask for the tickets before I got some guidance and was taken to a tiny booth. Tickets were indeed available, but just for Saturday 14th, or both days. If your taste was Sunday 15th’s, you had to buy them at Cúsica or online. The good news was that you had options: you could buy either in dollars or in bolivars, at the black market rate of the day.

But since this “dollarization” is happening without an actual intervention from the state, it’s all in the hands of merchants and service providers who charge whatever they believe is right, however they deem fit.

And that is good news; there are stores out there who charge exclusively in greens for their merchandise. Some folks are okay with this, I consider my benjamins sacrosanct.

I sailed to Cúsica then, avoiding the SoloTickets site because, allegedly, some folks made the deal and never got the actual tickets. I would end without a choice: Cúsica didn’t sell tickets for Sunday 15th either (which means their own sellers aren’t quite clear on what’s going on) and I had to pray to the digital gods. Now, Venezuelan credit cards are useful today if you need, like, a coaster for your drink, but as a payment method they’re obsolete. The inflation destroyed their limits and banks can’t keep up. How do you pay for things over the internet?

With a wire transfer, all in bolivars.

I went on the SoloTickets site, clicked on “Buy” and got all the info I needed. 24 hours after the transfer, I got my tickets in the mail.

I’m pretty sure this same dynamic is repeated when you try to pay for parts for your car or medical procedures. When local currency dies, people come up with solutions that are almost completely based on trust: you make a transfer for the tickets; what if you don’t get them? And where do you complain if things go sour? This dollarized trade, mind you, is happening in front of everyone to see. You go to a burger joint, the prices on the menu are in dollars and nobody’s worried about some undercover tax agent trying to shut your restaurant down. I’ve seen tip jars full of dollar bills. It’s true that this bubble is happening in some cities only, while others are left to rot, but even if you think we’re living grand with this “privilege,” keep in mind that this is chaotic and everyone’s just trying to enjoy it while it lasts.

And that’s the irony. Socialism brought us nothing but savage capitalism.

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