Caracas for Socialist Tourists

If you have sympathy for the devil, go the entire road. This is what democratic socialists attending the Congreso Bicentenario 2021 missed during their visit

Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto

Nicolás Maduro’s government had the pleasure of hosting the Congreso Bicentenario de los Pueblos 2021 in Caracas in June. The celebration of the independence battle known as “Batalla de Carabobo” was intended to be the ideal occasion for international socialist organizations, especially those from developed countries, to attend and share their ideological support for the revolutionary cause.

Judging just by what we saw on the Democratic Socialists of America’s social media accounts, like partying on the rooftop of the most luxurious hotel in the capital, they sure had fun! However, the schedule proposed by the organizing committee was somewhat limited, considering how short the conference was versus the many interesting hotspots Caracas has to offer. 

That’s why I decided to put together a list of locations that weren’t included in the tour, but are absolutely worth visiting if you really want to know this socialist paradise.

Universidad Central de Venezuela

If academia is your thing, you should visit the UCV (Central University of Venezuela). Founded in 1721, it’s the oldest higher education institution in the country, operating under a state subsidy model that represents 80% of its total budget in order to guarantee education for all. The best thing about the Ciudad Universitaria, however, is perhaps its cultural value—it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Last week, a fire swept through the School of Political Studies and, even though firefighters did everything they could to control the fire, the lack of water and maintenance services hindered effective action to prevent irreparable damage from occurring. Ciudad Universitaria hasn’t received proper maintenance in years due to budget cuts.

Why you should visit: you’ll be able to see one of the most beautiful buildings in the world turned to ruins.

Guzmán Blanco Avenue

Better known as the Cota 905, it’s one of the busiest highways in Caracas. It’s located in the parishes of La Vega, El Paraíso and Santa Rosalía, right in the middle of the Libertador municipality. Its name pays homage to Antonio Guzmán Blanco, the president who spearheaded the country’s modernization process in the 19th century. However, the highway is now famous for being the area where the city’s most dangerous gangs operate with total impunity. Organized crime has escalated due to an undeclared war between gang leader Carlos Luis Reverte a.k.a “El Coqui” and state security forces—who are basically barred from entering some Caracas slums. In the end, the Cota 905 became one big spot for criminals with an impressive arsenal. By the time we are editing this piece, the shooting between the gangs and the police have been almost non-stop for two days and nights, and several bystanders have lost their lives in the crossfire.

Why you should visit: If you like high-risk, adrenaline-fueled, near-death and real-world experiences, this is definitely an opportunity you can’t miss.  Not the kind of controlled, rehearsed contact with the inhabitants of some other barrio where the government will show the visitors a staged narrative of collective organization and “poder popular”.

El Helicoide

Originally, its construction was undertaken by private companies in the 1960s. The initial idea contemplated a drive-through mall, a five-star hotel, a park, an exclusive membership club, and a theater. Due to the project’s innovative quality, the design was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. However, El Helicoide is now a penitentiary center controlled by the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN), known for tortures and holding political prisoners. 

Why you should visit: although you’re not allowed in unless you have a special permit, the surroundings can be visited to observe the number of reporters, family members and human rights activists seeking information on the status of the inmates.

J.M. de los Ríos Children’s Hospital

Once the most important children’s hospital in Latin America, it was named after the doctor who promoted pediatric medicine in Venezuela. J.M. de los Ríos is the perfect X-ray of our decaying public health system. If there’s something worse than not having public healthcare, it’s having an unsanitary and inoperative one. In 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued precautionary measures due to serious problems with the drinking water supply and regular sanitary maintenance. These conditions contributed in making it one of the pediatric hospitals with the highest national mortality rate. 

Why you should visit: for those who are into thoughtful, self-growth journeys, this may be the chance to see misery sketched on a child’s face. You know, the kind of life-changing experience some people seek to rethink their purpose in life.

Caracas Metro

Back in the 1980s, Metro de Caracas was one of the most modern subways in Latin America, but today it stands out for its dramatic deterioration and scandalous corruption cases. It used to be a symbol of modernity, but precious urban works of art that adorned each station hopelessly fade into a sea of helpless passengers now. The unfinished expansion projects, the constant technical failures, and the lack of personnel make this public transportation system the perfect horror movie set.

Why you should visit: traveling in one of its carts is the equivalent to hopping on a roller coaster every day. Tip: hold on tight to the handrails while the subway is in motion, as the doors are often damaged and could fly open during the ride.

Truth be told: whether we like it or not, these places are emblems of our city. It’s funny though, that photo taken by a DSA activist from an exclusive rooftop does capture a thing or two. The tense calm, the few vehicles at night, the barely lit city, and the starless sky, but that doesn’t really represent the nightmare that Venezuelans have to face every day.

Since they aren’t capable of recognizing the place they visited and how life is there, compared to the place where they come from, one thing’s for sure: the socialist attendees were hosted by the devil, but they’ve never been to hell.