Venezuela under candlelight
Last night, I was having a conversation with a couple of friends from Latin America — to be specific, Venezuela, Mexico, and Peru.
Inevitably, the conversation turned to Venezuela.
My friend from Venezuela shared a joke going around Caracas. It goes sort of like this: "What did we do before Chávez?" The answer is: "We used electricity and hair-dryers."
We laughed, but not for long.
The follow-up joke was this: "What's the hottest selling item on sale at the Venezuela-Colombia border?" The answer is "candles."
At this point, I did not laugh, but I did say an "expletive deleted" comment about Chávez and Maduro.
According to Sukanti Bhave, who has been working with refugees on the border, the situation is terrible:
The bridge in Cucuta is the busiest border between the two countries. With the shortage of necessities in Venezuela, residents of the border town, San Antonio de Tachira, often buy basic necessities (toilet paper, diapers, laundry detergent, etc.), from Colombian supermarkets at the border.
Jaimes Suarez and his wife have three children, including a six-month-old daughter. The couple crossed the border with their baby to buy groceries and candles in Cucuta.
"San Antonio isn't a functional city anymore. Stores are closed. Candles are sold on the black market. But they are very expensive," says Suarez.
Without electricity, they have no means of storing food or milk for the baby. Neither can they cook fresh meals.
A few years ago, the Suarez family started using an electric stove.
"Cooking gas is state managed, and we would get one cylinder every few months. It was difficult to cook sufficient meals until the next distribution of gas cylinders. The service was unreliable," he adds.
They tell me that electricity is heavily subsidized in Venezuela. However, there have been frequent power cuts since 2009.
"Caracas wasn't affected by power cuts before this year, but in many other states, we remained without electricity for three to four hours almost every day. The Venezuelan people don't believe the lies of this government. We all know that electricity outage is due to corruption and mismanagement," he concludes.
This is a shocking tale for those of us who remember Caracas when the lights were on and baseball or business was the topic of every conversation. I remember going shopping in Caracas and it looked like a store in Miami.
Today, the conversation with anyone from Venezuela living in the U.S. is all about the meat spoiling in the refrigerators.
Venezuela was not perfect before Chávez. Indeed, there was a bit too much corruption and cronyism. Nevertheless, the lights always worked, and the favorite drinks were always cold in the refrigerator.