jueves, 28 de enero de 2010

My deepest respect

I’m not a student anymore. I’m 25 and I finally got my degree last year. I’m too old to be part of it and seeing pictures like this one, taken a couple of hours ago in my city, makes me feel a bit nostalgic. I’m glad that what it started in 2007, when I was still a student and fully a part of the movement, still remains, and it has improved ever since. I’m glad to see new generations fighting for the same ideal, approaching to it even with the new difficulties and in new ways. To protest in Venezuela is now harder than ever.
When I started going to protests, back in 2002, a detention was something unthinkable. They started to become something normal, if I remember correctly, in 2007. Now, is weird to look at the balance of a student protest without at least ten students spending a few hours or more behind bars. Repression has always been something “normal” to expect when you are at a demonstration. As years pass by, the repression has become more violent and more severe. Students need to perform some activities in secret to avoid the encounter with the police forces as much as possible. The route of the student’ demonstrations is kept in secret until the morning of the protest, when they are announced in student’ assemblies on every university of Caracas. The final point, the goal of the march is not revealed until the crowd is obviously approaching that spot. The communication is done via Twitter or text messaging. With all that under consideration, this picture is a miracle. And every person in it, every little dot, has my deepest respect.

Source: http://tweetphoto.com/9798629

miércoles, 27 de enero de 2010

On loving Blogging, Twittering and the rest of 2.0 wonders

Last night, I was talking to my boyfriend about how much I love blogging. “Could I get paid for blogging? And blog as a full time job?” – I naively asked him. I know they are some people, who earn money thanks to their blog, but I’m not familiar with the ways and I’m not comfortable about using publicity that it might distract the readers. But putting that aside, Blogging about this, about anything else; would be like my ideal job. To engage with a story or a feeling, to carefully – or not – prepare an entry on a Word Document, to copy it and paste it in a blogger entry template, adding some necessary html codes, to carefully –if needed – select an image, to click on publish and wait for the comments; to delight yourself when the comments reach – if they do, unfortunately they not always do – or when your visits increase. To create your own space that anyone, everywhere, can see and read and make a stance about it.

In Venezuela, Internet is our best source of information. Of all Internet sources, including Blogs; Twitter and Facebook have proved to be more effective because of their ability to transmit the information shortly and immediately. For the rest, the traditional media is pretty much banned for us. There is only one channel with an open TV signal who dares to pass on information and commentary against the government: Globovision. But this Channel is forced to follow many government regulations which include to broadcast long “cadenas” of government’ propaganda, speeches and event; and to not inform about certain news (especially does about violent events and street protest) immediately because, government argues, this would multiply the protests thus creating a chaos 1989 like. Plus, the channel doesn’t have the necessary equipment to broadcast live sometimes. On cable we had RCTV but RCTV is not a 24 hours news channel, like Globo has many troubles to broadcast live and, hey! It was closed by the government – again – last Saturday.

The government designed what we call the “RCTV law” which established that if the production of a cable channel was made in Venezuela in a percentage equal or above 70%, this Channel would had to enter the same regulations as open signal TV channels, including the broadcast for hours of government’ propaganda for free. Plus, this “national cable channels” would not be allowed to interrupt any program to broadcast any publicity. Virtually, the only channel that fell into this regulation was RCTV. 4 other Channels also got the same luck, one from Chile, but I have never seen those to be honest – and I have cable. RCTV claimed the measure was illegal, refused to broadcast a few “cadenas” and argued that the publicity issue would kill its finances. Soon before we know it, RCTV screen was black again, giving us an odd memory back in 2007 when RCTV was the oldest open signal Venezuelan channel and the government closed it at midnight, thus forcing it to move to cable.

The radio used to be an excellent source of information. In my family it was mandatory to carry a small radio to the marches and demonstrations because thanks to the radio we could follow the route of the march, to be informed about how massive it really was, what effect it was having and over all, beware of any troubles. The radio was my boyfriend’ faithful company every afternoon, stuck in traffic, on his way back home from work. Sometimes, he called me from his cell phone to tell me about some news he just had heard. But those kinds of calls stopped a few months ago when the government decided to massively order the closure of about 30 radio stations. Since then, the radio is about 90% silent. You can roll and roll throughout the whole FM frequency without finding any dissident voice.

Most of the few radio announcers, who didn’t lose their jobs, are now practicing self- censorship, fearing they would follow their colleagues luck. Others still hardly criticize the government, but this last, maximum, two or three hours a day. As you can expect, in the frequencies that belonged to the closed radio station, now you can hear many pro- government voices. Lately, I have heard the weirdest Revolutionary programs, including one about “the Socialist Philology”, hosted by some Argentinean who didn’t seem to have a clue of what he was talking about. The rest reminds me a bit of Orwell’s 1984 (one of my favorite books, in case you haven’t noticed yet); the simple and repeating songs that the “prole” (the poor ones without any class conscience or hope to have one) happily sang, feeling that everything was ok: on Venezuelan radio now there’s a lot of music everyday. Less than a year ago, at some peak hours it was hard to find any music on the radio. The stations were filled with commentary, debates, news, talks, calls… Now I regret every time I complained because sometimes I just wanted to listen a song and I couldn’t find any between all those radio talks. Now I can have all the music I want, but not a single opinion.

As for the press, is still there to some extent. But to be honest, I don’t like most of the Venezuelan press, I think is poor and incomplete. The papers usually spend a lot of space with big, useless pictures that accompany articles or news that do not need pictures in the first place. Those pictures are followed by a small, narrow, synthesized text, which always leaves you wanting more. You buy a 60 pages newspaper feeling that you waste your money if you judge by 55 pages of it. Even if the press were good enough, the press can only give us delayed information: on the afternoon or at the next day. In this fast moving world, printed press is usually delayed. We need to know if a few blocks away from home, the police are throwing tear gas bombs, or if there are wounded in a protest at one university because a relative is studying there and cell phones usually collapse on those kind of times.

So, logically, we have Internet. Thank God for Internet. Thank God for Blogging. Thanks, even more, for Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for giving us the opportunity of reading something more elaborated or worthy than what we find in the press, in the comfortable format of Blogspot, Live Journal or any other. Thanks for allowing comments and forums on nationally known citizen’ journalism pages such as www.noticierodigital.com and www.noticias24.com. Sometimes the information those pages contained is not well written or is not totally inaccurate, but is totally free of any type of censorship (including the most dangerous one: self censorship) and their discussions are music to my ears, the necessary catharsis for the appealed Venezuelan’ citizen. Thanks for those status on Facebook on which we laugh, or cry, or inform about those things we used to hear on the radio and now we can’t.

And every since this week, that I have just discover (late, I know, but I did) its true potential, thanks for Twitter. Same as I love blogging, I’m finding out that I also love Twittering. I opened my Twitter account a few months ago with the sole propose of informing my readers every time I publish something new, here or at my Spanish “light” blog. But since RCTV – second closure – happened, and painful events at my university and in many other places erupted, Twittering became almost as important as breathing. If it wasn’t for those 140 characters messages in my screen; it would have take me hours to find out that my university was a battle field since the police started to repress a demonstration, that protest against RCTV closure had erupt from Merida till Puerto La Cruz and that the “cacerolazo” in my neighborhood was not the only one. I knew that two students had died in Merida long before Globo or any other news agency dared to say something about it. And I had the plus to find it out directly from witness, who shared pictures and thoughts, who begged that the vital info they were passing on could be Twitted and re- Twitted all over the screens of this country.

Internet 2.0 – Blogging, Twittering, Facebooking – is the only effective, immediately, massive way Venezuelans have now to be informed when we need to know. Is that part of us, the scream, and the anxiety which used to be broadcasted live on several TV channels and now has gone. Now, that we cannot recognize ourselves in the TV or radio, that the TV and the radio are merely arms of the government and not tools for the citizens, we are rebuilding ourselves throughout Internet. In a place where no street is safe, no entertainment place can be frequently afforded, no government institution or program seem to give us any benefit unless we “prove” to be “revolutionary”… Internet is a beautiful alternative. Internet is young, fresh, easy, fast; but most important, is ours. We have lose the power of even whispering outside unless we are up for huge police reprisal, but by hitting the keyboards we can scream just so hard that it seems uncanny. In a country where nothing belongs to us, Internet is ours. And that’s one wonderful, incredible, challenging power. Whatever it is to speak about politics or this new movie we love or not, we have this one space to be ourselves.

The bad part is that Chavez knows it. Disturbed by the way protests against RCTV’ new closure spread across the country, he –words more, words less – qualified our Twitters as “terrorist rumors”. Ok, I’m with you on that, some of them were rumors, but only a few proved to be not true. And most people, who spread a rumor, did it only in the hope to confirm it, twittering something like this: “I heard they are deaths in Merida. Can someone there confirm this?” – I read Tweets like those loads of times. I just hope that Chavez do not use the name “terrorist” to put some bloggers and twitters hardly needed in jail. Anyway, Miguel O. blogged about this - in English for your pleasure – and the phrase he uses to end his post is so priceless, that I’m going to steal it, to end mine:

But in the end, besides feeling the threat from a weapon Chavez does not control or understand totally, maybe his key problem is that he could never make adequate use of it. For a man accustomed to uninterrupted speeches of six to eight hours, it must be simply impossible to even consider the possibility of communicating anything in 140 characters”.- So true!

lunes, 25 de enero de 2010

Today at my campus

It has never happen before. The students at UCAB (a private Catholic university) have protested many times before against many government measures. Today was different. The police, for unknown reasons, entered the campus trowing tear gas bombs and pellets in places like the cafeteria. Some students are injured, still don't know how many but someone just sent me the picture of one of them. I can confirm 100% that this photo was taken at UCAB. I recognize the curtains in the left from my visits when I was a student like her. Only difference is that I visited that infirmary because of a headache or a period pain. Not because of a crash with the police. It is painful to see my campus like this.

Source: http://twitpic.com/zr9fw

(There is no rest).

martes, 19 de enero de 2010

Four


Dozens of people are killed every year in Venezuela. I heard once that more people are killed here than in Irak but I don’t know if it’s true. I read the numbers in the papers and then I forget about them. After all this time, it doesn’t make a difference if the number of violent deaths this weekend was 36, 43, 54 or just 20. But for me, that number translates to 4. Four. That’s the count I never lose. That’s the number of people murdered since 2007 that I personally met. They are the tiny part of the big stat that I can put a face to it. They are four stories and four memories.


ONE : Andreína. I clearly remember that day: we were in class with a professor I deeply admire. The class happened to be on the same week the Student Movement was arising and we all were very enthusiastic about it. So much, that a guy in my class said he was lucky to be a student on a day like that one. My professor replied that neither he nor the rest of us were lucky at all. She said that when she was young she was able to hang out at night without any other worry than to have fun. She felt safe, secure and happy. For my professor, to be involved in the Student Movement wasn`t a lucky life experience; it was something shameful, the reflex of a generation who had to be involved in a political movement to demand basic civil rights (such as security) that their parents once took for granted. In the middle of the discussion, another classmate received a phone call which she was rude enough to take – perhaps she felt something was wrong – “What?” – She said over the phone – “Is she dead?” - She hung up the phone and told us her name: Andreína. I shared a couple of classes with her. She was smart, the second of her cohort. She was tall with brown curly hair and a bit shy. She was more advanced than me: when she died she had already finish the university and was writing the thesis, while I was in my last year of classes.

On that day, she went to the university to deliver yet another thesis chapter to her tutor. After that, she stopped by at a gas station near campus. I don’t know how many shots reached her; all I know is that she was killed in the act. It was around 10 in the morning. It happened in plain daylight. Her killers were not older than 18. Apparently they were hired by an elder woman, who happened to be a former jealous lover of Andreina’s boyfriend. Another student witnessed the whole event. She never met Andreina, she was just passing by. Yet, she unexpectedly shared the most valuable minutes of someone's life: the last ones. She searched the car until she found Andreina’s movile phone and call her mom telling that her daughter was hurt and thus she had to rush to the gas station . I don’t know if her mom had the time to say good bye. I just know she held Andreina’s body screaming “¡me mataron a mi niña!” – “they killed my girl!” On that same night, we went to her funeral. It was crowded. Everyone was there. Friends, family and my whole faculty: professors, students of different cohorts. Some of them knew her. Some of them didn’t but her death impressed the community so much that wanted to be there, as if their attendance could show how much they condemned the event. A small altar was arranged at the entrance of our faculty, with her picture and a short bio in the center. The altar was there for weeks. She was the first.

TWO: Andres. I was reading the news when I read a story about a young boy being killed at a parking line. After partying, he was on the way to his car with some friends when someone tried to mug them. In the confusion, he and his friends decided to run away. It was a stupid decision: the thieves started to shoot as much as they could. Their bullets only reached Andres, not his friends. His name sounded familiar to me. I checked on a list and soon knew why: he was my student. During my last year of the university, I started working as a teaching assistant. As part of the job, I had a class of 40 first year students under my charge and he was one of them. He was one of my worst students, so bad that he couldn’t pass my class at least and had to switch to another major in another – less prestigious – university. He had short brown hair, big muscles for an 18 year old, and always showed up in class wearing blue squared shorts, a white stuck t-shirt and a big smile. All I remember of him is that he was joking all the time. His life ended way before he could be remembered by me as something more than a party boy. He didn’t had that chance.

THREE: Professor García.
He taught political philosophy at the university. He was never my professor but some of my friends did take classes with him and loved his method. One night, he was on his way back from the university with his son in the copilot seat. His car was old and cheap. But either way, at the highway, someone tried to chase him and mugged him. He started to drive faster and that really pissed off his muggers whom shot at his car as much as they could. Soon after, Professor García was death. I didn’t hear the news till the next day. One of my friends had an art exhibit opening on campus. I noticed something was wrong because he wasn’t smiling as he should have; this art exhibit was a great accomplish. Instead, he was wearing black and looking at the floor like asking for an answer. He started the exhibit with a quiet voice, saying it was dedicated to his professor, killed on the night before.

FOUR: Luis.
Today, I was talking to my boyfriend on the phone. We were making plans for tonight. One of his best friends came from abroad for a few days and invited us to have a few drinks. Trouble is, that he lives far and if my boyfriend goes after work to pick me up and then to this friend’ house, we might don’t get there on time due to the horrible Caracas’ traffic. So I proposed taking a bus to my boyfriend’ office, met him when he finished his work and go straight from there to his friend’ home. I asked him to wait a minute – my cell phone is ringing: it is mom. “Do you know Luis F.?” – “Yes, Why are you asking me?” – “Well, I just found out that he was killed yesterday” – She replied – “Killed? How come?” – My boyfriend hears my responses over the phone- “You know… the usual…someone mugged him, he didn’t had enough money to give and he was killed”. I hung up my cell and continue talking with my boyfriend. I explain that now I have to find out where is the funeral and if I should go or not. “Whatever you do, do not take the bus” – He says. The news has giving him a sudden injection of paranoia– “I’ll pick up, I don’t care about the traffic”.

In my fourth year of university, I was one of those typical - a bit nerd- students involved in many activities and associations. Luis belonged to one of those. I did not like him but I didn’t dislike him either. We never were close friends but we shared a lot in those meetings and parties of the student group we both belonged to. I don’t remember if his major was accounting or engineering or economics. He was tall, muscular, with a big smile and a sense of confidence in the joy of life. He used a motorcycle to attend classes so it was very common to see him entering the meetings wearing a black leather jacket and holding the helmet under his right arm. I never saw this coming but today, he officially enters my count as number 4. As the fourth one personally known person who disappeared from this world thanks to a semi automatic gun and an anonymous bastard who used it in revenge.

While I’m thinking on a conclusion for this post, on an elegant way to finish my chronicle; I find myself busier trying to contact the people from that student group. I haven’t see most of them in years. I still don’t know how this day should end: if at number 4’ funeral or at my boyfriend’ friend home, having some drinks. What I have for certain is that death does not longer amaze me. It rather feels like something you already knew even before it happened. You know that life is short, that nothing – even less life – can be taken for granted and that you should never, ever, make an assailant go mad because he could pass from being just another thief, another high school boy with broken expectations to a killer. And then take Andreina, Andrés, Professor García and Luis’ lives in the process.

martes, 12 de enero de 2010

Light Switch

Lights, aren’t they magical?

When I was a kid I wasn’t tall enough to reach the Light switch and that was pretty frustrating for me because most of the kids my age could. So every time I had the chance; I looked for a bench, dragged it till the light switch, climbed on it so I could finally turn on the light by myself. The other option was to jump several times until my fingers could reach it. It was routine for the rest of the people, but for me it was something special.

Soon after and thankfully, I grew up and the whole act of turning on the lights stopped being an exciting game to become part of my routine, same as washing my teeth. I never thought about that again until now, 20 years or more later, when the president of the electricity company (which now belongs to the government) announce a very strict plan to save energy.

It goes like this: in Caracas, my city, people will run out of electricity for four hours a day, three or four days a week until May at least. Given the inefficiency which characterizes this government, we are afraid that this measure might last forever. The city has been divided in six “blocks” or so. Also, a document has been published giving specifications of which area belongs to which “block”. But in the document some areas have been also subdivided into “zones” so it’s hard to know in which block you are exactly. I read it all and I still don’t know when I will have a blackout at home.

While I’m preparing a longer and more detailed entry about this and other events and the consequences they might have or they are having right now for my life; all I can think is that I feel similar than when I was too short to reach the light switch. I so feel little and insignificant again.

The Revolution, for a while now, has installed a light switch that I’m too short to reach. My fingers cannot press it and turn on the light bulb of my freedom, of my civil rights, of my dreams and expectations, of my tranquility. It doesn’t matter the benches I drag, or how high I jump; I’m too short to reach it. I can’t.

PS: The image which accompanies this entry was taken from HERE. No copyright infringement intended

sábado, 9 de enero de 2010

Black Friday and me

In Venezuela, till yesterday we had two foreign currency exchange rates: one official and very restricted were the dollar cost 2,15 Bolívares; and the other, the black dollar (we call it “the real one”) which is three times more expensive than the official dollar. Then, president Chavez made an announcement that has shocked the country: a Bolivar devaluation, the first official one in at least five years and the introduction of another exchange rate. For now on we have three exchange rates: one, Chavez said for food, health and priorities with the dollar at 2,60 Bolívares, two for the rest with the dollar at 4,3 and three, the black dollar that will rise uncanny levels in the upcoming days

For non informed readers here are two simple truths behind the announcement. First, the Bolivar has been at least 50% devaluated. Prices will double and salaries will worth half what they used to, from one day to another. Second, food and other priorities will not be offered to us, consumers; at the cheap 2,60 dollar price. They are not offered to us today at the official dollar rate, they cost even five times more what they should cost if they were offered at the official rate. Three, the foreign currency market is still controlled and that has uncomfortable for not saying catastrophic consequences for all of us.

For keep talking about the consequences of this, I have to explain more in detail how does our control exchange works. I have to tell the story of this measure and other economical moves of my president. For the most, this story will sound silly and ignorant of many economical basic principles. I must clear up that I’m not making (I won’t ever do that on this blog) an economical analysis – pardon the expression - I suck at it. I don't know a lot about economics. I barely passed the few classes I had to take on the subject during my years in the university. Then, to remain loyal to this blog nature and purpose, I will tell you a control exchange story, from a personal perspective; how it does affects me as a citizen, at least the part that I’m aware of.

Was in 2003? 2004? I don't remember well. Chavez launched a control exchange measure. We all heard and many mistakenly believed that it was temporal. But five- six years is a long time for a temporal thing. From that day forward, the government established an official dollar and a way to access a limit quantity of dollars at that rate.

I’m only going to speak about how the control exchange affects the people who need to travel and the ones who need to buy something online. Those are the only things I need dollars for and the only ones I can speak with certain knowledge of the subject.

So, for those items, initial limits were put in 5000$ a year for travelers abroad, 4000$ a year (if I remember well) for shopping online. The arrangements for getting those dollars were pretty simple: you had to print a form available in CADIVI' web site (CADIVI is the government agency in charge of the foreign currency) and bring it to the bank. I did it a few months after the measure was launched, when I traveled to Mexico with a group of my university for a student competition. It was piece of cake for me: I took the form to the bank, and the bank activated this card that looked like a credit card for being suitable to work abroad; but you put money in it as it was a debit card.

One or two years later (I don't keep the track because I haven't traveled abroad ever since), the control exchange became more strict. The new limits: 2500$ a year for travelers abroad and just 400$ a year for shopping online. Plus the "debit look like credit" cards were forbidden. Only people with credit cards could access the government' cheap dollars (talking about socialism…) and the arrangements became more complicated. Luckily, thanks to a program between my university and a bank, a credit card is given to every student at his last year of the university. So even jobless, I have a credit card; with a very small credit but credit card at least.

Second time I needed CADIVI dollars was early this year when I started making my plans for attending graduate school. I needed the 400$ dollars to shop online. More exactly, I needed 175 to pay for my TOEFL test (Test of English as a Foreign Language) in order to start filling the requirements for entering any graduate school abroad.

The arrangements for asking those 400$ dollars were just crazy: three brown folders, with four dividers. Inside each folder, two CADIVI forms (printed from its Website) and a copy of my ID. All the documents were separated by dividers. Plus I had to print and paste detailed labels to identify all the folders and dividers. None of those tricky details of how to prepare your CADIVI application was specified anywhere, there was no instructions telling you to bring brown folders and print labels. So I made a couple of unsuccessful visits to the bank before I knew how to do it – quick advices from one bank employee or from a friend who was doing the same. On my third visit, the bank finally received my application. Then I had to wait a few weeks for the approval. They finally did it and I could take my TOEFL using CADIVI cheap dollars with my student’ small credit card.

I call them CADIVI’ cheap dollars because naturally, as the government dollars became more and more strict, and the arrangements more complicated (on the paragraph below I explained the most simple one. Travelers needed to make longer and more detailed folders); a black market rise.

The black market grew so much that the government forbid the media to talk about it. For a while now, is illegal here to speak about parallel market or black dollars, to publish any information about exchange rates and so on. For the government it’s like it doesn’t exist. But for the rest of us, is impossible to rely on roughly 3000 dollars a year for a variety of expenses. So the black market became even blacker: more speculative. A blog now is our only source for information on black market rates.

For common citizens, black market represents a big trouble. Let’s say you want to travel abroad but you don’t have a credit card or that CADIVI dollars are not enough to afford your trip. You rely on black market dollars. First, they can be even three times more expensive than CADIVI dollars. And they have all the problems a black market has: they might not be real. Must of us buy the dollars to friends or relatives but what if you are in a hurry and don’t have any choice but buying those dollars to a stranger? Second, you must take them to your trip in cash. Your Venezuelan credit card only works with CADIVI dollars – if it works at all. Unless you have an account abroad or something, you have to take sometimes a very big amount of cash with you and in a country like mine that’s just crazy and dangerous.

The government, on the other hand, benefits from its policy of hiding the existence of a black market. The official economic indicators, from poverty to inflation are made based on CADIVI dollars. But they are a lie. In Caracas Chronicles I just read that when you have several prices for the same good, the result is corruption. And speculation too. In a country where virtually everything is imported (and if its something is produced here, you can count for sure that it has been done using imported materials); everything costs sometimes even twice the black dollar value.

Of course, CADIVI regulations are not bad for everybody. A lot of people have taken advantage from it by performing the simple mechanism of obtaining CADIVI dollars and selling them to black market prices. Or let’s say importing something using CADIVI dollars and selling it twice the black market prices, meaning 5 or six times its original value. Imagine the profits.

At the end of this year, CADIVI announced even more restrictions for the use of its dollars. The 2500$ for travelers a year is now a fantasy. Travelers can access to certain amount of CADIVI dollars according to their travel destination and the length of their trips. The amount can vary without any logic: for trips to Asia, Oceania and Europe you can have the top 2500$ or even more, but for trips to Colombia and the Caribbean the amount is ridiculous. If I’m not mistaken, the people who travel to Colombia can only access to 300$ CADIVI dollars. Internet dollars are still 400$ a year but I heard I have to make all the arrangements again to get access to those dollars. And history tells me that those arrangements are probably even more complicated than the ones I have to make last year. But for me it’s a must: I have to take the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations).

With this new devaluation, my mind is wondering about our new daily life with all the goods even more expensive than what they used to. My boyfriend and I were joking about staying at home all the weekends and forgetting about our anniversary dinner because it will be impossible to pay for a movie ticket or a dinner with the new prices. But it’s silly to think about weekend night outs when all our family budgets will be affected and we don’t know how we are going to face it, to get through it. I haven’t found a job ever since my graduation and I have no hopes to find one in the near future. Logic tells me that no one is going to hire new employees with the coin 100% devaluated from one day to another.

My race to graduate school and without a job looks almost impossible. The GRE cost about 180$. In Bolivares, it will cost me double than what it used to. Also, the application fee for any university goes in a range from 50 till 100$. To increase your chances of being accepted somewhere, you must apply to four or five universities. If I was already worried because my 400$ dollars a year might be not enough, now I’m worried because my small credit card probably doesn’t have the limit for covering twice what I was planning to spend on graduate school applications. And I still don’t know if they are new arrangements to apply for CADIVI dollars. As usual, those details are not published anywhere and you find out about them by rumors or talks with bank employees.

I’m figuring out how to adjust to this life changing event. I’m not surprised by it. We are already used to skyrocketing prices and non logical government controls that do not fix the economy but instead, only make the citizen’s life harder. Our inflation was about 25% last year. I have notice that for a while now, products are not labeled anymore. I haven’t seen a can with a price printed on it in, well, a long time. To label is unpractical as prices changes daily. So this story about prices rising and inflation is nothing new for us. It will just be an increase of something we are already used to. Plus, we were all expecting the Bolivar devaluation, we all saw this coming.

But if one thing I don’t know is how this story ends. I don’t know how this story ends. This is an electoral year (crucial, legislative elections coming in September) so Chavez is taking a big risk by doing this. We are expecting new social moves that could make the economical crash more tolerable thus buying votes for the revolutions. For now things are just harder for everybody.

This New Year looks darker than our black dollar.

viernes, 8 de enero de 2010

Black Friday

Chavez just announced it. The official dollar costs now two times more. I know that for many non informed readers, this sound hard to understand. I'm preparing a post with detailed information about the trouble accessing foreign currency in Venezuela. I will do it using the approach this blog has: a citizen feelings and perspective omiting any harsh analysis. While I'm writting it, all I can thing is this: the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations, that I have to take sometime this year) will cost me two times more. But what am I talking about? GRE? Everything will cost two times, three times, four times more. News call it Chavez' black friday. I'm not talking about Christmas sales in the US. Black Friday here has other meaning, since 1983 when the Bolivar first fell in front of the dollar: economical disaster.

There is no rest

domingo, 3 de enero de 2010

My limit (a very angry post in 5 parts)

PART 1:

For a long time now, I have had a few rules to stay up, optimist and smiling even when all the news around tell me opposite. The list goes as it follows:

1. Do not watch Globovision (only remaining opposition TV Channel with an open signal). After 15 minutes watching that channel you will end up with the idea that Chavez might take away the kids and put the rest of us on labor camps. And you will have strong basis to support that idea. If you want to stay informed (I do), turn on your computer and browse Internet, take a deep breathe and read. An image (and even more, a video) is more powerful than a 1000 words, and thus more likely to affect you. The immediacy that characterizes the interaction between you and the TV can only increase your anguish. I therefore conclude that by reading the 1000 words I will be as or even more informed than if I watch the image, but I will feel less disturbed.

2. Do not engage on political conversations for too long. When family dinners erupt with alarmed comments about the shortages, the latest Chavez speech, that law being discussed in the assembly… excuse yourself, go to the kitchen to help do the dishes, run to the bathroom… get out of there. You already read every detail of what is going on and your whole family agreed on being against the regime and worried about its threats to democracy. You don’t need the 152nd talk that ruins a nice family moment with the question: “When will this be over? What are we going to do?"

3. Try to focus on other things. Remember all the good things about your life that are not related with the regimen. Think about how tender are the kids in your family, all those sweet moments you have had with your boyfriend, all those confident talks you have had with your best friend. That will remind you that it is still worthy to be here, and to be here with a good attitude.

4. Also remember that this is not forever. That this, some day, sooner or later, is going to end or otherwise you will be living far away from here. Remember how the life used to be when you were younger. All the things you had. Remember the possibilities, the smiles, and the tranquility. Read stories about countries that went through something very similar and are now enjoying democracy, freedom, a sane government, a good future perspective. And if it doesn’t work, if it doesn’t end; remind to yourself that you are privileged: you are smart, you are well educated, professional, prepared and filled with ideas and you can get out of here.

With those four rules I thought I had everything under control and while the rest, specially my family, had terrible moods after hearing another bad news; I was fine. I was even fine enough to cheer them up. No bad news could ever touch me. Not seeing fellow students on a hunger strike that it hasn’t reached its goals yet. Not seeing a judge under bars because she acted according to the law and the president did not like it. The banks intervened. Plus the constant shortages and my city without water for at least one day or two. I thought I could stand it all.
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PART 2

Then, just a few days before Christmas, the government announced a new measure: From January 1st of 2010, all shopping malls in the country can only use electricity from 11 am till 9 Pm. And when I heard that, and later when this new year started with this new limitation, I knew that after all, my carefully planned vaccine against bad news didn’t work this time. This is my limit.

Everybody has their limits. A Nat Geo I have right next to me, of last October, says that a human can stay alive for 30 minutes in a sea with a temperature of 4? C. Pretty average, that’s our limit. A minute more and you are dead. Right now, I feel like that: like floating in an ocean whose waters are as cold as 4 C while waiting for a rescue, before the 30 vital minutes are up. I feel like this: like I’m floating on an ocean at 4 C as the 30 minute clocks run and I pray for a rescue.

I know it sounds silly and shallow. I know some well educated person out there is reading is and can’t believe that my limit of tolerance to this regime has been drawn on restrictions to night life. Why it didn’t happen before? And why did it happen because of this? Why I didn’t say “here is my limit” when the crime numbers increased, when Chavez said this or that, when many people were imprisoned because of political reasons, when a TV channel and many radio stations were arbitrarily closed, when the inflation rates became unbearable, when I didn’t find a job? Why now? Why because of this?

Dear reader, I honestly can’t give you a politically correct answer. But I can explain it to you somehow.
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PART 3

The mall is the center of the social life in Venezuela. Yes, for real. I know that in other countries people have squares, streets, parks, theaters and malls to fill their needs of entertainment. In Venezuela we only have malls. Shopping malls. An average Venezuelan life goes between work, home and shopping malls at night or the weekends. The rest of the remaining places are not safe and therefore, as social life centers, do not virtually exist. Our shopping malls are not just shopping malls; they are micro cities of fun. Typically, shopping malls here have besides shops, a multiple movie theater, many restaurants and discos. Some also have theaters were they feature concerts, and plays every month, plus art galleries that create an enthusiastic cultural life for must of us, who are afraid to go to the traditional museums or theaters downtown because of insecurity.

The malls might be shallow. But one can’t deny how important they have become for Venezuelans. Malls are our squares, our streets, our cultural centers, our social centers. The mall is the place where we make a business deal in the middle of an informal lunch, then met our soul mate after work and walk hand in hand throughout the halls till we find a cozy bench to seat, a nice table to have dinner, a good movie to watch, a play we shouldn’t miss; and then met our friends for a few drinks or a dance. The mall was the place where we could to all that in Venezuela, even late at night, and for the most times, we were safe. We were safe and happy.

After all the news we hear here and there, and putting out my four rules, the malls were, with no doubt, the most sophisticated and most generally used vaccine against… all this. Against the shortages, the limitations, the repression, the crisis, the anger, the changes.
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PART FOUR

But the government thinks otherwise. The Revolutionaries are not aware of that special relationship between us and the malls. They think the malls are unnecessary, that only fill our capitalist minds and no one should regret seeing them closing their doors at least three hours earlier than usual. But we do. I do. I do regret that there is a part of my life that it’s over and I did not have time to say good bye to it. I will not meet my boyfriend or my family or my friends in one of those malls after 9 again. We will only going to visit them during the afternoons and then we will leave them as soon as possible because we will fear the delinquency darkness always brings.

For now on, our nights will be different. Completely and totally different. We will stay at home, because somehow, we are now forbid to go out. If we want to go to the movies, we can’t go on labor days because movies won’t be available after 9 and before that we are working, or stocked in traffic or in best cases having dinner. We have lost that place were we had so much fun and thought that life was still worthy, even under a revolution. It looks like a big part of our joy, of our rest, has gone. For now on, the average Venezuelan is a bit sadder, a lot more limited, and a bit angrier.

Plus, there are people working there, at the malls, after 9. There are business that only work after 9 or have their best profits after 9. What will happen to all of them? What will happen to those working night shifts at the parking lines, or selling tickets at the movies? Or to those actors preparing their monologs? What will happen to the waitresses, the DJ’s, the bands, the cookers, the bar tenders, and to the owners of those places?

It might be necessary to save some energy, but under what cost? And what investments are being done to assure us that this is just a “temporal” measure? That we will count with the necessary infrastructure to fulfill our power needs. Last time they talked about a “temporal” measure was with the foreign exchange control. It’s been about six years since that, I think and the foreign exchange control remains alive and rougher every year.
I know all about climate change and I’m aware that we do all need to be greener and save as much energy as possible but I don’t see any other country forbidding their citizens to have night life because they must safe energy. And this country is filled with oil and natural gas; it actually produces energy so it doesn’t sound logical to me.

The Revolutionaries just think that this country is a Lego game. That a society can be erase and re-made by decree. They think they can order this and order that, and destroy this and destroy that without having consequences. They confuse ideology and reality. They have reached to the conclusion that people do not need to have fun, when psychology has proven that we do need to or otherwise we are more exposed to anxiety and anger behavior. One of them just sat and decided that for now on, we can only have shopping malls from 11 am till 9 Pm. I bet her daughter is not a waitress at some bar who needs the job to support her family. I bet her son is not working a night shift at the parking line. I bet their relatives are not using the Venezuelan malls to breathe the air of the possible, when the world out there is suffocating them. I bet he and all his relatives can just enjoy the malls of Miami, Panama, London…
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PART FIVE

So yes, I have reached my limit. This is it. I can’t stand this and I still don’t know how my next months are going to be. I’m afraid of so many things that to name them would make this post endless. It feels like the end of something, something big, something important: the end of my optimism. You might think I’m shallow because I draw this limit when Chavez ended with fun; long after he ended with so many other things. But before acting like a moral example, before sitting with your books of political theory; think once in the simplest thing: think what if you are 25 years old and from one day to another, you can’t simply go out after 9. What do you do? How would you feel? How would you react?

Comments section is free for your thoughts and answers.