It looks strange to be alive and wander the streets as if one was dead. A city that was always knownand famous for its high temperature and it boasted of a happy and cheerful people, suddenly transformed into a ghostly and horrifying hell.
by Maibort Petit
So we are here in Maracaibo, not only as a result of the blackouts, which we no longer know when and for how long the darkness will last. We are her because it seems that all of the planet’s horrors descended upon this land, despite all the wealth that Venezuela once had, says Andrés Valero. He is a friend that I met years ago in Caracas. The chaos of the revolution chavista-madurista ended up “seeding” in the capital of Zulia state. While chatting with him and hearing his story, a story so filled with sorrow, a level of sorrow so deep that I felt compelled to convey his message. Here is the story.
Lost in the shadows
It’s been a while since I last heard from you, well, actually from almost anybody who is not close to me. The lack of communication in Maracaibo is almost absolute. When you think you have seen everything, it turns out that there is another event that surprises you and reminds you that human beings never stop learning. I went out to the street because I felt like I was suffocating in the four gray walls in which my house has become. Yes. My home, that once was full of light and joy is now a temple of silence and nostalgia.
I walked on July 5, an avenue that was always characterized by the hubbub — and we must also say, by the chaos of excitement. Filled with people who listened to music at full volume, where the youngsters always walked on the street, where vendors and the traffic generated by the abuses of the drivers who stopped their cars (for positions) and buses where they seemed best made up the daily panorama that was replicated in each street and avenue of the city. That does not exist anymore, friend. That and almost all the streets of Maracaibo, are now gloomy, sad and dusty roads. With garbage everywhere, careless and few souls wander the sidewalks. Streets destroyed by the neglect of a mafia that became the government. Our government that destroyed my city, this state, our country.
Buying food in Zulia not only requires more than money money, one also needs a vital energy that I believe I no longer possess. The 5, 10 and 20 bolivars of the recently created monetary cone that the government ironically called “sovereign” are now history because it has no street value. Instead, the US dollar, are now the most accepted and required. Going to buy food today is a challenge and requires creativity and test the faith of people. You face hyperinflation and shortage of products. Most products available are made in Turkey. There is no credible information about the actual ingredients in those products are. When you buy food in Maracaibo, you come to face the worst of the human race. There are the merchants of these food products who seek in a “predatory” way to make the most of this reduced hour that Venezuelans live. The few who have merchandise (food or medicine) are looking to get out of the broken pockets of people “profits that exceed one thousand percent.”
To obtain food, I was subjected to a journey , filled with fright and frustration. I managed to get some vegetables to eat and a chicken, after making a queue under the relentless sun and with a heat that burns your skin, “Andres says, with a sadness that is transmitted by the keyboard.
I paid for the provisions a real fortune. In another time, I would have been able to buy an apartment or a car with the money I spent on potatoes, carrots, lettuces and a small skinny chicken.
Another problem that we have in Zulia (and I believe that in almost all of Venezuela) is the price difference between the fact of purchasing the products with cash or through a point of sale. Is that not have the required tickets that allow access to better prices, you have to buy it for a price that is between 125 and 300 percent higher than its nominal value. Banks’ ATMs only give a thousand bolivars (sometimes 3,000). This when it even dispenses monies. The ATM has become only a consultation mechanism, since what it dispenses obviously is not enough to buy even a small peasant bread. If, on the other hand, you have a debit card, then it’s your turn to ask God to allow you to buy something, because as there is no electricity, there is no telephone, there is no point of sale. The worst thing about this matter is the queues that are made to pay when in some business you run with luck that the point works because they have a power plant or because the visit to the premises coincides with the schedule in which the government has decided to send electricity. There, in every store, in every commercial establishment, the impatience of the people must coexist daily with the patience of the managers of the stores in charge of making the transactions of purchase and sale in these diminished conditions.
Garbage and bad smell
Tired of begging prices, sweaty, sticky and exhausted by the heat, I decided to return home with my tiny “market bag”.
Walking in Maracaibo has also become a challenge to my beliefs. Hope and faith must face daily with images in which beggars, hungry indigenous people and people who wander like zombies through the desolate streets, they steal your breath. It is as if suddenly we all had become protagonists of that film starring Brad Pitt, “World War Z”, directed by Marc Foster. You have to see their faces! Pale, with dull glances of hunger and despair, skinny … bony. Many of us have lost a lot of weight (I’m going for 23 kilos, I look like a skeleton covered with skin). People are badly dressed — with chivas as we say here — with broken shoes worn until they are tired, disheveled. The women -who used to walk impeccably with their colorful hair and hairdressing hair- in their great majority went to wear their gray hair, careless and disheveled. A dye “Alfaparf High Fashion”, it costs Bs. 15,000 the tube, and the cheapest one, “Magicolor”, you get it -with luck- in Bs. 12,000, another friend had already commented to me before and Alberto corroborates — from his masculine view of the matter — arguing that “as you will understand, covering gray hair requires a lot of money that the great majority does not have”. So we have, that the white hair, neglected, have become part of the image that the inhabitants of this now ghostly town exhibits on each day that dawns.
The mountain of garbage
Walking I saw a group of men burning the garbage, because the urban cleaning company has not been around for a long time. Maracaibo has a bad smell. The air is polluted, the heat rots the garbage and makes the smell of waste flood with its stench the already desolate atmosphere that we see every day, now with the added stench that stirs your stomach. The smoke from the burning of waste that irritates the eyes of the inhabitants, serves to justify and disguise the red eyes by the tears that the Zulia people choke every day when they see the sad reality that surrounds them and despairs.
To make matters worse, with persistent sweats and lack of water and soap to bathe, we are suffering from diseases of the skin, ranging from scabies (some lucky), rashes, fungal infections, parasites and others who have no scientific names. Not to mention the crowd that suffers from fungi, dandruff, crabs, lice, candidiasis, herpes, urticaria, body tinea, acarosis, pyodermitis, etc. What I tell you about this matter is a mere approximation. There are no words to describe the seriousness of the health crisis in Maracaibo (and all of Venezuela).
Pollution and lack of hygiene because there is no water, makes us all smell bad, sweaty, sticky.
Insecurity and colectivos
In addition to what I am describing you, there are thugs pending to steal the bags that you have bought. You have to walk with eight eyes to avoid assaults or kill you for a piece of meat or some vegetables. The collectives of the regime have taken Maracaibo, are everywhere with their bikes and their weapons of high caliber ready to attack those who happen to manifest. Omar Prieto, the governor of Zulia, has represented a real misfortune for this town. He uses his armed criminal bands to silence the population, to kill it, to submit it to their will. I have seen in recent days, apart from terrorist groups patrolling the streets with their weapons, accompanied by helicopters that watch from above. They are so degenerate that they even dare to throw bombs from the air to those who protest the lack of services.
Public transport is chaotic
You may ask, why I do not grab a taxi or drive to the supermarket? I advance the two answers in case you have the questions in your head. The taxis are almost rare, the ones that exists are old, dilapidated pots. When one appears, “they want to take you to a kidney for the race.” My car? It has no battery, no rubbers, no brakes, no spark plugs, no radiator, and there are engine problems. In addition, although Zulia is a producing state, gasoline is a scarce product that is almost not achieved in these parts. And, the “chirrincheras or kennels”? I’m too old for that. I’m skinny, out of shape and without energy to rehearse the risk of having to jump to get on one of those vehicles. This “type of transport” is unique and exclusively for the young and seasoned.
Blackout, blackout, “damn blackout”
Arriving home, I am faced with a new blackout. Well, I do not know if it is a power outage or rationing, but whatever it is, it is being fully complied with (in the only thing that the regime is efficient at is to take away the electricity, water, transportation, telephone, internet services of the citizens). At this point I confess that I do not know how many hours we have spent without light in Maracaibo. Here little is known if they are days or weeks. Life suddenly became a permanent gloom. We really do not know when we will move on to a new chapter in this horror novel that Venezuelans are playing.
In the house not only is there a lack of light, there is no water or gas. The blackouts burned the TV and an air conditioner. Yes friend. To be in hell you do not need to die, nor did you have to had a life full of bad actions. Maracaibo became hell ! When I saw how artists and religion painted hell with flames and tormenting heat, I thought they exaggerated. Now I believe that the images of hell can be more suffocating than those that have been drawn. With the climate of Maracaibo, with temperatures that hover between 37 to 40 degrees Celsius, it is difficult to stay alive. Not only heat, but humidity, mosquitoes and diseases.
Due to heat and crime, Maracaibo became a city where one no longer allows oneself to fall asleep either. The high temperature and the underworld, makes it impossible for one to close your eyes and rest with tranquility. Many have dragged mattresses out of their homes with a hope to catch some fresh air at night. But the fear of being bitten by spiders, scorpions or any bug, coupled with the panic of being attacked or killed by the underworld ( the police are not counted either), they all add up to make every night one of total despair, even worse than during the day light hours.
Communicating in Venezuela is almost impossible. Cell phone companies can not provide services because of the blackouts. The state company Cantv, either, because the neglect of the government ended with what little was left of it. Communicating by Digitel is a miracle. I am trying to pass this message to you but I do not know if it will arrive. Sometimes I try to get my sister’s phone, which is from Movilnet, which, by the way, already has a policy that we can not even make calls, and the desire to communicate with you — or with anyone — only becomes a frustration. For there to be a signal and data to connect, it is as if a miracle occurs. The odyssey to charge the phone gives material for a movie per se, in that case it all depends on the businesses that sometimes install power plants and that their owners allow us to recharge “for charity” or for some barter or dollars. Sometimes it is necessary to recharge cell phones in cars, but since gasoline is a treasure, “not for the price, but for the scarcity”, then the possibility of communicating is increasingly uncertain.
Andrés described dantesque scenes. He told me that news is a luxury. “To know something here, to have a piece of news that can be trusted and believed, is a matter of heaven. It has been eight days since my sister María and the children left for Peru. Their departure was like watching a family escape in the middle of a scene from a movie of war. They left at dawn, We had to use flashlights so that they has enough light to get dressed and take the suitcases to put them in an old car that came to pick them up to take them to Colombia. From that moment, the loneliness feels more intense. This house where the excitement of the children once was, is now only a memory. Each day seems to leave us more alone in this country. The streets , these days give the appearance of a beaten city. War torn, without light, without water, the existence of lines to buy basic food and gasoline — those who have a car because my car is still damaged, as I told you. This is desolation, we are more alone and without news, do not leave me too. Please tell me what is happening to find out if at any time our electricity will return, so I can recharge the phone and read your answer.
Tell me, how do we keep hope? What do we do to keep going?