January 23, 2006

"I thought this revolution was supposed to be pretty"

Participants in the World Social Forum in Caracas are already getting a taste of life in Chavez's Venezuela. Soraya Aggege, the correspondent from Brazil's O Globo gets the ball rolling (with my notes to our PSF brethren tacked on after each bit.)

WSF participants take up to four hours going from the airport to the city on a hundred-year-old two-lane road. Taxis charge between US$100 and US$130, although WSF buses charge US$50 but there is a long wait to get on them.

Perhaps paying in anti-imperialist Cuban pesos will get you into town quicker.

Participants complain about having to brave long distances to get to the different WSF venues. The city is hot and dry.

You're lucky you don't have to wait two hours to get on a jeep that will bring you down from your cerro to your work, like many poor caraqueños do.

Although a concert has been announced featuring such anti-imperialist artists as Silvio Rodríguez, Joan Baez and Daniel Viglietti, their presence has not yet been confirmed.

The safety of your wallets has also not been confirmed.

Event venues are scattered across the city. Although transportation has been promised, these are still vague, and only include free Metro passes for participants.

Your metro ticket is brought to you by the Venezuelan taxpayer, the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA, Big-Oil producers that serve as the government's tax base, and SUV-driving Americans who buy gas at Citgo.

It's been difficult to withdraw credentials and WSF support material. The final program had not been published as of last Friday. Participants report confusion about the events and venues.

If you get lost, just head to Sambil Shopping Mall where there is air conditioning and stores will gladly accept your first-world credit cards.

Participants have been warned about the exchange problems in the country. The have been told that they can change dollars to bolívars at the official rate, but that they will not be able to change back into dollars at the end of their trip. Most expect long lines at exchange houses since they will have to change money in small amounts.

The official rate is not worth it, it's just a subsidy so that rich Venezuelans can fly overseas more cheaply. Change at the black-market rate and you'll get more bang for your buck. Just ask any chavista operative, they'll be glad to help...

While I genuinely hope you enjoy Venezuelan hospitality, my hope is that you realize that all these "glitches" are not just temporary. They represent a reality, a style of governance-by-chaos , corruption and restriction of civil liberties that extends to all walks of public life. It's an important reason why many of us oppose Chávez. Think about that while the government is busy mischaracterizing the opposition.