November 5, 2008

Simon Romero's Petare Election Night

Quico says:
From the New York Times' politics blog:
CARACAS, Venezuela | By Simon Romero The sputtering bus inched its way up the streets of Petare, this city’s largest slum, delivering its passengers in front of Vecinito, Enrique Cisneros’s corner store. Salsa blared from loudspeakers perched nearby on the stoops of cinderblock hovels.

“Pull up a seat, we’re celebrating tonight,” said Mr. Cisneros, 37, opening a bottle of Blender’s Pride whiskey. He poured the spirit into plastic cups, mixed in some orange juice, and declared to his guests, “The United States is choosing a black man as its president. Maybe we can share a bit in this happiness.”

His guests Tuesday night included a schoolteacher, a shoe factory worker, an accountant’s assistant, a telephone operator and a couple of foreign journalists. They sipped Mr. Cisneros’s concoction or nursed Polar Ice beers and engaged in Venezuela’s top pastime: political debate.

“This is the first American election I can remember in my lifetime that I was eager to witness,” said Armando Díaz, 24, who works at Movistar, a cellphone company here.

“Before, we’d just switch the channel to baseball,” said Mr. Díaz, gazing at a television announcer on Globovisión and wrapping Venezuelan rapid-fire Spanish around the names of states like Connecticut and Rhode Island. “It’s kind of nice to feel good about the United States again.”

As they do in almost any gathering here in which people examine the toxicity of Venezuelan political life, in this instance through the lens of the election of Barack Obama as president, jokes ensued.

Sitting under a poster of a playful painting by Carlos Cruz-Díez, a kinetic artist, most of those present proudly identified themselves as “pitiyanquis,” or petite yanquis, thus appropriating a vitriolic insult used with increasing frequency by President Hugo Chávez to describe his opponents.

“I wonder if Chávez can stop referring to the United States with such hatred, if only for a few days,” said Lucy Martínez, 44, a teacher at a primary school in Petare. “It would be nice to get a break from that.”

As if on cue, Globovisión shifted its broadcast to focus on a political cartoon from Tuesday’s newspapers here, showing an image of Mr. Chávez and the headline “Anti-Imperial Discourse,” under a smaller photo of Mr. Obama next to the words, “Expiration Date, 11/4.”

In other words, the bugaboo that the Bush administration has been for Mr. Chávez may be fading.

As night engulfed the streets outside Vecinito, revelers rejoiced. As slums go, this area of Petare, called La Montañita, was not so bad, they claimed. Many of its residents were working class or middle class, struggling to rise in life. They all agreed their most pressing concern was with violent crime.

“Sometimes the police don’t arrive for an entire day to pick up the body after someone is shot dead on the street,” said Yamile Contreras, 30, a telephone operator with hair dyed about a shade lighter than Marilyn Monroe’s. “Is it true New York was once this violent?”

Then they turned the tables on their journalist guests, peppering them with more questions about American oddities like its electoral college. (Is that democratic?) They asked when America’s distant wars would come to an end. They asked whether America was in a recession or a depression.

Bidding farewell after an evening filled with awe over the events unfolding in the United States, those gathered at Vecinito embraced each other and piled their visitors and Mr. Cisneros, the owner of the corner store, into a bandit taxi parked outside.

Ear-splitting salsa blared again from the speakers of the car, an astonishingly large 1982 Chevrolet Malibu without seat belts. “I love American cars,” the taxi driver said as he drove on Petare’s maze of streets, which were still buzzing with pedestrian activity past midnight. Motorcycles whizzed by in the Caribbean night.

“A few hours ago,” said Mr. Cisneros, “the world felt like a different place.”