Quico says: A year ago, when I went to Caracas, it seemed as if everyone I met had a single thing on their minds - Cadivi. Every conversation seemed to circle back to it: how to get dollars, the latest tips and tricks on how to skirt the bureaucratic hassles and reach that promised land of a greenback for just over dos bolos.
Now, as I get ready to travel back home next month, there's a new obsession in town - getting out. Everyone I talk to seems to be at some stage in the process of getting a visa, or a scholarship, or digging up a Spanish grandparent's birth certificate so they can try to claim citizenship, or find some other subterfuge to allow them to become balseros del aire.
Times have changed. It's no longer "shit, I gotta get my assets out of here". Now it's "shit, I gotta get my ass out of here".
I am, of course, already out. As I stroke my Canadian permanent resident card, I feel enormously lucky. Talking to friends back home, I'm only too aware of the desperate straits they face, the oxygen-zapping sense of living in a place where the future has been canceled, shut down, expropriated. Where the price of entry to anyone still harboring aspirations of a better life is to check his principles at the door, to file away his capacity for independent thought, to just conform.
It puts a knot in my stomach just thinking about it, and I don't even have to live it.
These are the aftershocks of The Barrage, and as Juan puts it, the strategy is practically out in the open. It's taken Chávez 10 years to get to a stage Fidel Castro reached in less than one: crafting a society where most people who dissent feel it a matter of pressing necessity to get out.
Then again, Chávez is doing it all without firing squads, those great expediters of emigratory alacritude.
In the end, the result is not so different. First came the oil professionals, who left en masse following the catastrophic 2002-03 strike. Joining them now is a steady stream of the professional classes, university educated Venezuelans determined to resist assimilation into the revolutionary hive mind.
It's now possible to envisage a Venezuela where the bulk of the dissidence has thrown in the towel, run off to the safety of Weston, or Madrid, or Montreal. I am, obviously, in no position to judge. Still, it makes me terribly sad.
These are the worst of times, the vindication of Maria-Alejandra-Lópezismo. The moment when we're forced to confront the reality that what we saw as the shrillest, most reactionary, most unhinged of Chávez's critics got to core truths that the rest of us couldn't bear to see. That cubanization - the endlessly-abused C-word, for so long the province of whacked-out, unhinged reactionary fears - really was the logical end-point of the chavista onslaught.
Por ahora, we can still say that Venezuela is no Cuba. Not yet, anyway.
I am, for instance, still able and willing to travel there, and reasonably assured I'll be left alone to get on with my business in Caracas. Which is why I'm spending most of June in my home town - hopefully meeting some of y'all, and getting on with some projects I've been cooking for some time.
That kind of thing is still possible. Just. But my confidence that it will remain possible indefinitely into the future has crumbled.
There's a new urgency to my trip, this time. A desperate sense that this kind of happy-go-lucky, get-on-a-plane-and-go travel may or may not be possible for me a year or two for now.