May 30, 2009

BlackBerry Nation

Quico says: So I flew into Maiquetía yesterday and man, what a let down. Not one dirty look, or extra check or even the vaguest hint of intimidation. Buenas noches - stamp - in you go. And that was after I'd announced I was coming, right here on CC!

My Q-Score must really be in the dumps. Or maybe el-que-te-conté's not so scared of the mouse as some would have you think.

First impressions are the usual jarring juxtaposition of an extremely visible consumer society still trying desperately to convince itself that everything's gonna be alright with the just-as-unmissable-signs that it's really not.

At the luggage pick-up area in Maiquetía Airport, a gigantic "Building Bolivarian Socialism" sign looms over the Banco Federal ATM (Maestro & Cirrus welcome.) On the highway into town, massive billboards for Heinz Tomato Ketchup (¡Picante!) jostle for space with others lauding the takeover of transnational corporations' assets by the revolution.

Just to look at it, you can't avoid the sense Venezuela suffers a bizarre case of social schizophrenia: it's half all-encompassing state-control-of-everything, half wannabe-Miami-mall-culture.

The state-control-of-everything part is the one we always hear about, but it takes coming back here to be reminded that, after all these years, bits and bobs of the professional middle class is still here, still rich, still totally weirdly disconnected from the country's problems.

Caracas is still a place where thousands of people wear suits to their offices five days a week and make a comfortable living in investment banking, or corporate accounting, or software consultancy. And they're not the least bit shy about flaunting the money involved, either. Turns out that, per capita, Venezuelans are the second highest buyers of BlackBerries in the world. (If your model is more than 9 months old, you're a nobody.)

It's also a place where the most visible initial sign of the revolution is that the bulbs lighting up the shanty-covered hillsides around Gramoven are now an energy-saving pale blue rather than the traditional yellowish-white. Es que el país cambió...

I should add that, media-wise, the first thing you notice is just how relentless the campaign against Globovisión has gotten on State TV. It's become the new obsession on VTV: just about every other spot is a furious rant against JunkBroadcasting and the dangers to your mental health of watching heterogeneous ideas on the toob. Softening up the base for a manotazo, it seems to me.