The plane flew through the thick white Caribbean clouds with relative ease as it approached the green hills that adorn the coast of Venezuela. I look out the window as the plane begins to make its descent into Aeropuerto Internacional Simon Bolivar (or Maiquetia as its commonly referred to). It’s been two years since I last stepped into the soil of my birth and I frankly do not know what to expect. After getting pass the sleekly designed immigration area I headed towards the baggage carrousels. The baggage arrives rather quickly and I put it in an old metal cart that sadly has the publicity for Cerveza Polar that is hanging from it in better shape. I walk through customs and I am greeted by a sudden warm hug from the warm Caribbean air that commonly roams through the coast of Venezuela. As I walk into the waiting area my jet lag begins to get me blurry and I can see how tens of legitimate and illegitimate porters race to their customers in order to survive their own small but cutthroat free market. A few illegal currency exchangers in the waiting area also slowly walk up to me and ask in sketchy voice “¿Necesita cambio en dolares?”
In the entrance of the airport there are large buses that are heading towards Caracas and its outskirts. I notice that there is a small troupe of young people wearing red t-shirts that say Turismo Social getting into a group of small buses. The Venezuelans in the airport wearing these t-shirts have most likely arrived from Cuba. Where the current Venezuelan government has been trying to encourage Venezuelans to take part in community volunteer work for an extended period of time. This is obviously a good natured policy but the fact that I could already see the edges of the large Venezuelan shantytowns on the green hills behind the airport got me thinking and slightly irritated. I began wondering why the government did not place a complete priority in helping those that are poor in Venezuela. The good nature of these Venezuelans should be used to do social good in their own suffering third world country where it is needed immensely. Critics of the Turismo Social programs also claim that there is also a large amount of political dogma being taught to those who participate in these abroad programs. The government denies these claims and says these programs just teach good citizenship and socialist principles that will be used in the new more equitable Venezuela that they are trying to create. The government also said that there supranational agenda is not hampering their domestic development projects.
However, if the current government wishes to help another government it should be done in a sort of fair trade. Maybe here i kind of understand how the current government has allowed Cuba to pay off some of its oil debts to Venezuela by lending some of their doctors. I like many Venezuelan’s feel a bit disgruntled and believe that Venezuela sadly does not currently have the luxury to do so many favors. There are too many of our own living in sub-human conditions. Thus the government should be focusing purely on them before extending a proper helping hand outside. This is just to highlight a small area where the government seems to be confusing what should be its priorities.
After watching the buses get filled up I am picked up and begin to drive towards my families home. The hills are covered with advertising billboards for various consumer products, the Copa America, and President Hugo Chavez’s government’s exploits. However, behind and surrounding many of these superficial billboards one can notice the shantytowns. These extremely modest makeshift homes are the tragic result of many decades of rampant corruption, broken promises, government inefficiency, public laziness, and overall indifference.
The road is jammed packed and somewhat bumpy. The Autopista Caracas-La Guaira is the only highway connecting Caracas to its airport in the coast. It was built years ago in 1950’s during the dictatorship of General Marcos Perez Jimenez. It was during its time considered quite the modern marvel. Such modern development projects were continued to be built in the early and more preferable years of the current Venezuelan democracy. Even with the brief parliamentary democracy experiment of the 1940’s that came before Perez Jimenez’s single party rule. An example of what was done before the single party rule is the El Silencio urbanization built by the then President Medina Angarita’s. Now this potholed highway serves as a constant reminder of the kind place that Venezuela seemed to be heading towards but now seems to be going further away from. The contemporary leaders of the last 30 years failed and they have a large part of the blame on their plate.
The effective leaders Venezuela once had are now dead, and now Venezuela finds itself the victim of two malignant tumors: the government and the opposition. Caracas looks terribly ill and its poor infrastructure is just the outer shell of its despair. All one can seem to see in terms of construction is the fictitious development that comes from building a few fancy new malls or private homes that will soon be surrounded by high voltage electrical fences. I arrive home after getting through the “parking lot” that has become Caracas with its unbearable traffic and turn on the television. One of the six government owned channels is showing an informative report on the governments on going projects to build proper housing for people. They have been doing this for quite sometime and in all fairness various houses have been built. Along with a few clinics and community based schools.
The problem with these small bundles of aid is quite ironic. This aid is more than the poor of the shantytowns have been used to getting for many years. Thus the current government seems to be taking advantage of the fact that there little help would go a long and thus have not made any real long term effective development projects. Such small drops have not made a real revolutionary dent and seem to be nothing but a short-term solution to an ongoing problem.
The government should not just be building clinics, small schools and some houses. They instead should be building large hospitals, proper public schools and an efficient housing development strategy since Venezuela does have the cash to do such projects thanks to its abundant oil wealth. An immense wealth that many fear is also breeding corruption. The shantytowns are growing and the tortoise speed of the current government development projects is simply as unacceptable as that of the previous corrupt governments that they despised. As of today Venezuela has a new state owned enterprise called PetroCasa. The government claims that this enterprise will focus in building proper homes for people in need with the help of Venezuelan oil sales. Time will tell if this company will be efficient or not.
The lack of effectiveness of the Venezuelan opposition is also to blame for the current state. One of their main problems is that they do not take part in the democratic process. The opposition for example boycotted the last national assembly elections under the pretense that there is a “dictatorship” in place and that is un-excusable. By doing this they let go at any attempt of creating a good political and democratic opposition. Essentially an opposition that can oppose the government properly and have some influence in government policy. Not to mention that many of the current opposition leaders are also the inefficient ones of before or even those that took part in the coup d’etat of April 2002. Overall it appears to be a sad time for the little Venice* that once could.
*- What Christopher Columbus called Venezuela upon discovering it in his third trip to the “New World.” It is also where the name Venezuela was derived from.