El rancho en la cabeza / Elizabeth Araujo

The Shanty in the Head

Yolanda hums happily. At last, her sister found work. She says it and lifts to the sky a prayer of eternal gratitude "for my commander Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías," whose job program has made possible the Christmas mega-store that took over the sidewalk in front of the main headquarters of Petróleos de Venezuela, in La Campiña. All for the benefit of the neighbors of that area who can already listen to Alí Primera at all hours and who watch from their window the parade of empty cans that roll toward the avenue.

That's not a problem for Yolanda's lucky sister, who had been forgotten by the process, despite having volunteered in a UBE [Unidad de Batalla Electoral - Electoral Battle Unit] in the Ruiz Pineda neighborhood during the referendum last August.

"It won't be a 15th and the last of the month, but at least she'll get enough to feed her two boys," Yolanda interjects, in case I might suggest that it's not an actual job.

With that phrase, she disarms me and I end up admitting that the revolution has the right to confiscate public spaces from the citizenry if necessary, as long as equality among Venezuelans triumphs. As it does in Sabana Grande boulevard, in the central grid of the city, in Catia and in Petare, where legally established commerce was annihilated under one pretext: solidarity toward the most needy.

This is the excuse that pro-government representatives like to recite on channel eight, after they've descended from their shiny 4x4 SUVs.

That's how the perfect crime works: representatives and ministers enrich themselves mercilessly, and let the rest survive how they may from street vending since, "that's why we now have mayors who are one with the revolution."

The idea consists of perpetuating poverty's way of life. "To live with dignity in the shanty," Hugo Chávez has said again and again in the incendiary speeches he lets loose at presidential summits, where he goes untiringly to photgraph himself with the children of those countries and to denounce that while he lifts a piece of bread to his mouth millions of Latin Americans don't have anything to eat. With that trick, Hugo Chávez has lasted 1,785 days since he assumed the presidency and swore to reduce poverty. But he alone has gained 14 kilograms since then and has expanded his wardrobe, which "kills with envy" those who see him at presidential meetings, as a Peruvian magazine recently noted. For five years now we have been stumbling upon a generation of beggars who wander the highways at dawn, children who risk their safety in circus acts at stoplights and women who destroy the black trash bags of restaurants in search of food.

{ Elizabeth Araujo, TalCual, 21 December 2004 }

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