So, we are safe in sound in crazy Caracas, not much to say about the city so far. Initial impressions are that the airport was brand new and very flash and 1st worldy – but as soon as we stepped through into the arrivals hall, it rapidly took a very 3rd world feel, we were swarmed by ‘gentlemen’ offering all sorts of services, taxi rides, money changing, hotel bookings, i am sure i could have got an albino goat if i had just hung around long enough.
The airport in Caracas is right at sea level and the city is at 1,000 metres, so to get to the city its a fast and steady 1km climb straight up the mountain to get to the city. It was a bridge on this infamous motorway which just before christmas last year wibbled and wobbled and just fell down, turning a speedy ½ motorway drive into the city into a 4-6 hour wild west tour through the back roads and slums of Caracas to get to the airport. It caused chaos, a massive increase in carjacking and robberies, but as you can imagine it’s not that quick a thing to build a new motorway bridge over a large ravine half way up a mountain!
So Caracas and Venezuela is one of the most ‘interesting’ countries in South America at the moment, for those of you who like me are not up on your Venezuelan politics, here is my understanding of it in brief. Venezuela, as well as having many beauty queens also has the most oil and natural gas of any country in South America, so with oil at US$100 a barrel the country is officially rolling in it. Ummmm… unfortunately its also full of really poor people and really rich people, but heh its South America, you wouldn’t want it equally distributed would you?
As i have previously noted, Venezuela has also won more Miss Universe competitions than any othe country, but i have to say, that doesnt mean tha all the ladies we meet are 6 foot 2 inches with a passionate interest in plastic surgery and world peace, it appears that good looks, like oil money is also somewhat unequally spread around here!
So the country is run by the infamous President Chavez. He is an ex union leader who got democratically elected as president, then there was a coup that only lasted one day where he was ousted and now he is back again, causing his own brand of south American chaos. He was recently in the news for calling the King of Spain a Fascist – the point is not that the royal family aren’t or at least weren’t fascists, it’s just that it’s not the done thing to say that to a King… then he ‘nationalised’ a large Exxon/Mobile refinery because he didn’t think they were paying enough tax, called for the formation of a formal Anti-USA-League-Of-Nations, threatened to stop shipping oil to the USA, proposed a two tier pricing model for oil, allowing poor countries to buy it at just $20 a barrel, bailed out Argentina when they falling behind on their loans to The West, bailed out Cuba when they were running out of cash for their treasury, paid Cuba to send doctors to other South American countries to help out their health care systems, and lots of other crazy capers. Don’t get me wrong he aint no Robin Hood doing only good, he also tacitly supports the Colombian cocaine industry by not stopping them across his borders (and onto the USA), he also has declared that the FARC rebels in Colombia are not terrorists responsible for killing 100,000s of people – they are just misunderstood…. he isn’t quite sane, but he is at least entertaining.
The big problem down here is that historically national leaders in South America don’t really help each other out, they just kinda pick away at each other, so he is stirring up some real trouble by becoming something of a self appointed Latin American spokesman, and one that is totally left leaning, keen to lend money and support where required without the strings and rules of the IMF and world bank. He is also severely diminishing the influence that the USA has down here with the poorer countries, so he is now convinced that he will be assassinated or a victim of a coup led by the USA – as if they didn’t have enough on their plates at the moment.
So what that means for Venezuela at the moment is that the country is in pretty much total chaos, the President who could be spending the oil money to restore just Venezuela to its former glory, is instead splashing it all around Latin America and not really achieving a great deal, the currency is taking a real battering as he baits the USA and the oil companies and the country is paralized by strikes – the local fire brigade today got an 80% pay rise, but they said that it still wouldnt help, because only 3 of their ambulance are currently working, so they are still going to have ferry patients to hospital in fire engines, but on the good side, President Chavez does have his own weekly tv show – now theres an idea I think could really catch on…
Right that’s enough politics for today… time to go down to the pool for a beer!