The quest for communist coffee in Venezuela

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Ivana Cardinale is a Venezuelan writer and translator. And last Monday, something very strange happened to her as she was looking for a package of her favorite coffee. Here is her account of that exhausting, exasperating day:

Before I tell you of my experience of Monday, May 19, I want to note that during these last 15 years of Revolution, 14 of them with our Supreme, Eternal and Infinite Comandante, Hugo Chávez, and one with our president, Nicolás Maduro, the opposition have screamed and brayed that in Venezuela there is a dictatorial, Russo-Chinese-Castro-Chavista-child-eating rrrrrrrégime, when in reality, what has existed in our land is the best example of democracy in the world. So exemplary has our democracy been that they had to assassinate the Comandante by inoculating him with a totally unknown cancer, one of those made in the death-laboratories of the CIA, in a desperate attempt to eliminate this democratic model.

Having an exemplary democracy, they have called us communists during all these years, a term whose meaning they ignore. But to the opposition jackasses, who live to insult and underestimate the intelligence of the people, the time has come to jog their memories with concepts.

What is COMMUNISM? It is a system of government or a political movement which promotes the formation of a society without social classes, in which the means of production are common property. This implies that said means cannot exist as private property. This will bring to power the working class, which is the foundation of a true Revolution.

So, now that we’ve reviewed the concept of communism, in Venezuela there exists a society with social classes, the means of production are for the most part private, private property is respected, and the working class continues to struggle for vindication, since many private businesses continue with their exploitative policies.

Now I will tell you what happened to me on Monday. I went out to buy coffee at Automercados Plaza in the Plaza Centre, in Palos Grandes. On Sunday, an employee at said supermarket informed me that they had unloaded a truckload of coffee, and they would put it on sale the following day. “It will be on sale tomorrow,” she told me.

When I arrived on Monday at the market, I looked for the coffee but couldn’t find it. I asked a worker who was putting cookies on the shelf, “Where’s the coffee?” He replied: “THERE IS NO COFFEE.” So I said, “No coffee? But didn’t they unload a whole truck full of it yesterday?” The man, with a fearful face, replied, “That’s in the Excelsior Gama, not here. THERE IS NO COFFEE, THERE IS NO COFFEE,” and fled from me running as if in terror. Might he have thought I was from INDEPABIS?*

Frustrated, I headed for Chacao in my search for the so-desired coffee. I went into Abasto Madrid and asked a box boy: “Is there coffee?” He replied, “No, there isn’t…but look.” Then he pulled out a plastic bag from Abastos Bicentenario and told me, as he showed me two packets of a quarter kilo each, “I got this coffee (Flor de Patria) at 80 bolivars.” Stupefied, I told him I’d go on looking elsewhere.

I went to the Magdalena Supermarket in Chacao, and asked an employee, “Is there coffee?” and the man told me, “Not here, but in Petare** there’s plenty. Go to Petare and see all the coffee the buhoneros*** are selling. Whatever you can’t find here, they have it. When you see people lining up in the supermarkets, most of them are buhoneros. They want to get rich starving the people.”

Here I must make another aside, since it begs the questions: Is there or is there not a law forbidding buhoneros to sell foodstuffs? With what sanitary permit do the buhoneros sell food? Exploitation of the poor by the poor?

Returning to the subject, I went on looking for my coffee and went to the Unicasa on Guaicaipuro Street. Nothing. No coffee. So I went to the Automercado Lux on Francisco de Miranda Avenue. They didn’t have the desired coffee either.

I decided to go back to Palos Grandes and the Excelsior Gama. I came up by the third avenue off Francisco de Miranda, and saw people coming down with bags full of packs of coffee. Each person was carrying some 20 packets of the pricey stuff. They weren’t carrying any other shopping, just packets of coffee, and in those quantities. I sped up in order to get my favorite drink. While I was climbing up, more and more people came down with bags full of coffee. When I entered the supermarket and arrived in the coffee section, a man gave the last two packets remaining to a lady who arrived one second before me.

So I asked the man, “And the coffee?” He replied, “These are the last two packages. It’s gone.” And, fed up with my fruitless search, I said to him, “It’s gone? No wonder it’s gone, since you put out the merchandise and let people take 20 packages, leaving the rest without any.”

The escuaca**** who took the last two packets broke into the conversation, braying in a loud voice, “There’s no coffee because there’s no production in this country!”

In a loud voice, so that everyone could hear me, I replied, “Production? What are you talking about? This is a coffee-producing country. What’s going on here is HOARDING and SPECULATION. The merchandise arrives, and this supermarket incites hoarding, allowing one person to take up to 20 packages. Look at all the shopping-carts full of coffee! They didn’t come here to buy groceries. They only came to buy 20 bags of coffee and hide them in their kitchen cupboards, leaving everyone else with no product!”

The woman fled before this verbal barrage, and everyone standing in line with their shopping-carts full of coffee was petrified. They didn’t utter a peep. They stood as if frozen before my vociferous complaint.

I am telling you what happened to me on Monday because I believe now is the time to start expropriating these putschist supermarkets who are making a mockery of the people and the State. The owners of these supermarket chains are all in a plot to bring down the government. There is no doubt.

The opposition have been calling us communists for 15 years even though we are not. Okay, fine, then expropriate these supermarkets once and for all, so that for once they can truly say that we are communists, and expropriate every business that participates in the crimes of usury and hoarding!

Enough of supermarkets and food stores making fools of us. Enough abuse, enough violation of laws, and enough of hoarding, hiding and overpricing. Enough of buhoneros selling food and exploiting the poor. Enough of complicit people submitting to the whims of the hoarding, manipulating, putschist businesses. EXPROPRIATE!

After all, they’ve always been calling us communists, and they’re still calling us communists.

Translation mine.

*INDEPABIS is the Venezuelan federal consumer-rights agency, dealing with matters of speculation and unjust pricing. It has had its collective hands full of late with putschist merchants participating in the effort to oust Nicolás Maduro. Artificial scarcities and inflated prices are key weapons in the arsenal of opposition merchants, serving to further alienate and dissociate the already vociferous right-wing. Ironically, those same merchants are now complaining that their business is being hurt by their putschist comrades waging guarimbas in the streets!

**Petare is one of the poorer neighborhoods in Caracas.

***Buhoneros are informal street-vendors. They were illegal under previous governments, but received social security under Hugo Chávez. For public health reasons they are not allowed to sell food and drinks, which require special permits, especially if there’s alcohol in them.

****Escuaca is another way of saying escuálido, Chavecito’s favorite term for the ever-complaining, tiresome squawkers of the opposition.

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3 Responses to The quest for communist coffee in Venezuela

  1. Peter Lackowski says:

    Excellent article on how the opposition uses social media to organize their campaign of terrorism, the complicity of the US based companies involved, and the hypocrisy of John Kerry. Follow up on the incident when 6000 of Maduro’s followers “accidentally” had their accounts shut down.

    http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/10697

  2. Peter Lackowski says:

    Just want to mention that not only does the government provide social security for buhoneros, it also provides spaces for them off the streets.

    When I first went to Venezuela in 2005 buhoneros were everywhere. Whole streets were completely filled with them in some areas, completely stopping automobile traffic. In many more areas the sidewalks were completely lined by them.

    Gradually there were fewer and fewer of them, until the last time I was there, early this year, they were gone almost completely!

    The government had provided them with off the street areas, and in fact provided them with a very nice building on the major pedestrian shopping street, Sabana Grande. Small secure stalls in a multi-floor newly built building with clean bathrooms and other amenities to draw in business, and bright, clean hallways with merchandise on display. It is named after Manuela Saenz, one of Bolívar’s colaborators, who took him for her lover.

    This is another example of the Bolivarian Revolution providing people with with what Venezuelans refer to as a “dignified” place to earn their living.

    I should mention something else in connection with changes I have observed since that first visit. Before I went to Venezuela I spent a month in Mexico, often cited as a success story for neo-liberalism. After seeing the multitude of beggars on the streets of Mexico City I was immediately struck by the absence of beggars in Venezuela. It was a few days before I saw one, and I saw only a few in the course of a month–a tiny fraction of the per capita number of beggars here in Burlington, Vermont.

  3. Peter, moving the street vendors off the streets into new facilities wasn’t something the Venezuelans dreamed up on their own… Mexico City started doing that back during the Lopez Obrador administration. Bolviarianism isn’t a matter of one guy or one particular economic/social theory, but of recognizing what works within a Latin American context and applying it to local conditions.

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