Friday, November 21, 2008

During Elections, Caracas is Soaked, Caracas is Dry

Many of my plans for this research jaunt have been complicated by two serious factors: I’ve basically been sick since I landed: first with the flu, then with a mild case of food poisoning. Secondly, and more disconcerting, it has been raining almost without pause.

Today, I had plans to attend an event at the central university, but it was cancelled because yesterday the rains were so intense that at least 5 people died in Caracas proper, and over 150 were displaced in one zone of the city alone due to landslides, the collapse of containing walls, and floods. The paper reports today that the subsoil is 90% full to the brim and the drainage systems are over capacity.

People are starting to compare these pre-election rains to the monsoons that came before the 1999 constitutional referendum, which left thousands dead and still missing when entire mountainsides decided to relocate. (At the time, the archbishop of Caracas said that god was punishing the citizens of Venezuela for voting for Chávez’s constitutional reform. Similarly, officials of the church blamed Venezuela’s Declaration of Independence from Spain for the 1812 earthquake that leveled Caracas…)

Also today, the campaign season officially ended at 6 am. It is now constitutionally prohibited for candidates or parties to hold rallies, speeches, etc in their pursuit of public office.

And at 2:00, the lamest weekend in the world officially kicked off as liquor stores closed their doors. Walking through central Caracas, I saw oh-so-many blokes wandering around with cases of beer on their shoulders and bottles of Something Special™ tucked into their back pockets…pobrecitos. At the Mercado on the corner nearest my apartment, the owners had taped cardboard over the beer cooler with “No se vende licores. Ley Seca.” We’ll see, however, how long this lasts. The thing about ‘black’ or ‘parallel’ markets (and in Venezuelan, the informal economy is larger than the official one) is that they tend not to follow the rules. The ‘dry laws’ might effectively mean that beers on the street will run at concert prices…

Either way, elections aside, this’ll be the first time in the history of the world where everyone will be counting the seconds until Monday.

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