’Shop window’ Caracas angers rest of Venezuela

A resident, who remains in a wheelchair due to a broken leg, shows groceries and vegetables in her fridge, in Petare slum, Caracas on July 25, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 28 July 2019

’Shop window’ Caracas angers rest of Venezuela

  • Fuel is heavily subsidized in Venezuela to keep the price absurdly low

CARACAS/MARACAIBO: While authorities concentrate on presenting an image of normality in Caracas, Venezuelans elsewhere in the country who are suffering from severe shortages amid a political and economic crisis are livid.
The capital is a “shop window” for ambassadors and foreigners as well as a “propaganda operation,” said Andres Canizalez, an expert in political communication.
It’s an outlook shared by many Venezuelans, who see a harsh reality play out in places like the grocery store and gas station.
Gendry Parra fumed recently as he watched a video of a man in Caracas taking just five minutes to fill his vehicle with fuel.
The 44-year-old shopkeeper had spent three days queuing for fuel in Maracaibo, a city in the country’s far west close to the border with Colombia.
“It disgusts me that we’re in the same country and it’s one thing there and another here,” he said.
Parra doesn’t have running water, fuel or cash, and blackouts can last days in his hometown of Maracaibo even though it was the first city in Venezuela to have electricity.
It’s also the capital of Zulia state, which used to be an important source of Venezuelan oil and gas.
Alberto Arriechi, the man pumping gas in the video, said he recognizes the privilege he has over millions of Venezuelans who live in the country’s interior and are hit harder by Venezuela’s declining oil production and lack of cash for imports.
Like other people in Caracas, the 29-year-old engineer does not suffer as severely from electricity rationing carried out by the government ever since a massive blackout in March.
The latest rationing came Monday: Caracas was without power for seven hours, other parts of the country suffered for two days.
When it comes to fuel, customers in places like Maracaibo complain that some unscrupulous gas stations illegally ask for payment in dollars.
Fuel is heavily subsidized in Venezuela to keep the price absurdly low. Arriechi bought his for a handful of bolivars.

On the shores of Lake Maracaibo, Johannis Semprun, a victim of the country’s economic crisis, sighs.
“Right now we have electricity. And I mean ‘right now.’ Don’t be surprised if it goes in a moment,” said the 37-year-old, who has six children and a handicapped wife. Due to financial troubles, he had to take his children out of school and they now eat at an evangelical church.
“Everything has got worse,” he said.
Maracaibo was once booming thanks to oil but Venezuela’s production has plummeted from 3.2 million barrels a day 10 years ago to just one million.
The disparities between life in Caracas and elsewhere have left some feeling envious.
Warin Guerrero, a livestock industry leader in the western state of Barinas, has implored cattle ranchers not to send food to the capital.
“Over there, they don’t have any problems ... we’re treated like second class citizens,” he said.
While Caracas’ special status has historical roots in centralization, nowadays it’s about government bias, said Canizalez, the political communication expert.
“There’s a belief that if there were a social disruption in Caracas, it would spread throughout the rest of the country,” he said.
“If Caracas is kept relatively well, if it doesn’t rebel, everything else will work.”
The apparent normality of Caracas includes a greater choice of products. There’s also a proliferation of imported goods, with prices in dollars.
But few can afford them as salaries and savings have been rendered almost worthless by hyperinflation which the International Monetary Fund says will reach 10 million percent this year.
At the Las Pulgas market in Maracaibo, it’s normal for poor people to buy bones and entrails to eat.
Cleaning lady Josefina Galindo, 49, feels “outrage, impotence” when hearing the price of coffee in a store: $15 for 250 grams. She earns only $9 a month.
She hasn’t bought meat in a year. On her way home she goes through a street market.
“All I do is look at meat and the prices,” she says.


Anti-government protesters block roads in Pakistan as unrest mounts

Updated 14 November 2019

Anti-government protesters block roads in Pakistan as unrest mounts

  • Tens of thousands of demonstrators joined a sit-in in Islamabad on Oct. 31 and camped there for about two weeks
  • Firebrand cleric leading the protests called for nationwide demonstrations

ISLAMABAD: Anti-government protesters in Pakistan blocked major roads and highways across the country on Thursday in a bid to force Prime Minister Imran Khan to resign.
The demonstrators — led by the leader of opposition party Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), the firebrand cleric Maulana Fazlur Rehman — have taken to the streets as the start of their “Plan B” to topple the government and ensure a general election after failing to push Khan out through a fortnight-long sit-in in Islamabad, which ended on Wednesday.
That same day, Rehman told his party workers to spread their protests to other parts of the country.
“This protest will continue not for a day but for a month, if our leadership instructs,” said JUI-F Secretary-General, Maulana Nasir Mehmood, to a group of protesters who blocked the country’s main Karakoram Highway — an important trade route between Pakistan and China that also connects the country’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province with its northern areas.
The JUI-F protesters also blocked other key routes in KP and a major highway connecting the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. The party’s Balochistan chapter also announced its intention to block the highway connecting Pakistan to neighboring Iran.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators joined the sit-in in Islamabad on Oct. 31 and camped there for about two weeks, demanding the prime minister’s resignation and fresh polls in the country following allegations of electoral fraud last year and the mismanagement of Pakistan’s economy. The government denies both charges.
Rehman is a veteran politician who was a member of the National Assembly for 20 years. He enjoys support in religious circles across the country. His party has yet to share a detailed plan regarding which roads will be closed when, or how long this new phase of protests will continue.
The JUI-F and other opposition parties have been trying to capitalize on the anger and frustration of the public against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf ruling party, which came to power last year promising 10 million new jobs for the youth, 5 million low-cost houses, and economic reforms to benefit the middle class.
Since then, Pakistan’s economy has nosedived, witnessing double-digit inflation and rampant unemployment. The government signed a $6-billion bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund to stave off a balance-of-payments crisis.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan has stabilized the deteriorating economy, and Maulana Fazlur Rehman ‘Plan B’ will fail like his ‘Plan A,’” Firdous Ashiq Awan, special assistant to the prime minister on information and broadcasting, said in a statement to the press.

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