Venezuela’s new taxi drivers: Moonlighting soldiers

People wait in a line near a gas station to fill their tanks in Caracas. (AP/File)
People wait in a line near a gas station to fill their tanks in Caracas. (AP/File)
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Updated 09 January 2021

Venezuela’s new taxi drivers: Moonlighting soldiers

Venezuela’s new taxi drivers: Moonlighting soldiers

SAN CRISTOBAL, Venezuela: In crisis-hit Venezuela, even soldiers are struggling to make ends meet on meager salaries rendered practically worthless by the highest inflation in the world and have taken to moonlighting — as taxi drivers.
Some have taken to sneaking out of their barracks to pick up customers needing a lift — a job that can earn them 60 times their monthly salary with just one trip.
“I’m a father and given the situation in the country, my salary is worth nothing,” a 39-year-old sergeant said. “I do my taxi journeys and I earn much more than in my other job — that’s why I do it.”
The sergeant can earn more than $500 for driving passengers from San Cristobal on the border with Colombia to the capital Caracas, some 800 km to the northeast. His monthly wage as a soldier — 9 million bolivars — is worth just $8.
However, regular taxi drivers are furious and say members of the armed forces have an unfair advantage: Their uniform.
“They don’t get stopped at police checkpoints” where drivers are often asked for a bribe, and “they don’t have problems getting fuel,” complained Eusebio Correa, a 57-year-old career taxi driver.
“The military that should be providing security are now chauffeurs in uniform.”
Sourcing fuel for vehicles is a major issue in Venezuela, but especially in remote Tachira state and its capital San Cristobal.
Fuel shortages have led to people waiting at gas stations for days at a time to fill their tanks, or alternatively turning to the black market, where prices are considerably higher. That added cost has subsequently pushed up the price of taxi rides.
But since the military controls gas stations, soldiers don’t face the same restrictions the general population does.
“This uniform that I wear represents respect. With the uniform, I can come and go anywhere,” admitted the sergeant.
The salaries of the rank and file may have plummeted alongside everyone else’s earnings in a country that has been in recession for seven years, but the military as an institution remains powerful.
It is the main power propping up the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
The military also controls oil, mining and food distribution companies, as well as customs and several key ministries.
Venezuela’s opposition and some rights organizations claim many top military officials have gotten rich through corruption.
The taxi-driving sergeant said he started “escaping” his barracks to moonlight once the country was put under a coronavirus lockdown.
“For the release permits, sometimes I ask for medical leave. You even make up stuff to your own colleagues. I know many who do this job, right up to our superiors,” said the sergeant.
Under the lockdown, regular comings and goings were restricted — and only authorized via passes issued by the military.


Canadian firm pulls out of Carrefour takeover after France insists ‘No’

Canadian firm pulls out of Carrefour takeover after France insists ‘No’
Updated 16 January 2021

Canadian firm pulls out of Carrefour takeover after France insists ‘No’

Canadian firm pulls out of Carrefour takeover after France insists ‘No’
  • Carrefour has more than 12,300 stores in more than 30 countries and employs 320,000 people worldwide
  • Canada's Couche-Tard has offered to take over the French supermarket giant for 16 billion euro ($19.5 billion)

PARIS: Canadian convenience store chain Couche-Tard has reportedly pulled out of a multi-billion euro takeover of supermarket giant Carrefour after the French government said it would veto the deal.
Negotiations over the 16 billion euro ($19.5 billion) deal ended after a meeting between the French Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire and the founder of Couche-Tard Alain Bouchard, Bloomberg news agency said, citing sources.
French ministers had insisted Friday they would not agree to the takeover because it could jeopardize food security, an even more important consideration given the coronavirus pandemic.
In an attempt to reassure ministers, Bouchard had promised to invest billions in Carrefour, said he would maintain employment for two years and that the group would be listed on the Paris Stock Exchange in parallel with Canada, Bloomberg reported.
Contacted by AFP, neither Couche-Tard nor Carrefour had confirmed the information on Friday evening.
Although talks had stopped, anonymous sources cited by Bloomberg said negotiations could resume if the French government changes its position.
But on Friday, France’s Economy Minister made his choice public, telling BMTV and RMC: “My position is a polite, but clear and definitive ‘No’.”
“Food security is a strategic consideration for our country and one does not just hand over one of the large French distributors like that,” Le Maire said.
“Carrefour is the biggest private sector employer in France with nearly 100,000 employees,” he noted, and the group accounts for 20 percent of the food distribution market in the country.
The French statements have not convinced the Canadian government.
A Canadian federal source said while they could understand concerns over allowing a foreign firm to take over such a large national employer, concerns over food security were unsubstantiated.
“But we cannot accuse a leading Canadian company like Couche-Tard of endangering the food sovereignty of an entire country,” the source, who requested anonymity, told AFP.

'Food sovereignty'
On Wednesday, Couche-Tard submitted a non-binding offer for Carrefour, valuing the group at more than 16 billion euros ($19.5 billion).
Le Maire made clear immediately that he was not in favor of a deal involving “an essential link in food security for the French, of food sovereignty.”
The government’s reaction had caused “surprise” at Carrefour itself, according to sources who said the comments were “premature” given that merger discussions had barely begun.
“We haven’t decided yet whether the interest shown is attractive for us,” one company official said on condition of anonymity earlier in the week.
Carrefour has more than 12,300 stores of various formats in more than 30 countries and in 2019 generated a net profit of 1.3 billion euros ($1.5 billion) on revenue of 80.7 billion euros ($97.4 billion).
It employs 320,000 people worldwide.
Couche-Tard has a worldwide network of more than 14,200 stores and earned a net profit of $2.4 billion on sales of $54 billion in its last complete year.
In the United States and several European countries, as well as in Latin America and southeast Asia, it operates under Circle K and other brands.