La Mancha Negra, Part 2

November 17, 2008

So the answer to the question “What the heck were you doing in Caracas” is “Enjoying myself”.  I worked for a telecommunications company in the early 90’s and we had to make a trip – several trips – to support an installation of wireless units used by the banking industry.

And Caracas was a trip.  Really.  I went in the middle an attempted military uprising, and there were soldiers with guns, everywhere.  And lots of distant shooting at night – sounded like fireworks.  Since we were working with the banking industry it was especially tricky, what with private security forces and the military exchanging wary glances at each other as we would pull up to an ATM machine, electronic equipment in tow.

I loved the exotic nature of the city, and would go back in a heartbeat.  But it was especially frustrating because I was a runner, doing about 5 miles a day, and at that time no one ran in Caracas unless they were guilty of something, and those suspected of being guilty of something were often shot first, questioned later.  So I resorted to running up and down the 8 floors of stairs in my hotel.  It was not nearly as satisfying but it provided a workout.

I worked in a 26-story office complex with one working elevator.  People packed into it like sardines in spite of the weight alarm going off at every floor.  I took the stairs.

Caracas was (and still is) a typical large, third-world city, and is a great example of a middle-classless economy:  You end up with the filthy rich and the shantytown poor.  Just down a ways from the Gold District is a stream about the width of Tonawanda Creek, only it’s an open sewer.  You can smell it from blocks away.  Sanitation systems were and are not a high priority to the Venezuelan government.  Beggars with deformed body parts were everywhere.  And where they were not there were beautiful women and handsome men in fancy clothes.  If you had beauty – especially if you were a woman – you had a path to a great job; if not, you cleaned hotel bathrooms for a pittance.

It was obvious from La Mancha Negra that road construction, too, was not a high priority for the government.  Nor did there seem much in the way of decent health care or, for that matter, good educational facilities; though the Venezuelan government does have a pretty well-funded military.

While the U.S. has a long way before tumbling into such chaos, it is to our country’s advantage that we not let our middle class erode to the point where climbing back up becomes an exercize in futility.