The “new normal” of Maracaibo | Chronicles of Caracas


At the start of the year, Germain Montes decided to go kayaking at Lake Maracaibo and have fun with his friends. Even though NASA hadn’t released the last satellite image where you can see the green waters with streaks of oil on the surface, the pollution has been evident for decades. But Germain didn’t pay attention to it and today he remembers it as one of the funniest days he had in 2021.

“At first I didn’t want to get wet, but once on board it doesn’t really matter,” says Montes, who is also director of the Crece Foundation. “So much so that my kayak even tipped over, I had to dive for that, well, nothing happened to me.

A lot of people don’t care either. Kayaking in the lake has become a very popular activity these days, although it’s too expensive for many: getting there can cost anywhere from $ 15 to $ 30, depending on the length of the trip.

“It was a very enjoyable and fun experience, really. I was able to see the lake, I went there for the first time and the company was also incredible, ”says Germain. He lives in Maracaibo and admits that two years ago this kayaking trip would have been unfathomable.

In fact, after the nationwide blackout in March 2019, which lasted for five days and was also accompanied by electricity rationing, Germain felt overwhelmed and even considered quitting. the country. Among the things that bothered him the most were the nights, when the city went completely dark.

At that time, Maracaibo looked like an apocalyptic city with dirty streets, both due to the ineffectiveness of the authorities, as well as improvised barricades following protests, which no one bothered to remove. Dozens of businesses had to close because of the looting, there were clubs that opened without air conditioning in a city where temperatures can rise to 38 ° C, the internet connection was chaotic, public transport was practically non-existent because of fuel shortages, and even something as simple as drinking cold water was a luxury, due to the rationing of electricity, which could last more than eight hours a day and kept refrigerators from working correctly.

Now the city that many citizens thought was dead forever is quite different.

Although the fuel crisis continues with endless queues at gas stations and a black market where they sell 20 liters. gasoline for $ 25, electricity rationing has dropped significantly, and there are areas where electricity is even constant, except in the event of a massive blackout; all this in addition to the Internet renaissance, as several companies compete to provide the best service by satellite or fiber optics.

At the same time, the dining options have multiplied. In the northern part of the city, where the better-off live, you will find a wide variety of restaurants, where you can eat burgers, sushi, ice cream or Arabic food, for a dollar and more. Clubs have also adapted and reinvented themselves with biosecurity measures to prevent COVID-19, as well as swimming pools and hotels where you can spend a pleasant weekend.

Kayaking is not the only activity to do in Lake Maracaibo; families can go fishing, and you can rent jet skis for 20 minutes for $ 20, which for inexperienced riders includes falling into the polluted lake several times.

Between influencers and food insecurity

A guy takes a selfie, smiling in front of a board where you read the popular phrase “Venite pa ‘Maracaibo” behind him, but there is a person looking for food in a trash can right behind him. He describes a cartoon that went viral on social media in July, which aimed to crudely portray the self-proclaimed influencers of Maracaibo, who have mushroomed into this new kind of normalcy.

They are mainly dancers, singers, comedians and models, who make their living selling products through their social networks or inviting their followers to visit places to eat or buy clothes. And while it is true that they have plenty of people supporting them, they also have their share of critics who claim to sell a city that does not exist.

And there is some truth to this: in the poorest areas of the city and surrounding municipalities, there is garbage everywhere and running water is never available, forcing low-income people to spend money to buy 220 liter water tankers. of water for two dollars. To top it off, when running water comes in it is cloudy, so much so that some even prefer not to use it.

In addition, access to food in these areas is precarious so there is a lot of malnutrition. The Comisión para los Derechos Humanos del Estado Zulia (Human Rights Commission for Zulia State, CODHEZ), an NGO that constantly publishes reports on food security in the region, says 84% ​​of households in Zulia report eating non-preferred foods or options cheaper, at least once a week, in order to partially feed; as a result, 51% have passed the extreme negative adaptations threshold, which refers to those who are forced to eat cheaper foods, and 16% are food insecure.

However, the cartoon does not describe the feelings of all citizens. “Strangely enough, most of those who complained and shared the image are no longer here. I don’t know what they expect from us: stay home, not have fun? Sit down and get depressed and die from the situation and that’s it? asks José Morales.

Mary González, who works as a content and campaign designer for different brands, says everyone has the right to show the country from their own point of view: “I don’t disagree with those who criticize [influencers], and I also do not disagree with those who want to show every day the beautiful things of our country. I think it’s very subjective. But I will always try to look for the positive side of everything.

The political value of the ornament

This contrast between the city that gets likes on Instagram and the one described by the Encuesta Nacional de Hogares has its political correlation, of course.

In August, journalist and historian Humberto “Kiko” Perozo tweeted about the city: “I went to Maracaibo’s house. central casco, it was beautiful, new paint and paved roads everywhere. The mayor of this region is working hard. But the mayor of the rest of Maracaibo is a disaster, we feel that they are two different people. I hope the mayor of the rest of Maracaibo copies that of the central area.

The reporter was referring to how downtown Maracaibo has a better facade when it comes to paved roads or built plazas, compared to the neglected state in which other areas of the same municipality are found. , with potholes on the roads or dark places due to a lack of street lights.

The case of Willy Casanova, mayor of Maracaibo for the PSUV, is strange and particular. He won the December 2017 elections with just 50.38% of the vote, in an election that saw a high abstention rate and a lack of interest from a large part of the population.

In those elections, some opposition groups approved the abstention from running, claiming that the governor’s election held in October of the same year was a fraud after the government won 17 of 23 States. In fact, one of the five opposition governors who won, Juan Pablo Guanipa, refused to take an oath before the arbitrary National Constituent Assembly after winning the elections in Zulia. December when Omar Prieto won.

At that time, when talking to your family or friends, you would realize that Casanova’s name was not well known, to the point that during the first months of his tenure it was common to see people blaming Nicolás Maduro or Governor Prieto for things that are Casanova’s responsibility, such as garbage collection or public transport.

During nearly four years in power, besides the negative image due to his ineffectiveness and empty promises in things like public services, the mayor has had to deal with issues that directly involve the national government or others. elements, such as the blackout of 2019 which heavily affected regions like Maracaibo or the arrival of COVID-19.

During all this time he took charge of lighting and remodeling some of the city squares and painting several murals, as well as reopening some historic buildings, such as the Villa Carmen house, built in 1926 by a very powerful family. of the time. and is now used, among other things, for “start-up shows”.

“Willy Casanova has gone to great lengths to show a city that is not real and magnify a disappointing administration,” says political scientist and digital consultant Luis Rendueles. “The waste problem is huge, the roads are not paved, business owners cannot pay taxes, and public services are not functioning. Painting the facades and lighting certain squares does not solve any of the deeply rooted problems.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been bombarded with ads for their social media campaigns, showing aerial footage recorded with drones of that beautiful part of town Perozo tweeted about, especially because Casanova will be seeking re-election, faced with an opposition which is divided for the moment between two candidates.

“At the moment, I don’t see any of the candidates as a clear favorite,” says Rendueles. “Willy Casanova is first and foremost the most famous character because he is mayor, but he also faces a lot of rejection from the opposition and independent voters. He must ensure that his constituents come together en masse, and also discourage the opposition from voting.

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