I just landed in Atlanta, en route to D.C., and I’m so loopy. A drug sniffing beagle and his border patrol owner approached my unreasonably large heap of bags. Naturally, I asked the beagle if he wasn’t just the most precious little thing I’d ever seen!
“Maam. Please refrain from engaging the animal.”
I received a call from my airport driver at 4:30 a.m. Pain. Álvaro, the driver, assured me his car has papel—bullet proof casing, and that he is armed. In my haze, I asked him if he had training for that. He said he had been a cop in Caracas for 20 years, which I took to mean, Are you kidding me?.
My hazy blabbing continued: Esto es un trabajo que jamás quisiera tener. (“That is one job I would never want to have.”)
Álvaro kindly explained that most cops in Caracas don’t want it either, considering they risk their lives daily, and generally get paid $700 a month. (As a point of cash comparison, my friend said he had trouble finding a one-bedroom in a decent Caracas neighborhood for less than $3500 a month).
Almost every Caraqueño I’ve met blames Venezuela’s rampant violent crime on el Presidente, so I asked him why Chávez hasn’t made it a priority to increase wages for la policia. My bilingual braincells were off duty at this point, but I caught key phrases in his response such as cabrón (bastard) and imbécil incompetente (incompetent idiot).
Álvaro left the police force five years ago because Irene Saez (who, not surprisingly, was also a Miss Venezuela and Miss Universe) stepped down as the first elected mayor of Chacao. People have a lot of respect for this woman and he did not anticipate that her successor would be as qualified a leader.
As we drove through of a string of hills marked randomly by shantytowns, Álvaro explained that his country has the same problem as most other developing countries: lots of natural wealth but nobody seems to know what to do with it. A common joke, he said, is that when God was creating Latin America he put oil, diamonds, and gold in Venezuela. When the rest of the region complained that all the good stuff was going to Venezuela, God said, OK, I’ll add Venezuelans.
I asked him if he’d ever considered leaving. He said yes.
Then some second thoughts quickly surfaced: “But Venezuela is a unique place. There is no country like ours. There is no gente like the venezolanos. I could leave Venezuela. But I would feel very sad.”