I’m sitting in the chairs next to Gate 1 of Maiquetía’s Domestic Terminal.

I’m waiting to board Aserca’s 10:20 flight to Maracaibo. I was told by several Aserca employees that it would take off from Gate 1. That is also what my boarding pass says. It’s 10:05, and there’s an Aeropostal plane sitting at my gate. There is nobody from Aserca in the vicinity.

Ah, they’re late, no surprise there. Still, I’m not in bitching mode. The airport looks fine, the bathrooms have running water – a rare occurrence, I’m told – and the cafeteria staff is remarkably nice. If you squint your eyes, it passes for a normal country, a sure sign that oil is holding steady at above $100 a barrel.

I look up at the monitors and I find my flight is announced as leaving through Gate 5A, not Gate 1. The flashing “Embarcando” sign means a frantic dash for the lower level is in order.

Gate 5A is one of those annoying portals at Maiquetía that doesn’t have a walkway attached to it. Just like our ancestors did back in the good old days of the PanAm Clipper, you have to walk on the runway to get to your flight.

In Gate 5A, I see an Aserca flunkie taking people’s boarding passes, wearing a red sweater. What is it in this country and the color red? Do they think this will make it less likely they will get taken over?

I ask him if he’s boarding the Maracaibo flight.

“Porlamar,” he growls back.

I ask him if he’s boarding Maracaibo next.

“Maracaibo is in Gate 1,” he says through his teeth.

“Yes,” I respond, “that’s what I was told, but the monitor says it’s gate 5A.”

“Don’t pay attention to the monitors,” he responds.

I bite my tongue, because screaming “what the hell are the monitors for, then?!” will get me absolutely nowhere.

Clearly, I’ve been living abroad way too long.

I keep thinking about a Mexican friend-of-a-friend who boarded an Aserca flight to Puerto Ordaz a couple of years ago. He gave the agent his boarding pass, boarded the plane, went to sleep, and landed … in Maracaibo. He had no idea where he was, and his friend ended up calling me. I had to be his tour guide for the day because, wouldn’t you know it, all the other flights back to Caracas were booked.

So in order to avoid the fate of my chilango tourist pal, I begin walking back and forth between Gates 5A and 1, waiting for some clarity.

Four round trips and half an hour later, an Aserca plane pulls up to Gate 1, a boarding agent miraculously appears, and it is announced that this is where my flight will board.

At this point, I’m kind of pissed. I feel like asking the boarding agent for an explanation, but she’s too busy collecting people’s boarding passes without even reading them – no lessons learned from the Mexican impasse – to even consider the possibility of talking to me.

I figure I can ask the stewardess when she greets me. No such luck, as the hostess is very busy twiddling in her Blackberry to even notice the passengers boarding. Those of us expecting a “Bienvenidos a bordo” are out of luck…

As it happened, there were not two, not three stewardesses assigned to this 50-minute-flight-with-no-Business-class, but five. All of them wore their best stripper makeup, and they had apparently gone to the same plastic surgeon because their chests were remarkably similar, perfect even.

Hell, they might not look like professionals, but in the event of an emergency, I bet them knockers can be used as flotation devices. Just don’t inflate inside the aircraft.

I can imagine Simeón García, the CEO of Aserca Airlines, the ringmaster of this circus, instructing his Human Resources Manager, some Nohelys Lista, “Mira Nohelys, I don’t care where you get these girls from, as long as they’re hot, you hear? Que estén bien buenas, vale. Have you seen the hotties they have over at Conviasa? Nadie quiere volar con una aeromoza incogible.”

After a pretty uneventful flight – a small miracle in an airplane that has been around since Richard Nixon was taping conversations in the Oval Office – I’ve made up my mind: in my imaginary utopia, where I rule as benign despot, Aserca disappears. Its existence, I decide, must be nothing more than a sad memory. Its employees must be fired, ridiculed, excoriated. Its owners must be laughed out of the country. Let them go to Zimbabwe, or the Maldives. Let them abuse their customers in East Timor, or in Eritrea. Let a decree be passed whereby nobody associated with this company can ever come close to flying an airplane ever again.

No half-decent country could get away with this sham of a company being one of its flagship carriers.


I’ve decided I need to open a bank account in Venezuela.  I ask my sister which bank she uses, and whether or not she recommends it. She says she uses Mercantil, and that she’s happy with it. I figure that’s a good bet, since Mercantil is Venezuela’s largest, purportedly most efficient private bank.

I go to Mercantil to open a bank account. I have my cédula and my money with me, but I figure that this being Venezuela, I probably won’t be able to open my account today since they are going to ask for more papers.

Oh well, I think to myself, at least I’ll get the list of requirements and come back later.

I take a number. There are thirteen people waiting in line, all of them busy chatting, you guessed it, on their Blackberries. There are two attendants out of six booths available. There must be an epidemic keeping the other four sick in bed.

Half an hour passes. Three people get lucky. All of them have some ridiculously large, anally-composed folders with them. They approach the attendants like a serf approaches his lord.

I finally figure it out – the same girls opening bank accounts are also in charge of authorizing Cadivi dollars.

An hour passes. I bump into an old friend – this is Maracaibo after all. Another half hour passes. I bump into one of my brother’s buddies. We chat and another half hour passes. My number finally comes up.

The lady is puzzled as to why I’m the first person this morning who dares sit at her desk without a stack of papers in hand. I tell the lady I want to open an account. She doesn’t apologize for the delay, and instead asks me if I brought the letters of reference and the receipt for the electric bill.

I ask her about the letters of reference – why do you need those? After all, I’m not applying for a loan. I’m giving you my money, I tell her, and you’re going to charge me fees for keeping an eye on it – I should be the one asking you for stuff.

She says it’s standard procedure, and that I should come back next week when I have the letters of reference, which, of course, need to be accompanied by a copy of the person’s cédula.

Two and a half hours wasted on this.


Venezuela has never had an exemplary private sector. Most of Venezuela’s anemic businesses have usually been at the mercy of the petrostate and the powers that be.

Their main task has never been to make good products efficiently, nor to provide outstanding customer service. Their main task has always been to survive, by cozying up to whatever bureaucrat is overseeing them at a given time. Extract rents during a boom as quickly and efficiently as possible, transform them into dollars, and wait out the bust. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I guess the behavior of these companies shouldn’t surprise me. Everywhere you go, whether it’s Excelsior Gama or to a restaurant in Caracas, whether an airline or a bank, the story is always the same: no matter how well things go, there is always something that could be improved.

In a way, Venezuelan companies exhibit the classic behavior of a fat, lazy oligopolist. The competitive pressures that lead companies in other parts of the world to try to do things minimally competently don’t apply to them. They cannot innovate, because their mix of inputs (how much labor they can hire or fire, how much capital they are allowed to invest) is determined by the government. Their costs of production (dollars to buy inputs, bolívares to pay their workers) and the prices of their products are listed in the latest Gaceta Oficial. And their bottom lines sure don’t hinge on how they treat a low-life like you.

In the rare markets where the government doesn’t decide absolutely everything, barriers to entry are so high that a oligopoly rents are all but assured. After all, if you find yourself in a niche market without competition (e.g. Agencia Mar), who is going to compete with you? It’s not like there are thousands of investors willing to jump at the first sight of above-normal profits.

But the issue of our dysfunctional private sector is critical. Because they will be a big part of the success – or, gasp, failure – of what comes afterwards.

When Chávez leaves, the State will inevitably have to downsize as we let the private sector take over many areas. In the end, all the post-Chávez plans rely on a semi-functional private sector.

Trouble is, the private sector they’ll have to fall back on is our lazy, old, tired, corrupt, sclerotic rent-seeking mess of a private sector. Private pension funds, you ask? Why, the Banco Mercantil is first in line to take care of those. A modern, efficient transportation system is your thing? Why yes, one that is rooted in Aserca’s unsurpassed thirst for quality.

El papel lo aguanta todo

The government’s war on capitalism has actually created a series of entrenched cartelized incumbents, whittling away their days, holding back investments that could make their companies grow and perform decently or, at any rate, better. It’s like the government is creating the worst kind of capitalist companies just to make a point – so that when the inevitable expropriations come, there’ll be as little push back as possible.

I mean, c’mon, you know things are bad when you have even a right-winger like me fantasizing about the demise of Aserca.

I understand perfectly well why it makes no economic sense for Venezuelan companies to treat me like anything other than cattle.

Still, treating your customers like cattle is not exactly conducive to creating good will for your firm. And that lack of good will means that, when the next “exprópiese” is uttered from the caudillo’s sickly mouth, the backlash will be much less than it might have been.

There will be few people left to mourn your demise.

99 thoughts on “Indefensible

  1. Hey Juan is good to have you there in Venezuela, when I feel too homesick, remembering how terrible service is in Venezuela makes me feel better. But I think it goes beyond the twisted incentives in the private sector, it is one of our worse cultural characteristics, very few feel good “serving” others and even less take pride on doing a good job. Breathe and breathe again, and keep blogging about your experiences, that helps you and us here :-)


    • Excelente post Juan!
      I’m with Moraima though, making clients feel like beggars is a Venezuelan thing…a cultural trait almost. I think it’s related with the many frustrations we face daily in such a dysfunctional society.


      • It runs completely through the entire gamut of daily life, whether it is the clerk or waiter who will not look you in the eye and acknowledge that he/she is dealing with another human being, the “technico” that you have to beg repeatedly to show up at your house to fix something, even though you are the customer who is paying him, or the lawyer who doesn’t return your calls.

        I would like to blame this on Chavismo, but I suspect it really is a deeply held cultural trait that has been exacerbated by the political and economic climate. Very sad…


        • Roy I was always like that.

          This is something that was not caused by Chavismo.The first week I arrived to San Juan de los Morros in the late 60’s,I was shocked that even the retail workers looked too angry or indifferent to sell their items.We had a small Volkswagon that had to be repaired but ended up in the shop for over a year.Every time I checked on it, the mechanics were asleep- and this was a government car…. hehehe….but what did they care? Nothing!

          Work is not valued, which is one of the reasons Chavismo is so popular.


      • “making clients feel like beggars is a Venezuelan thing…a cultural trait almost” Perhaps just a mirror of the petro-state model relationship: supplicants versus citizens.


      • I learned this when I was once in a store around noon time. When at 12:00 p.m. I hadn’t completed my transaction, the sales clerk walked away from me for her lunch break. I was flabbergasted. The proprietor finished the transaction, fortunately.


  2. I’ve been reading the blog for 1+ years and this is by far the best piece!!! Thank you
    Keep em coming


    • I’ve been reading this blog for about a week, and this piece is going to make me a regular.


  3. As it happened, there were not two, not three stewardesses assigned to this 50-minute-flight-with-no-Business-class, but five. All of them wore their best stripper makeup, and they had apparently gone to the same plastic surgeon because their chests were remarkably similar, perfect even.

    I have an acquaintance in Caracas who went to flight attendant school specifically because she wanted the fringe benefits of airline work: they get free hairstyles and makeovers as often as they want. Just the person I want as my first responder in case of emergency!


    • I appreciate the boobs as much as any man, but I would trade them in a second for a friendly smile. Where do they find so many ice queens?


      • I am a man and the feeling I have of knowing there is a 50% chance those breasts are not real but pieces of silicone puts me off, off, off.
        And now, when I see Venezuelan women, I think that firstly: “are THEY real?” (and not like “she has beautiful eyes” or “nice smile” or “qué antipática”)


      • Right. If I am not “getting any” out of a woman, she has absolutely no dispensation to be a female jerk-ass (“ice queen” who would not tell me the hour) with me. She is just another human being you have to be civil with. Nor do I owe her any special considerations. Those I reserve for nice, good, very old or very young, handicapped or mentally ill people.

        P.D. I also shall totally NOT give a female jerk-ass the privilege of my company.


  4. Loved this post!

    I leave with this quote:

    “ Luck is an accident that happens to the competent. ”

    — Albert M. Greenfield


  5. Extremely well written. You are about in about the same place, mentally and spiritually, I was in 2003, when I decided to leave the country. I wastrying to insert a bigger round object into a smaller square peg. Your view of life is no longer compatible with Venezuelan reality. Although you are young, watch out next for an elevated blood pressure or a peptic ulcer. Because education and modernity are incurable diseases. You will never be resigned to flying back into the cuckoo nest.


  6. A couple of years ago I lost my flight to Maracaibo due to delays in purgartory, erm, I mean, the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. I was then walking around the Conviasa check-in counters trying to find another flight, when a man approaches me asking what flight I want. I figure he’s striking friendly conversation and I explain my situation. He then tells me he can get me into the 9pm flight for a “gift.” Now, before I take this hint as a sexual favor, I remember that I am in Venezuela, and the man is just asking for a good ol’ bribe. I give him a ‘no, gracias’ and proceed to wait for my turn at the counter.

    The girl in the counter types frantically at her computer for one minute before telling me that there are no seats available on the 9pm flight, which happens to be the only remaining flight to Maracaibo for the day. When I ask her what can I so to get out of Caracas she tells me, very matter-of-factly, that I should talk to the man in the hallway.

    Mind you, there is a huge poster behind the woman about denouncing corruption.

    Gloria al bravo pueblo, indeed.


  7. This is a great article because it shows what daily life is like in a corrupt third-world (which should at least be upper second world in a sane universe) country. These first hand accounts will have more of an impact than any mind-numbing statistics will.

    A fast food place “Chik-Fil-A” is going to have a promotion where if you dress as a cow you get a free meal but it sounds like in Venezuela you have to jump through many hurdles to get anything every day.


  8. Juan,

    The last few days have been terrible for me and my fiancee. Thinking about unemplyoment, college and well, the million things that can and WILL happen from today to the day we actually leave the country(my dream). Now i read this, and a tear almost pops out. As Harold said, i feel so identified with the post yet so frustrated. You come here and see it. But living here is so much different, thing build up in your head, your brow starts falling and you see how everything just passes in front of you, and you’re caught in the middle of it all. I loved this post man, te mandaste con este!


  9. Love the post. Corporate Venezuela notions of customer service operate well only when the proposed recipient is either: (a) a friend, (b) a personal friend, or (c) a person who has even a smidge of power but will none the less manifest it extravagantly. I too was raised in Maracaibo but went to Caracas for higher education. Though I have very good friends and fond memories of Caracas, my personal approach to visiting Venezuela consists of taking the one direct flight from North America to Maracaibo and then back on the return flight. And, I avoid Caracas altogether sparing me the irritation of domestic travel. Did I tell about the time (the now defunct) Aeropostal black-listed me for complaining about their service? Some other time…

    I find my this approach works wonders to keep my blood pressure (and outrage) down.

    Parenthetically, there is an inane rationale for a lot of things: you realize you could have been laundering money at the Banco Mercantil? Now, with a letter of reference, there is no way you could be one of those evil-doers.



    • And, if you have an account in another bank, you need to take a bank statement from there. So, wink, wink, I forgot about any other accounts I might have had…


  10. Great post….

    The State can run some things pretty well (the Metro, for instance, ran a tight little ship for quite a long time…). The Private Sector can also mess things up incredibly. To base any strategy in the dogmatic belief that either thing is set in stone, is downright foolish. And that’s one of the thing that politics -being one of the ways that we, as a society, can set priorities without killing each other- can help with.

    But there’s no magic trick: an all-political-all-the-time solution leads to cronyism and the kind of mess you’re criticising.


    • It’s competition that makes players, public and private, efficient.

      You run when there’s a prize at the finish line. You run faster in proportion to the number of other runners that will take part of the prize.


  11. I second the notion that this was a great post. My sister-in-law just told me the trick she uses to determine where the heck your flight may be leaving (especially if it is from gate 5). She says you look for the same people who checked you in at the counter because the way the system works there is that person (or persons I suppose) are the same ones that take your boarding pass and let you on the flight (gate agent in US speak). She just told me this tip last weekend so I haven’t been able to observe whether she is right but it seems correct from my experience. So if you see them, don’t let them out of your sight.


  12. Juan,

    You HAVE been away for a long time. I now find all these things “normal” and when I travel and am confronted with the efficiency and service of the real world, I feel wary, like it must be some sort of a set-up and start looking suspiciously for the catch.

    Airports: Do not believe the message boards. Ask at least three other passengers, to confirm if they are waiting for the same flight. If you are all wrong, at least you will have strength in numbers when confronting the airline. Don’t worry about dealing with “the guy” (see Maraciaburg’s comment) if you really want the seat. That is the system: Their ball-field, their bat, their gloves, their ball, and their rules. Let your conscience be your guide, but before you run your head into a brick wall too many times, remember that bricks are hard and can hurt you.

    Airlines: About three years ago, a new domestic airline “Venezolana” was launched. At the beginning, and for about a six months, they were very good. Then, their standards slowly sank until, within a year, they sucked just like all the others. Year in, year out, Laser is the best choice, but only by the narrowest of margins. Avoid AeroPostal as though your life depended on it… it might!

    Banks: The references are mandated to prevent money laundering, etc. Do these rules actually prevent it? Of course, not! But this way, the bank gets to say they did their part. I happen to like Venezolano de Credito, but if you are going to be moving about, Mercantil has more branches and may serve you better. In any case, the trick is to have your sister, who will know the people at the bank, come to the bank with you and present you to them. If you want any sort of service, you must create the illusion that you have some sort of personal relationship with them. Once you have that, they will even bend the rules for you. If you don’t, you get squat!

    Bienvenido a Venezuela. Toma una cerveza, y todo bien!


    • Oh, and Juan, I forgot to tell you what a great post this was. I was chuckling all the way through your experience. It is interesting how the stuff that we write “at the moment” contains all of the flavor and emotion of the experience.


  13. I just arrived from a short holiday in a 1st world country, that same day, feeling hungry and having emptied my fridge prior to departure, headed off to McDonalds Automac. I did my queue just like everyone else, got to the booth and placed my order:
    Un cuarto de libra doble con queso, mediano, con Nestea de Limon y un cuarto de libra con queso, tambien mediano y con Nestea de Limon.
    Could you please add mayo and ketchup to the order?

    Clerk: Sure not a problem, please continue on to the next booth.

    Clerk at the next booth: Sorry we don’t have Tea, could I get you something else?

    Me: Could I have Orange juice then. Oh and please , please do not forget the extra ketchup and mayo.

    Clerk: Sure not a problem.

    He hands me the drinks without any cup holders.

    Me: how do you expect me to drive back home without any cupholders?

    Clerk: Sorry lady, we don’t have. you can use this carton bag which might help?

    Hands me the drinks in a bag and the food in another.

    Me: You sure you added the ketchup and mayo?

    Clerk: Yes I’m sure.

    get home and surprise surprise…..

    NO KETCHUP AND NO MAYO!!!!!! not even the usual ketchup for the fries? nada, zilch, zippo. As if he had understand DO NOT GIVE ME ANY KETCHUP OR MAYO UNDER ANY CURCUMSTANCE!!!!!

    WELCOME TO THE BOLIVARIAN BANANA REPUBLIC OF VENEZUELA where employees know they can’t get fired easily, can’t be bothered to do any work and are absolutely DESCARADOS in making a point of getting everything wrong. It’s as if they were paid by the goverment to sabotage the private sector…. so so weird how venezuelans consistently deliver bad service and behave as if a good service belonged to capitalism and therefore is a sin…


  14. I agree with everybody Juan, very good post! and the reason must be that we see ourselves in your shoes.

    I hate going to the bank. Period. It seems like going to a Ministry or Cadivi… bank employees are usually non cooperative. And I”m talking about private banks.

    Go to a bank owned by the reds…. you’ll have the time of your life! For instance: My mother in law cashes her pension in Banco de Venezuela… every single month is the same story. They need her Cédula and another ID (with a picture) to cash her pension.(Isn’t the cédula enough?) The woman is very old and suffers from Alzheimer; so you can imagine the nice time that her children pass every single month when they have to stand like 4 hours with her at the bank!

    A couple of years ago I needed to open an account at Banco Industrial for Cadivi purposes. First requisite: Constancia de trabajo! I said that I’m a housewife thus I cannot comply with that. (They also asked for the references and cedulas etc.) But if you don’t work, you cannot have even a savings account, they said. They even doubted the source of my money! I asked if it was not normal that a wife could keep some of the money her husband gave her for groceries.. I cannot tell you how many things I argued… The answer was NO. Solution: a member of my family gave me a fake Constancia! It was ridiculous. I went to the same bank a couple of days later and opened the account.


    • Maybe if you had told them you were the mistress, not the wife, they would have believed you had a ready source of non laundered money!


      • HA! Another requisite: you have to sign a “Declaración Jurada” stating where did you obtain the funds. The choices were, if memory serves me well, something like this:
        a.- Your own (earned by you)
        b.- An inheritance (from whom? cédula and data from the giver)
        c.- A gift (same as b)


  15. Good post, Aserca is like the horror ride at the amusement park. I found Venezolano de Credito to be the best bank, they rely on the Internet as much as possible. The only thing I dont like is you have to go in person if the password fails, hard to do if you live abroad.


    • Oh, and I thought about Venezolano de Credito, as I heard the same stories, but they have ONE agency in Maracaibo, so I decided against it.


  16. Great writing, Had to read it it twice and am still laughing. You should try your luck at writing skits / satire – Venezuela will provide never ending bizarre stories that only those that have lived them believe to be true.
    I admire the stamina of the Venezuelan people that have been abused with this kind of stuff for decades, yet they take it as part of normal everyday life, most of them having no idea what customer service really is (hence part of Chavez’ success, although it didn’t originate under him).
    Now re the hottie flight attendants, I take them anytime over the often rude, sloppy looking e.g American Airlines personnel. Plus it takes my mind off what might happen to the Nixon era flying boneshakers.


  17. I will say this about Venezuelan society… or at least Caraqueñan.

    Everybody (except a minority of the political fanatics) can be reasoned with. Sure, the bottom line is often cash, but there is a grip on reality. They can sometimes apply reason to a situation in a way that a “that’s not company policy,” customer service oriented gringo worker can’t (or won’t).

    The police extortion scheme for traffic, for example, maintains the disincentive of breaking the law while providing the under-paid cops with extra income.


  18. Juan I’ve been reading you since you the early Katy days and know you have written many great essays here but this is one of my favorites. It brought back of a lot of memories…………from the 90’s when I first started traveling to Venezuela as I prepared to move there. Sadly this story is nothing new.

    Now I’m told all of the electronic billboards are coming down in Caracas. I picture soviet blocks of tasteless, gray, drab buildings.


  19. Many people believe private enterprise works better because “they care”. They do care but only about the bottom line. What makes them provide efficient and economic good service is competition. Competition is what makes the adrenaline flow through the corporate veins. The fear that they may be run out of business by someone else who is ahead in price, service, quality. BTW, that’s the same fear that makes the employee smile at the paying customer.

    Oligopolyc businesses don’t know that fear, but the good news is that when the gates to investment and competition are opened they start to feel it and they’ll adapt real fast… or perish.


  20. Particularly excellent post, Juan, and you write many.

    A couple of stupid questions to people living in Venezuela now:
    why can’t an organization not pay directly your salary or pension to the bank of your choice?
    why hasn’t there some consumer organisation come up there with the initiative to push forward that? why do people have to spend so much time cashing in checks instead of using transfers?
    why don’t they use fob keys at this stage for banking even if so many people use expensive mobiles there?

    Here I almost never go to a bank after I have opened an account or I want to get some dollars in cash or something like that. Here you do need either a contract or prove where I got some money if it is beyond €10000.


    • Kepler,

      Good point about the need to enter banks so often. I don’t think I can remember when I was last actually inside a bank in the States. I do everything online or by phone or fax. Here, it seems like I am there at least once a week.


    • Kepler,
      Pensions from Seguro Social, Pdvsa or a Ministry are deposited in chavista banks. There’s nothing you can do to change that.

      The ‘peripecias’ my sister in law does with her mother, to cash the pensions are so long -she could write a book!-.

      Examples: she has to come in person to the bank, every single month, and cash the money (she then goes to a private bank to deposit it). If you accumulate a couple of months… they understand that you died… next time you have to give then a ‘proof of life’, which is a very convoluted process that anyway you have to go through every January.

      Banco de Venezuela has banking on line, you could use the internet to do the transfers etc. Well, after a very complicated process, mother in law has ‘banca on line’. Yay! hold it, it has been a year already… and sister in law cannot make the password to work or the site does not comply. Solution: she goes to the bank AGAIN at the end of the month!
      I tell you… it’s a pain in the neck! We think that its their way of discouraging people to cash the pensions.


  21. Great post, JC. One of your finest.

    Flying domestic in Venezuela has become a Kafkian nightmare. Just look to the fleet of the airlines. Jeez, the last time I flew to Maiquetia from Barquisimeto was nothing more than an ordeal.
    The plane was about to land when it just went back up suddenly and made a turnaround. Terrified was not even close to what I felt. Flying in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is quite the opposite.

    And don’t make me start on what is for me the living representation of hell on earth: Venezuelan banks.

    Keep on posting your Maracaibo chronicles.


  22. Great post Juan, it reflects so well the frustration that one feels with dealing with all things Venezuela. I liked especially:

    Clearly, I’ve been living abroad way too long. I think it’s rather “Venezuelans have been forced to take shit for too long” They haven’t got a clue about how the rest of the civilised world works, and the worse thing is, they couldn’t care less.

    I guess this post of yours took you to the mood I felt the other day talking to my father in law: “todo tranquilo chico, aqui no está pasando nada…” WTF??

    They’ve lost the plot and all sense of right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable.


    • I am not sure if “they don’t care”. Really: if you haven’t got a clue about what it is outside, how can you care? And even if you did: if you don’t see a possibility of change, you have to go on self-denial mode.
      What can Pedro Pérez, electrician who has never been abroad, or who perhaps went once to Colombia, do about this all if Enzio Panetti, who has often been abroad and is local leader for the opposition in a big city, doesn’t become vocal about this? Who should start?

      I think leaders of big organisations in Venezuela – together with their groups – have to start telling Venezuelans “esto no es normal.”, “esto tampoco es normal”


      • In my mind there is a Normal World, an Outside of the Asylum, and there’s the Insane Asylum: Venezuela and a few other select countries. People inside the Insane Asylum (Venezuela) don’t know, or forget about normal conditions (though some remember how it was before 1976) Outside the Asylum.

        Unfortunately, unlike Bolivians, Ecuadorians and others, Venezuelans have not emigrated massively to other countries and thus lived abroad in sufficient numbers. The few that have done so, like me, wish to continue living abroad because sanity is a precious thing. Speaking for myself, I don’t become more vocal at times because I don’t see a way back to sanity for Venezuela that is not painfully shocking. Or get eaten alive by relatives who think gasoline should go for 2 pennies a liter.


      • Kepler, the clue is in this sentence:

        They’ve lost the plot and all sense of right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable.

        You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, a PhD, of have a million plus miles under your belt, to know what is right and what is wrong, what is acceptable and what is not. As Juan said, if you go to a bank, to give them your money, with proper identification, that’s where everything should end. Referencias? For what? Unless of course you’re turning up with a bag with more that $10.000 in cash or its local equivalent.

        Being absolutely honest, I know it works both ways, as someone commented above. If you’re mates with whoever calls the shots, then you can pretty much do whatever you want, at the detriment of others. So that ain’t fair either.

        This is why I say, Venezuelans have no clue, and they don’t seem to care. Rather, they seem to think that being abused left, right and center is normal. I know I hate being abused, and I am pretty sure that’s a treat I share with most people. As I keep saying to my children, if you don’t protest nothing will ever change, and you’ll be taken for a fool your whole life.

        Guido, reaching that Zen-like, sort of contemplative status, is beyond me. Me es imposible no arrecharme. That’s why I prefer to live here.


        • Alek,
          You don’t have to be a rocket scientist. But this goes beyond universal right or wrong.
          What is ethical is not. That is universal.
          What is acceptable and what is not is relative, no matter how incredible it seems to us.

          Why would people in Europe smoke without caring about others? Why was there so much resistance? Why did so many years have to pass before a real change started to take place? And that took more than knowledge. It took confrontation.

          When people don’t know and that is the case for the vast majority of Venezuelans, when they do not have an EU passport the easy way, the most likely thing they will do is to say: this is shit but this is the way it is.


      • I think Venezuelanos in general have become apathetic. I have several relatives that are just accustomed to the hassles……no happy, but accepting it as a way of life. It really has been this way for a very long time.


    • The other thing, Alek, is that, at some point you realize that it is necessary to either get a Zen-like attitude about things or change countries or get sick with an ulcer. You can get only so angry, and does not change a lot of things. After having seen my parents dealing with prefecturas and other offices where I only would tell them to go to hell and leave without my papers, I see that my own approach is not only frustrating, but not productive.

      I am glad I get to travel every now and then and see what things are outside. It gives me hope, because there is opportunity in improving the mess that Venezuela is, some day.


      • Actually I found this not to be the case at all.

        After a few years there I discovered that most of these petty tyrants are cowards.

        If they didn’t give me my passport back at the DIEX, I entered the no enter zones and threatened the jefe to call the US embassy while using the most angry tone I could muster, and thus was able to recover it.I spit on a National Guard and called him ” cochino” for putting my 12 yr old son in danger…he then backed down.

        I called the police on service people who refused to own up to their agreements on several occasions and got them to respond.

        I slashed the tires of a telephone tech man when I caught him purposely damaging the phones lines.

        The list is endless!

        Venezuelans are afraid of their own fear most of the times.The petty tyrants are the worst of the worst cowards!We let them get away with murder with our own cowardly actions.


        • wow FP, you are de armas tomar… my dad always said that, that Venezuelans only responded to whoever was stronger than them, the biggest caudillo in every situation. He had a story of a two way narrow lane that got blocked with a crash and the only way to pass was wait for turn your, let cars on one side come and then let the other side go. Of course everyone rushed on to try to be first and then no one could pass. A military convoy was on the line and one of the officers started to try to reason with people so they will reverse and unblock the mess, of course that went nowhere, finally another militar with a face that said “fuck them, now I have to solve this” took out his “peinilla” and scrachted it on the floor and said i”f you don’t move now I am going to get you out of your cars and hit your buttocks with this (caerte a peinillazos?)” Of course in 5 seconds everyone was in order and the line started moving… not very encouraging really…


          • Moraima, Unfortunately it is true.It is very unpleasant to have behave like that but we must at times so that justice be done.I would like to see that change in Venezuela…I mean the whole power mongering /cuadillo bit.


        • Cerdita,
          remind not to EVER be your enemy! LOL!

          Joking aside, I always say that Venezuelans are afraid of complaining. I think is something ethnic… For the record, I’m Venezuelan and very criolla, but I cannot stay silent as many people in the daily troubles we have to endure.

          Remember the old saying: “El que no llora….


          • Liz,

            You can say it.I am not the best enemy to have, though my daily self is extremely peaceful yet If I think someone is harming me or others , especially children, then I turn my power against them without fear.My husband used to be terrified of this quality in me because he was afraid that someone would hurt me.But honestly it always worked for me in Venezuela.Where it never works is here in the US.People do not bend when they think they are following some rule no matter how petty and stupid the rule is.Luckily I have less occasion to want to use these tactics here:)

            But most of the time people in Venezuela will back down when confronted though you are 100 percent correct that there is a strong TABU against complaining.People are afraid to look bad or afraid of getting in trouble etc.I have a friend who is recently talking to me about this aspect of Venezuelan culture( though there are Tabus in every culture) and how related it is to the electoral problems.Fascinating stuff!!


            • FP, I am so with you about your reaction to the harming of children. Unfortunately (for me), I have this in addition to advocating for animals all around the world. I have adopted the ASPCA motto: We Are Their Voice. Animals, in general, do NOT have a voice in this world. Taboos are just roadblocks, or even myths, if you wish. There shouldn’t be ANY taboos for advocacy of what the right thing to do is.


  23. And Hugo Chavez blames capitalism for the ills of Venezuela. Unless you call the system that was before him and that he continued “crony”, “rentist”,”state” or something else “capitalism”… meaning that nominally there is private property and that nominally there is a market and that nominally businesses try to attract customers, but that in reality please don’t go looking for any of this!

    This is the story of our whole lives in Venezuela, Juan. Not only that things are expensive to put to shame Oslo and Zurich. But that customer service and friendliness is completely absent. You can get a free plastic cup/glass of water/advice with a smile anywhere in Europe and the U.S. In Venezuela…

    I know this will draw some flak:

    These are sufficient reasons to “open up” the markets of Venezuela to the world (and Venezuela to immigrants) and bankrupt/leave unemployed a few of these “businesses” and “service” employees.


  24. Juan,

    You have become a Legal Alien. Now concentrate breath deeply and try to remember how it has always been. This is not about private companies, it is about education in Venezuela. Let me remind you of the rules: there are no rules without any exception. So, I’ll tell you what I enjoy doing when I travel to Venezuela. Go to any place and first figure out how the informal system works (the only one that works), look around, see whom other people approach and what the local custom is “mi amor”, kiss, kiss. Ask the doorman. Then play the proper Venezuelan role, not a gringo role. HA your approach makes about as much sense as trying to open an account in JPMorgan by walking up to the bank manager smacking a kiss on her cheek and then calling her “my dear”.

    Go ahead, take your time to get back into contact with your native instinct. It is an amusing feeling. Consider it turism or social research. Remember don’t get frustrated and never step out of character, otherwise you loose.


    You are not going to put up with it every day, so you might as well.

    And Juan, please have una de Guayanes, otra de Carne Mechada y una de Ensalada de Gallina (I’ve never really liked Reinas) con un Tody on my behalf.
    If you happen to go to the beach then perhaps try una empanada de platano con queso.

    If you don’t what’s the point of traveling there.


    • Empanada de platano con queso? Who on Earth eats empanada de platano con queso? I mean: platano con queso, yes, empanada con queso, yes but empanada de platano con queso??


      • Woah, woah, woah…easy there, buddy. You haven’t lived until you try empanada de pabellon con queson, platano frito y carne mechada.

        …and now I’m hungry. And pancakes ain’t gonna cut it.


      • Kepler, tú nunca te has comido una empanada de pabellón? Hasta que no te comas una, no has vivido!!! (es en serio, las del mercado de Conejero en Margarita, de muerte lenta)


        • Pabellón he comido: es lo primero que probé después de probar leche materna venezolana, pero empanada de pabellón? Me pregunto si eso se consume de Choroní hacia oriente, si es algo de caracas, meregotos, cumanagotos y morogotos. Voy a verificar, gracias.


          • Empanadas de pabellón are fairly common in Mérida, not so much in Valera, but they still exist here, and I have eaten them in Caracas


    • Juan: Do not follow Caraqueño’s advice. For you’ll have less material. And what you write is worthwhile reading, when it doesn’t amuse. Your story reminds me of that of a Montreal friend of mine, who in the early 1980s, went with her then boyfriend to Margarita Island. They stayed at the Concorde(?). In the morning, Charlotte made her way past the still-under-construction areas to the cafeteria for breakfast. There, she saw one of the chefts pull out delicious croissants from the oven.
      “I’ll have one of those,” she says.
      “No, I’m sorry,” he answers. “Those are for tomorrow.”
      He offers her a croissant from yesterday, now unfrozen.
      My brother and I, living then in Montreal, were practically rolling on the floor from laughter.


    • una de Guayanes, otra de carne mechada, una de ensalada de gallina, un Tody, mejillones a la parrilla, empanada de plátano con queso …Pero, cuántos kilos tienes tú de sobrepeso, vale?


  25. Excellent post!

    Don’t even start about the banks. You’ll reach 1000 posts.

    As a business owner we have to pay Seguros Social, Banavih, etc every month.
    You can’t do it on-line!
    You must send an employee or do it yourself EVERY MONTH!
    And you wonder why there are lines.

    My wife’s mother lines up for her pension every month for hours.
    It’s demeaning & disrespectful. A few months ago the government passed a law that all custumers in banks had to be dealt with, on average, in 30 minutes or less & tercer edad (60 & over) in 15 minutes. Who’s monitoring this law?


  26. Juan,

    El Chigüire seems to be tuned to your rant. As I said before, it is not about the companies, it is about education.

    Take a look at their page on the Hueco en la Valle-Coche.


  27. Kepler,

    Go to playa parguito wait for the lady to setup her empanada kiosk.

    Ask for an Empanada de Platano con Queso. You might want to follow up with una de Cazón. Wash it down with una Cocada.

    Only for the hardcore: Go later to chucho’s stand and get yourself a couple of dozens of Mejillones a la Parilla. On you way back, stop by Los Hermanos Moya for breakfast.

    No need to thank me. For everything else there is MasterCard.


    • As for empanadas de cazón: I have eaten them galore. I would go pretty often from Valencia to the coast and the sight of the tienditas with empanadas de cazón and tostones would trigger a Pavlovian response in a nanosecond. I am just puzzled everyone here seems to know empanada con platano…

      It is just the banana thing in the empanada.


  28. Juan, since a lot has been said in he comments, I just want to recommend you a book written in 1896 by an American named William Eleroy Curtis. “Venezuela, pais de eterno verano”. Written in english, I have it in spanish. You will learn a lot about Venezuela. Y tambien te reiras mucho. Enjoy your stay


  29. On Aeropostal madrugador from Barquisimeto to Caracas, Monday a week ago. On Bqto tarmac, the plane engines start then stop. Most passengers are still asleep, then the pilot announces that on starting the engines, the left one spilled fuel but spilling stopped upon stopping the engines. The pilot adds that the plane shall take off in 5 minutes. By now, it is pandemonium on board. And indeed, the plane left. We were all crapping our pants all the way to Caracas.


    • ¡Exprópiese!
      Y el pueblo aplaude…

      I’m tellin’ you man, it’s all part of the plan.


      • Well in Aeropostal´s case, it´s already government owned, as it was seized as part of Makled´s assets. Not that it matters though, public, private, the “suck” factor is pretty evenly spread, specially in the airline business.


  30. We are the ones that allow this to happen.

    After a few years in Venezuela I discovered that most of these petty tyrants are cowards.

    If they didn’t give me my passport back at the DIEX, I entered the no enter zones and threatened the jefe to call the US embassy while using the most angry tone I could muster, and thus was able to recover it.I spit on a National Guard and called him ” cochino” for putting my 12 yr old son in danger…he then backed down.

    I called the police on service people who refused to own up to their agreements on several occasions and got them to respond.

    I slashed the tires of a telephone tech man when I caught him purposely damaging the phones lines.

    The list is endless!

    These people do not get fired for being incompetent….In true Capitalism they would be.However if we make their lives miserable enough while they are misbehaving eventually they will think twice about it.


  31. Cheer up!

    America was once the same way. But somewhere after WWII, businesses began to discover that they could make better money on more customers just by being polite. Today, even the hated Exxon charges an extra 50c for a tank of gas – AND A NICE CLEAN TOILET SEAT. That’s how they make those enormous profits, while the others limp along selling the same gas to the same markets – with nothing else to offer.

    Like Americans, Venezuelans really are cheerful and polite; not like the few despicable worms who rule you today. You will find yourselves again someday, when The Great Class War of Chavez is over and people feel less like blaming everyone else for their meager share of that great virtue of socialism: equal misery for all.




  32. In all the years Chavez has pontificated on TV rarely has he tried to change the Venezuelan work and social ethics. Something that does not cost Bolivars but rather makes Venezuelans more productive. Rather, he has run a game show, telling them what he is going to give them with their money. Even with these Marxists running Venezuela, it is still the NON-Workers paradise! Imagine the slogan “non workers of the world arise” !


    • Try to change the Venezuelan work and social ethics????? Chavez is the epitome of the Venezuelan lazy tit, making a hell of a lot of noise, scheming (as the Africans say), always conspiring, against the state before, against the constitution these days and not doing a useful day of work in his sorry life. “Dejenlo trabajar” they say.


    • The main reason I have a good laugh (LOL), coming up from the belly, every time I hear this is a Marxist Revolution.

      Marx and successors, for all their mistakes, tried to organize people who worked hard for a living, against injustices, real and perceived.

      Kepler characterized chavismo perfectly as an oil-oriented cargo cult (to get the mythical benefits of Marxism).

      Charly is right. The Venezuelan military are going to teach us something about being workers, rising against privilege, fighting for equality and stamping out greed. ROTFLMAO.


  33. Kepler,

    It is Platano, NO Cambur …. hmmm – you seem to be failing the Venezuelan 101 vocabulary – carefull or we are going to start thinking you are CIA cover or perhaps a G2 one,


    Excellent customer service in Venezuela exists you just need to know where to look. Go to businesses run by their owners or family. To get the same level of service in USA or EU you have to pay through your nose, as this is considered Boutique service.

    That is why I say you should think of this as social research. What is in the Venezuelan common psyche that when someone becomes a service employee for a corporation the worst behavior of the Venezuelan Rentista becomes the preponderant model. My guess is that this must have a simple explanation based on individual incentives and rewards, and that is where the problem lies.

    Or why do you think you had to make a 3 hour line at the bank ? – Free money is being handed out, so there must be some disincentive to counterbalance the otherwise infinite demand. Therefore the 3 hour line. How much are 3 hours worth to you and to the next guy in-line ?

    On the other matter, if you can’t get to empanadas while in Maracaibo, then it would be unforgivable if you don’t bring back a BOX of Tequeños and a dozen Golfeados. As any Maracucho worth his salt knows, I am not referring to the supermarket frozen kind.

    If you dare, take a picture and put it on the blog.


    • sorry, I meant plátano, I just did not want to follow it up as it was OT.
      Mea culpa…but never heard of empanada con plátano. I will ask people who live between Morón and Patanemo.


  34. On the other matter, if you can’t get to Empanadas it would be unforgivable if you don’t bring back a box of Tequeños and a dozen Golfeados. As any Maracucho worth his salt knows I am not referring to the Supermarket Frozen kind.


    • I’m back home now, and I did eat tequeños and empanadas by the boatload. But I wouldn’t dare try to bring some of that through the fastidious Chilean border guards.


  35. I could not agree more – can confirm many of Juan’s experiences. The only place I remember where I got more or less satisfactory service attitude was Sambil Caracas…


  36. Guys i live in Mcbo and i have to say this:

    -We don’t eat Golfeados in Maracaibo, they may sell it somewhere but i don’t see or hear it at all.
    -Empanadas de platano, i’ve never heard of em, my girl is more “rajaa” than me and she hasn’t either.
    -Empanadas de pabellon: they got introduced to the mainstream maracucho market last year and they kinnd of disappeared.

    Juan, something you can and HAVE to enjoy is gastronomy.
    Patacones,frituras y aprovecha los puesticos de hamburguesas en la noche.Pabellon,mondongo, platano picaro etc etc et cetera!!!!
    125Kilos worth of knoledge


      • No son de plátano! son de pabellón… The only thing they lack inside is the rice. I have been eating them for more than 20 years, but not in Caracas thou. In Margarita.


    • Que?! Yo tengo 9 años en EE.UU y desde el ’95, cuando estaba en la universidad, comia empanadas de pabellon! Como que estan en extincion, o estan entre los exiliados. Sera que son mas que todo de la C.O.L.?

      Los golfeados son de Caracas, hasta donde recuerdo.


  37. Here are some of my experiences in Venezuela, none of them particularly tragic.

    1. I phone up to order a pizza. A couple of hours later, sans pizza, I call back and ask for an ETA. They still haven’t made it. In fact, they have forgotten about it. Could you make it, please? I still want it. Sorry, we’re closing. No pizza for you.
    2. I order a cup of coffee in a bakery. The man uses old, wet coffee grounds, because the effort of refilling the machine with fresh coffee is too great. I ask if he would mind making it with coffee that hasn’t already been used, and he glares at me as though I had asked for a ride on his mother.
    3. The staff of an internet café try to throw me out, in the middle of the afternoon on a business day, because they wish to dust the computer I am using.


    • Yikes.

      I can take the Aserca blowhards, but double’dipped coffee? That would make me blow my top.


  38. It has been one of my dreams to open up a stationary store in Maracaibo right next to DIMEX and their stupid billing system.

    Customer support horror stories are endless.

    My wife tried to buy a pair of shoes once, and the shop-owner would not sell them because it was the last pair she had. Giving the explanation that if she sells the last pair, how will people know that she sells those particular shoes?

    An open forum for this kind of stories would be a huge time-sink for me.

    I’ll stop now.


  39. Excellent post Juan. I felt identified since I went back home last month and took a flight from Venezolana from Maracaibo to Caracas and while the plane was lifting on air one of the engines exploded and the plane went down alsmot crashing. Luckily the pilot relied on one engine and had the guts to return to land and kept us safe. I demanded Venezolana my moeny back for the engine explosion after my wife suffered a nervous attack (she was sitting next to the turbine that exploded and saw it all) and they returned the money after one month after asking letters of explanations, copies of our cedulas and all crap you can imagine. Anyway, the worst part is that the government declared that that “was not an accident” and the plane only had a little mechanical issue on air that made the pilot to bring the plane back to check it. ¡OMG! After a a couple of days, the freking plane was back on service and they started to use it for their flight to Panama and the same thing happened 3 weeks after. What kind of security standards do they have? How come planes that still have ashtrays in the armrest are on service? The answer: Oil prices! While world airlines look for more gas efficient airplanes, in Venezuela we still use those huge and heavy monster since the gas is pretty much free for these inoperant companies. By the way, I filled the tank of a Jeep Chrokee with 5 bolivares and while waiting I drank a Frescolita…for which I paid….you guessed! 5 bolivares.


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