You can buy a gallon of gas for pennies, but a used car costs $150,000. Don’t even think of buying a new car. It’s a six month wait in Caracas, Venezuela.
The national exchange rate is 6 Bolívares for every 1 US dollar. Yet, on the black market street exchange, with a little help from friends, you can get 28 Bolívares for every US dollar. There is a shortage of dollars and everybody wants them.
Hugo Chávez was President of Venezuela from 1999 until his death on March 5, 2013. During his Presidency, Chávez nationalized key industries, increased government funding of healthcare and education and attempted to reduce poverty through oil revenues. Many Venezuelans loved him. Many Venezuelans didn’t.
As a NorteAmericano, I have found Caracas to be a study in contrasts. The people love Chávez. They want him back. He’s dead, contrary to popular opinion.
Traffic, pollution, poverty and overcrowding are visible everywhere, juxtaposed against the towering high rises and upscale shopping malls of downtown Caracas. Crime is rampant. If you’re not Venezuelan, there are places you just don’t go. Period.
During my stay here in Caracas, I met some interesting and friendly people. They taught me early on to only cross the street when the cars weren’t coming, regardless of the color of the traffic light. I will keep these friends. Their skin color and nationality do not matter to me.
During my stay in Caracas, I also spent a fair amount of Bolívares. Yet, if I can change my money back at the nationalized artificial rate, I may take home more than I started with. When it comes to the friends I have made, there is no question about it, I am much richer now for having crossed the distance between countries. I hope to cross again, regardless of the traffic signals. In Venezuela, sometimes you just have to bend the rules.