Within the framework of the exchange control system implemented by the Bolivarian government since 2003, there came a time when practically any worker could have access to a quota of dollars at a regulated cost.

Thus, the worker bought a plane ticket and got prepared to travel around the world, especially in Latin America.

Travelers mainly made purchases or acquired foreign currency in cash, in both cases the purpose was to sell them in the informal market upon return.

From our travels around the world, I especially remember an anecdote that took place in the city of Quito, Ecuador, and that allows me to establish the starting point for this reflection.

Some told me that when they went to eat in any restaurant, my compatriots were struck by the fact that the waiter or waitress only placed a thin napkin for each diner, when in Venezuela in a similar service, you had available all the napkins of the package for free use, you could even use the complete package without anyone being surprised.

With this story I intend to illustrate a feature that is part of our culture, that is, our tendency to excess consumption that configures us as the children of waste.

In present-day Venezuela, the consumption habits of the majorities in the cities were associated with excess, with waste. There was no reason for moderation, nor was there any reason for it. The sign of progress was the fact of how much you wasted while the common one aspired to be incorporated to that idea of progress.

Being outside this dynamic was a symbol of misfortune and poverty, isolating you from those who had obtained the “blessing” of being part of a growing group. So we access and use available resources as if they had an innate characteristic: infinity. Socially, this led us to get drunk, and in this state to breathe pride over other traits of Venezuelanity.

Just to illustrate to the readers who never visited Venezuela, to those who are barely aware or simply to those who prefer to forget, I will make references to some facts in everyday life, of a long litany that give account of this cultural trait of the inhabitants of these lands.

The gasoline has indiscriminate use; a driver can stop his or her vehicle and keep the engine running for up to an hour, to continue enjoying the air conditioning just to not sweat, while his or her companion does the shopping.

In many families, the lights in the house or the stoves in the kitchen are not turned off, to avoid the bother of operating the switches. In the city that I habit, in the western State Zulia, the air conditioners were not extinguished and they were maintained to the minimum temperature of 16 ºC so that when the family arrived, an “icebox” was to their disposition.

II

How was this trait constructed in Venezuelans?

The anthropologist Luis Pérez told us in a recently organized exchange of knowledge that with the beginning of oil exploitation in Venezuela, we began to move from a rural society with autonomy to guarantee its way of life to a society with the dynamics of the mine.

This transit allowed us to have the resources to acquire what was needed, no longer in our vital space, but in a global market, and in this way the relationship begins with the references of modernity or progress, which in these areas are used indiscriminately. In this way we incorporate ourselves into the consumption of the latest of the latest in the West.

Crude-oil-between-a-curse-and-a-blessing

Crude oil, between a curse and a blessing | Image from Wall Street International.

The workers of the oil industry at the beginning of the 20th century were the first to begin to relate to those who carried this trait, that is to say, the foreign personnel of foreign companies, especially American and British. The novel, for that moment, “oil fields” were the showcase that allowed showing the “American” lifestyle.

The demands of those who worked in this sector, after surpassing the elementary (drinking water and sanitation), were to enjoy the benefits of that lifestyle that was marketed as what everyone had and deserved, if it did the right thing within the system of production relations, and that was opposed to the generalized state of misery in which they found themselves.

With the advances in the Venezuelan democratic system and the increases in the contributions of the oil companies to the national treasury, a series of conditions were generated from the middle of the last century for what some have agreed to call “the middle class”, whose fundamental aspiration was to emulate consumption patterns based on the standards of American society. In this way, U.S. firms gained a secure niche for their products and services.

The proposals of the aspirants to lead the governments during the 20th century were fundamentally framed in the idea of socializing access to consumption, using the oil rent as a mechanism to make this purpose possible. It came to coin terms that in essence underlie our social imaginary, such as “The Great Venezuela, and that were constituted in a recurrent promise to secure one more part of the cake so that all of us would participate in the orgy of consumption.

It was not possible to keep this promise, since in the end, most of the cake was taken by others and in the seventies, the oil price crisis began to gestate, which compromised access to the desired lifestyle.

At the end of the nineties, Chávez took over the government when he won the presidential elections in the middle of the worst moment of this crisis. To do so, he discursively and legislatively assumed to overcome this vision, but institutionally and socially, the Bolivarian Revolution acted in the opposite direction.

Thus, we only remained in the socialization of income, by different means; which ended up recovering the spirit of ruthless consumption, making socialism represent for the majority, more than a project of change, the possibility of access to products that in the past we could not access and that the global market was available to provide.

III

Today, the aggression against our country is expressed in the affectation of the oil rent and the establishment of financial barriers that limit our access to global markets to acquire essential resources or not for daily life. This situation has forced us to assume a logic of contingency, so we are making reasonable use of the few resources we have at our disposal. Now that water is scarce, we are more careful with every drop. Now that public electric service is not constant, people are starting to turn off the lights they do not need. Yet we long for the past and each time the provision of a resource is stabilized, we re-develop wasteful habits so that we are now in a dual mode.

As a society, we have come to a situation where other peoples have come before for different reasons such as war or natural conditions. Conditions that affect the way of assuming life. Now I remember the first opportunity that I visited Palma de Mallorca, within the framework of cooperation between Mallorcan and Venezuelan social organizations, I was able to learn part of the history of this island people from the stories of its people.

Of all the stories, I especially remember those of an old woman, mother of a friend. She told me about the difficult moments about the poverty on the island, where families had been for decades and its causes, as well as the ways in which they had managed to bear them and which formed part of their way of being today.

These situations generated key learning in that community, such as the need to incorporate austerity into social habits, which was expressed, for example, in gastronomy (now advertised as specialties). Today Mallorca is another and we should ask ourselves if the current generation sustains this legacy of their ancestors.

Electricity-supply-problems-are-now-constant

Electricity supply problems are now constant | Image from Wall Street International.

IV

At this point, a question arises: can we remove ourselves from the culture of waste if we live in a mine? A mine that now has not only oil, but gold, diamonds and other rare and valuable elements for today’s markets.

The future in relation to the above depends on several things, but the key is to understand that just as it took time to socially configure ourselves, so it will take time to begin to notice the changes. In addition, it will be the circumstances and the leaderships that will shape the future.

The reality of the country is and will be marked by lack, either because of the effects of unilateral coercive measures by the government of the United States of America towards the Bolivarian government, or because of assuming those who oppose it apply a set of neoliberal measures. Therefore, the bottom is still missing.

Under these circumstances, the leaders keep the promise of recovering what was lost, that return to the “Great Venezuela” as a mechanism to hook followers. In the case of those who structure in function of the Bolivarian revolution, their main spokespersons have discursively abandoned references to alternative models, such as the “good living” approach, and assume the route of anything goes to maintain themselves.

Opponents do not differ, only that the proposal is to restore as much as possible the modus operandi prior to Chávez’s arrival. In short, in this aspect they maintain the same orientation.

Resistance does not make people aware, that is to say, that the behavior of people who experience deficiencies in Venezuela will tend to be the previous one if the previous state of things is restored, as long as it is individual. Only collective initiatives will begin to pierce this idea of waste, because in them different ways of assuming the satisfaction of needs can be experienced. In some organizations, especially the communes, they work in this direction.

On the other hand, the transit of the compatriots on the planet, surely are affecting our way of thinking and among other things are modeling other ways of relating to available resources.

These reflections are part of the need to propose other themes about who we are and the need to affect our identity with elements that allow us to be responsible with others and with our environment. An invitation to debate among ourselves and with others.