Justin Vela

The Book: Family business…

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The flaws in Chavez’s revolution, it seems, are best represented by his own family. Before becoming mayor, Anibal Chavez was a local school teacher. According to Alfredo Aldana, Chavez told him to run for mayor and he won the election because of Chavez’s popularity.

“He [Anibal] doesn’t do anything,” a Sabaneta resident named Maria says. “He’s bought presents for his wife. He’s bought cars for himself. Before he was a poor teacher. Now he is a rich man.”

“Anibal is not in line with the president,” Adrian Frias says. “The problem here is ninety percent of our government is corrupt. Chavez no, but the rest…yes.”

Barinas, Venezuela. February 2007.

According to Alfredo and Adrian, Chavez came to Sabaneta the previous November to inaugurate a new Bolivarian school and sugar factory. I see his scrawling red signatures across a bulletin board at the Bolivarian school, but construction at the sugar factory, Anibal’s responsibility, is not yet finished.

Several people in Sabaneta repeat to me a story first propagated by a local newspaper that when Chavez discovered the sugar factory was not working he went to Anibal’s home, kicked him in the face and took a baseball bat to one of his cars.

The story is more based in the sentiments of Sabaneta residents towards Anibal than any real truth. While interviewing him I had admired Anibal’s dentless cars, but the story evoked the situation.

Since the family took power, first Chavez in the presidency, followed by his father to the governorship (another brother, Adan, would take over for his father in 2008), then Anibal in Sabaneta, Barinas had remained one of the poorest states in Venezuela.

While numerous government projects are started, few are completed. Crime and kidnapping are on the rise and the Chavez family is accused of amassing more than twenty million dollars in illegal gains.

Aldana admits that there had been a confrontation between Anibal and Chavez at the sugar factory after a filming of Alo President.

“Hugo was angry and told Anibal that if he wants to remain the mayor he has to do something. If not he will be removed. My own perspective is that before Anibal everything was a mess. He has a lot to do. He has to do something massive.”

Alfredo sighs.

“Everyone hates Anibal.”

On our way back to Caracas our bus is stopped by police outside of Barinas City. R and I are told to get off and our passports are examined.

“You are here illegally,” the police commander tells me.

I have five days left on my visa and am going to Caracas to have it renewed.

“You are here illegally,” the police commander insists.

Next to us, other police officers are having a Colombian man remove his shoes. I begin to offer a bribe, but a police officer says, “Put your hands up.”

He reaches into my pockets and takes all the money I have on me.

“Show me your wallet,” he says to R.

He steps forward and snatches the money she has in her wallet.

Another police officer hands back my cellphone and 20,000 Bolivares, just enough to convince a Caracas cab driver to take us to a hotel where we can use our credit cards.

As Chavez’s home state, Barinas has been one of the main focus points of “the revolution.”

And this is what exists.

Two days later, I am in a section of the Simon Bolivar International Airport where wealthy businessmen close to the government, officials, and Chavez arrive to quickly have their passports stamped in a side office.

With a smile and flourish of his pen, the immigration officer-who I have been introduced to by a well connected friend-extends my visa until June. There will be no more police officers claiming I have overstayed my visa, but my interactions with Venezuelan state apparatuses are only beginning.

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Learn more about this book.


Written by Justin Vela

May 12, 2010 at 4:26 pm

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