Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Chavismo and Libros

In my ongoing tour around the Latin American book publishing markets, I had the opportunity to stop a few days in Venezuela.

The first thing that struck me was the incredible high cost of living. A taxi ride from the airport to Caracas goes for 120 USD, a room at the Marriott for almost 400 USD, renting a room for a presentation at the Intercontinental, north of 2000 bucks.

I mean, those are prices worth of high business season in Manhattan… in Buenos Aires (3hrs away from Caracas) the same level of services would go for 30% of that. In Bolivia, were I was the week before, less than ¼.

So what’s going on? It didn’t take me much to figure it out. Everybody, from the taxi driver, to the book publisher would tell you. And in fact, they did tell me. It’s all about the Comandante! Since Chavez won his first elections (coincidentally the last exact time I happened to be in Venezuela, 9 years ago) he started a long process of deep political - economical manipulations that have been reshaping the whole scenario of the Latin American economies.

One of the consequences evident even to the most clueless of the visitors is the black market for dollar. All locals would translate the costs of a taxi ride from bolivares into dollars at a rate than is 2:1 from what the official exchange rate, thus making my same 120USD taxi ride cost me about 50, had I exchanged my dollars with any of the hundreds folks who offered me at the airport rather than at the usual ATM…

Not even in Cuba I had seen such an extensive use of a black market..

Now the second thing that really struck me though, was during my presentation in front of the 30 major book publishers of the country. Supposedly, the growing number of government owned publishing houses, have been used for propaganda, flooding the market with hundreds of new titles, some of which had to be printed in Cuba for lack of domestic fast book throughput.

Every corner of the Venezuelan society transpires of the eternal fight between the 2 political-economical blocks. Yet, at least for what I could see, the 2 worlds of commercial and governmental book publishers seem to be strangely in peace, sitting around the same tables, asking similar questions, eating the same arepa-based breakfast without evident conflict.

Well. Thanks god I had time to ruminate those thoughts (and more) zipping margaritas in the nice Margarita island for the week end… this time, exchanging money in the black market (equals 2X margaritas…)