CARACAS, Venezuela – Socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro celebrated his 58th birthday on the 23rd of November with a soirée broadcast by the state’s media apparatus with all the bells and whistles — while his citizens, reaching a new stage of the painful collapse of socialist Venezuela, are forced to chop down trees to use as firewood to cook.
Maduro’s festivities, seemingly exempt from all of the coronavirus social distancing measures he imposed on us, were a slap in the face of the battered citizens of Venezuela, forced to live by rules that do not seem to apply to the socialist regime elite in any capacity whatsoever. The party featured performances by merengue artists friendly to the socialist regime, such as Bonny Cépeda and Omar Enrique; Venezuelan joropo music; and even a Mariachi band, wrapping it all up with a three-tier cake that the majority of the country can only dream of.
In contrast to this joyful celebration is the ongoing cruel reality of Venezuela, a country that continues to be flung back to the stone age by the Bolivarian Revolution’s “Socialism of the 21st Century.” Not only is purchasing food ever so difficult due to the out-of-control hyperinflation and low wages, but now it is becoming increasingly hard to cook what food you can get your hands on.
Barrancas del Orinoco: La descarga de un camión con leña para ciudadanos, en Monagas, para cocinar, tras la falla de los servicios públicos en el país. Video: @Javier_Chirinospic.twitter.com/4hOBLmxpFS
— Sumarium (@sumariumcom) November 9, 2020
The steep cooking gas shortages that have affected many over the past years have reached a critical point and coalesced with the worsening blackouts, which render electric stove tops inoperative — therefore leaving no way for people to cook anything. With no other alternatives, chopping down trees to use as firewood has become the only way for many to cook meals for their families. Venezuela’s military, which answers to Maduro and the Socialist Party, has begun a campaign to distribute firewood, justifying the inhumane shortages with personal anecdotes of yore.
It is worth mentioning that all of Venezuela’s cooking gas production is exclusively handled by the State’s PDVSA energy company, in both methane and propane variants. 89 percent of the country relies on propane gas to cook, but with a meager production of 18,000-20,000 barrels a day, four out of ten households in Venezuela no longer have access to it. Due to a lack of pipeline infrastructure, only seven percent of Venezuelans receive methane gas.
I suppose I should consider myself fortunate that I get my gas this way because – unlike water, power, and other services – it is the one thing that hasn’t failed for me over the past years. For now.
Much like everything else subject to shortages over the past years, cooking gas cylinders can be found in the black market, for a price. A single propane gas cylinder can cost upwards of $40 — impossible to afford for many, as Venezuela’s monthly minimum wage, which was recently raised to 1,200,000.00 bolivars per month, amounts to essentially nothing. The Venezuelan bolivar, an already worthless currency, has plummeted even harder over the past days, breaching the million bolivars per U.S. dollar threshold once again, now in its “sovereign bolivar” iteration.
The continued chopping down of trees for firewood has raised alarm among environmentalist agencies, who have noted the inevitable ecological damage this is causing nature. Furthermore, continued exposure to wood smoke poses a serious health risk that can cultimate in grave issues, such as pulmonary emphysema, and with Venezuela’s healthcare system all but demolished, it’s not like you can get proper treatment should you face a health issue as a result of long-term exposure to wood smoke — but in the eyes of Veneuelans who simply wish to survive and feed their families, it is a necessary evil.
The dichotomy of Maduro and his socialist regime dancing and cheering on live tv while the rest of the country suffers isn’t a new phenomenon. It is part of our lives. In 2017, images of Maduro dancing while protesters faced the brutal and heavy repression of the Bolivarian National Guard in the streets of Caracas became very much embedded in our minds and is part and parcel of how the Venezuelan regime’s media apparatus operates to mask and distort reality.
Venezuela president dancing while soldiers shoot tear gas and clash with protesters. Perfect encapsulation of surreal state TV pic.twitter.com/jIqxbUXR7T
— Hannah Dreier (@hannahdreier) May 3, 2017
Venezuela is about to enter yet another grim and hopeless Christmas period, with a demolished currency, an ongoing gasoline shortage, and now an inability to properly cook. The regime will continue to mandate cheer. Sure, you can’t afford a three-tier cake like Maduro’s, let alone bake one that resembles the one Leopoldo López got his daughter in 2018 — stop worrying about all that, join the likes of former President of Bolivia Evo Morales, and congratulate Maduro, the worker-president and driver of victories, for his 58th birthday.
Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.