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January 16, 2006

Comments

Alessandro Parma

Paranoid Recommendations from A Caracas Resident:

Residents of Caracas always say that they suffer from paranoia and can be extremely wary of all the potential dangers in Caracas.

This is for several reasons not worth going into too much detail here but let's just say as well as enjoying the Social Forum it might serve you to act like a native and be a bit paranoid yourself.

If the following comments appear negative don't interpret them as attacks on the Venezuelan Process or the 5th republic. Most, if not all, of the problems connected with these recommendations existed before 1998 and some were worse.

Caracas Police, Corruption Personified:
There are three types of police in Caracas but the most prevalent are the Metropolitan force wearing blue uniforms. These chaps are almost entirely corrupt to a man and considered to be as bad as the criminals if not worse.

It was the Caracas police force which was the main military element in the 2002 coup against Chavez and even though the senior command have been rearranged the rank and file appear to be as bad as ever.

They commonly shake down tourists and foreigners for bribes. They typically search your bags trying to find something illicit like drugs. Even if you have nothing illicit they will often take any money they find if they think you will not notice so watch them like a hawk.

If they cannot try and pin a crime on you they will ask you for your passport. If you do not show them the original they will say that is no good and insist that they have to take you to jail.

There are three ways to get round this;

1. One is to have a colour copy of your passport as Pablo has already recommended.

2. Another is to get officious with them. Pull out your mobile and say, “What law is this? I’m confused? I need to call my embassy. British embassy. Embajada Britanico”. These charming cops normally speak enough English to understand this and will back off if they think they get trouble.

3. The third is to pay them the bribe they are seeking. Even if you are caught with a small amount of narcotics the maximum on this should be about 20,000 Bolivares. If you have done nothing illegal try to keep it to 10,000.

Try to blend in a bit:

You may think this is completely pointless especially if you are as pale as a sheet of paper. Regardless of your complexion (many Venezuelans are very pale, especially the upper middle classes) it is still a good idea not to be too obvious.

Caracas dress code is pretty simple and easy to reproduce. Everyone wears blue jeans every day without fail. Above this a shirt or t-shirt and trainers or loafers. Venezuelan ladies tend to wear very revealing, brightly coloured low-cut tops that accentuate their figures. It might be best to avoid copying this.

Sandals and shorts are a big no-no. These instantly mark you out as a foreigner and tourist and make you more of a target. Caracaneos never or rarely seem to wear sunglasses either. Despite the mighty Venezuelan sun it could be best to leave all these items for when you visit the beach.

Don’t tempt them

Watches, cameras and jewellery are all best kept out of view. If you are in a group of people you are safer whipping out your digital camera however. Flash mobiles shouldn’t be used too much on the street at night either. Snatches are more likely than muggings, but if you are asked for your valuables it will typically be at gunpoint.

Also watch out in hotels, especially the cheap ones. Many have signs saying they accept no responsibility for thefts, even from their safe which they hide beneath the counter where they can’t be seen. Laptops, nice cameras etc should be left locked in the bag and cross your fingers.

A really good idea is to get a money belt for 5 quid at the airport and keep the bulk of your cash and passport, ticket in there. Therefore if in the unfortunate and unlikely event that your bag is pinched you won’t be left stranded. Also most Venezuelan muggers are too slow to spot them.

A bit of Lingo
Clearly having some Spanish is a good idea but even those without any can find these words useful. Although I don’t like to make corporate plugs I must say the Lonely planet Latin American Spanish phrasebook is solid and should be helpful. Words not in there that you might want are;

Chevere: (Che-vu-rey): Means Cool, great, yeah positive. Most commonly said Venezuelan word.
Panna: (Pan-ah): Means Mate or if your really street, blood
Epale Panna: (E-pah-ley) How’s it going mate?

Even if you know no other Spanish words just saying Chevere in the pauses when someone talks to you might help. Venezuelans like it when foreigners use their lingo.

Having said all that….

Hopefully all those suggestions haven’t terrified you witless. You can get by in Caracas without following any of these pieces of advice and be fine, especially if you are just going to be here for a few days.

These comments are meant to help those who want to minimize the risks of anything bad happening to them. Everyone should enjoy attending the forum and attempt to interact a bit with some Venezuelans.

Suerte y guida te! (Good luck and protect yourself)

Alessandro Parma
Journalist based in Caracas working for www.venezuelanalysis.com

GWEH

checkout venenews.net for news & info

A.M. Mora y Leon

Although this is a little politically incorrect in my circles, I traveled as a single lone female and found the army guys extremely helpful. If I was lost, they got me found, if someone was bothering me, they got rid of him. They got me good taxis and showed me how to get around safely. Don't be afraid of the army guys, even the scary-looking ones with big guns, they all were repeatedly helpful and friendly. I know it sounds counterintuitive but it's what I experienced.

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