Cursing Out Maduro Publicly Is All the Rage Now in Venezuela

(Bloomberg) -- Editors Note: There are few places as chaotic or dangerous as Venezuela. “Life in Caracas” is a series of short stories that seeks to capture the surreal quality of living in a land in total disarray.

There’s this little call-and-response game that Caraquenos have begun to play.

At a bar, a mall, in a plaza, a stadium, someone will suddenly shout out “Maduro” at full throat. The response comes instantaneously and loudly: “C--- de tu m----.’’ Raucous laughter follows.

It’s a wildly inappropriate, albeit quintessentially Venezuelan, thing to say in a public setting. (The idiomatic translation would be roughly something like “Go f--- yourself.”) The inappropriateness, of course, is exactly the point, providing both the caller and the responders an opportunity to cathartically pour out their hatred for the autocrat Nicolas Maduro. 

This is not the kind of thing one typically does lightly under a regime as savagely repressive as that of Maduro’s. But the rise of Juan Guaido, the young lawmaker seeking to topple the government, has stirred up a kind of confidence and optimism in Caracas that hadn’t been seen in years.

Cursing Out Maduro Publicly Is All the Rage Now in Venezuela

Yes, the setbacks of this past weekend—when Guaido’s bid to bring international aid into the country was violently thwarted by Maduro’s henchmen—clearly dented the buzz in the capital city some. It was a harsh reminder that regime change will not come quickly, if at all. And yet, the mood here remains palpably different than it did in the days and weeks before Guaido emerged out of nowhere last month to assert his claim to the presidency and win the backing of dozens of countries.

It’s apparent in the topic of the conversations one hears in restaurants and shops (lots of politics) and in the tenor of these conversations (animated and loud). If no one wanted to talk about such stuff a year ago, everyone within shouting distance jumps into the debate now.

“They believe that this is going to change,” said Ines Bernadette, who owns a tiny dive bar. “And so do I.”

This optimism isn’t necessarily manifesting itself in more spending. Even in the wealthier eastern sections of Caracas, where Bernadette’s place is located, years of economic collapse and hyperinflation have left people with precious little spending money. Bernadette, who at age 75 singlehandedly runs the bar, said she sees her clients calculate the number of beers they can afford. “But at least they seem happy.”

Cursing Out Maduro Publicly Is All the Rage Now in Venezuela

Ivan Zambrano, a comedian, noted the same. Attendance for his stand-up shows continues to slide, but those who do attend are more engaged and alive and, he says, “react better to political jokes.”

And there is no better-received joke nowadays than the call-and-response Maduro line. This was on full display on one recent night at a Spanish tapas bar just down the road from Bernadette’s place. There was a band playing ballads in the corner. The leader, a young, curly-haired pianist, grabbed the mic on three separate occasions and screamed “Maduro.” And each time he did, the shouts back, and the laughter, grew louder.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.