Hugo Chavez's 'Excellent and Cheap' Socialist Restaurant

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Among the secrets buried in the State Department cables released by Wikileaks: Compared to capitalist food, socialist food is tasty and cheap. Or at least it is in Venezuela.

Shortly after the mammoth unveiling of cables began, my colleague Alexis Madrigal created the Cablegate Chronicles, a fascinating and above all entertaining repository of excerpts from the cables that he calls "polished narrative gems crafted with an ear for dialogue and an eye to catching the attention of bureaucratic higher-ups." (You can read about Iran's martial arts masters, how to run a licorice business in Turkmenistan, and how warthogs delayed the U.S. ambassador's arrival in Zimbabwe.) Alexis recently highlighted a cable describing the "Arepera Socialista," a restaurant started by the Venezuelan government that serves the stuffed cornmeal cakes known as arepas. Here's the full excerpt:



FROM: CARACAS, VENEZUELA
TO: STATE DEPARTMENT
DATE: JANUARY 19, 2010
CLASSIFICATION: CONFIDENTIAL
SEE FULL CABLE

Socialism's Tangible - and Tasty -- Benefits

¶2. (U) President Chavez opened the "Arepera Socialista" with much fanfare on December 22, advertising its low price and high quality as symbolic of the benefits of his socialist revolution. (Note: "Arepas" are a Venezualan-style thick cornmeal tortilla usually used for a type of sandwich. End Note.) The restaurant, located in a lower middle class neighborhood of Caracas, serves "arepas" for about a fourth of their regular price. It is currently only open during weekday mornings, although there are plans to extend its hours, add coffee and fresh juice to its menu, and open two new locations in working class neighborhoods.

¶3. (SBU) On a January 8 visit, EmbOffs witnessed a long line of people waiting to get into the restaurant but surprisingly rapid service. Inside, one wall was dominated by a quote in large red lettering from Simon Bolivar: "The best system of government is that which produces the greatest happiness." An employee managing the line said the restaurant served 1,200 customers per day. One man in line said he worked in the neighborhood and came every day since the food was excellent and cheap.

Money is Secondary in Socialist Restaurants

¶4. (U) According to Minister of Commerce Eduardo Saman, people can count on low prices at the "arepera socialista" because the ingredients come from government-owned companies and other products, such as boxed juices, come from government-owned companies. Saman claimed the prices were sufficient to cover the store's operating costs. He also announced on December 23 that a chain of "Arepera Socialista" restaurants would be opened throughout Venezuela as part of the Socialist Market Cooperatives run by the Ministry of Commerce. Saman himself worked at the restaurant on December 24; other Ministry of Commerce employees were "volunteering" at the restaurant on the day of the Emboffs' visit. About 30 people work at the restaurant.

¶4. (U) Besides the price, Saman highlighted another key difference between socialist and capitalist "arepera": customers pay only after eating, while "in fast food chains . . . they only think about money." In the "Arepera Socialista," the cash register is in a corner of the room and customers pay only after eating, self-reporting how many of the "arepas" they ate.

Comment: Let Them Eat Arepas


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Daniel Fromson, a former associate editor at The Atlantic, is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He writes regularly for The Washington Post. His work has also appeared in Harper's Magazine, New York, and Slate.

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