I'm still trying to figure out how a Socialist country can have workers going on strike, but apparently, that's a common feature of the Chavez regime. I guess it's one of the changes that has been implemented in this new form of Social Democracy where the workers have much greater rights, but the businesses can still try to put one past them.
The day started out fine. The usual male talking on the bus going to work at 6:30 am was only occasionally punctuated by remarks about the traffic from the day before. "Do you know why there wasn't much traffic yesterday going to work?" One of the engineers asked.
"Didn't really pay attention."
"There was a strike on the bridges going across the river. It's gotten bigger since then and could threaten to get to our place."
But nothing more was said and we arrived to the industrial park of Faja without too much concern. Faja is huge, covering about 500 square miles, but access is very restricted and only authorized personnel are permitted past any one of its many entry points. We never have a problem since our buses are very well marked, but we do get to watch others park and go through the normal check points to pass through on foot. It's just one more chance for the crazy gringos on board to ogle at the pretty seÃ±oritas of Venezuela.
As I always do at the beginning of the day, I open up the main gate of the lay down yard and check for any signs of mischief from the day before. Squirrel showed up and we began talking about the weekend and Grandma Boso restaurant. Squirrel loves the place and the menu. He has a sworn goal to try everything on the menu at least once before leaving the country.
Around 8:00 am word started getting around that the protesters were heading for Faja in full force. Several thousand were said to be angry and looking for immediate results, though the results themselves were never clarified. Obviously, the "what-ifs" were flying everywhere.
By 9:00 am the grapevine was chock full of rumors. The protesters were through the main gates and were storming towards our main office only a few hundred yards further down the road. Someone mentioned that one of our busses had been attacked and the gringos inside shaken up. There were even reports of angry mobs forming and shouting, "Yanqui go home."
At 11:00 am I was called by our project manager, Bwana. Bwana is a middle-aged man who keeps entirely to himself, but who lets his prejudices speak for him. His idea of Venezuela mirrors Fox News 100%. As far as he's concerned, Venezuela is ruled by an evil dictator and the people are lazy and backwards. He is in Venezuela solely because he is being paid handsomely by a benevolent American company that has decided to help those who can't help themselves. Oh, and there are probably many who hate Americans for our freedoms.
Bwana sounded extremely nervous on the phone. "They are headed our way," he said with a very shaky voice. Even though we were over five miles away from the main office, Bwana was certain that an attack was imminent.
"They will probably want to set fire to our trailers and take us hostage. I've given instructions that the buses be on standby in case we need to get all gringos to safety on a moment's notice. Please close the yard up immediately and prepare to be evacuated." This seemed a bit extreme to me, but I was given an order and set about to close up the lay down yard and prepare for the coming onslaught.
About halfway to the yard, I see Coco coming in the opposite direction. Coco has been working for me for only a few days, but he is a native San Virgo resident and speaks both Spanish and English fluently. Like many young university students, he has taken time off from school to earn a few extra B's (the gringo term for the money of the country, Bolivars). For the most part, construction work is well paid, regardless of the country, and Venezuela is no different. The fact that Coco is studying engineering, as well as his fluency in both languages, makes him an ideal candidate for the Materials Department.
"Coco, what's all this about a strike and wanting to attack us gringos?"
"I don't know anything about attacking North Americans, but the strike is nothing unusual. It happens all the time. The workers don't get paid or they don't get their agreed-to benefits so they go on strike."
"But Bwana says that we gringos are in danger and that the striking group will be coming here to attack us any moment now."
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