Caracas: Luxury of the Chavista Elite Meets at the Humboldt Hotel | International
Marcos Pérez Jiménez loved mountains and architecture. The thick-brimmed dictator ruled Venezuela in the midst of the economic crisis of the 1950s. It was the extravagant idea of building a hotel on top of a hill to gaze out over all of Caracas. He wanted to call him Humboldt in honor of the Prussian explorer. For its construction, he chose a young architect, Tomás José Sanabria. He demanded that he finish it in a year. The diligent boy delivered it in 199 days. In the main room, with large bay windows, the customer has the sensation of walking on the clouds which dance around. Pérez Jiménez didn’t have much time to enjoy it, in just two years he was overthrown. His enemies thought that to take care of him was to worship the general and abandoned him. Today, almost 70 years later and having been renovated by the efforts of Hugo Chávez, the hotel has become the symbol of the Chavist oligarchy which benefits from the new economic liberalization.
-At the hotel, please.
Humboldt customers don’t have to queue for the cable car to the top of Cerro El Ávila. An ostentation in a country where people spend their lives lining up to refuel. A golf cart awaits upstairs with the establishment’s name stamped on the nose. A paved path leads to the building, hidden behind the mist. The interior keeps a minimalist style, of the Bauhaus school, full of light, without columns, with curvilinear lines and decorated with Nordic armchairs and chairs by Arne Jacobsen.
The rooms are arranged around a large concrete cylinder. Its decoration is a throwback to the golden years of choker necklaces, gold cufflinks and fur coats. “It’s a reality, not everyone has to pay them,” explains Carlos Salas, the hotel’s director of operations. These are all double rooms, identical, priced at $ 350 per night. The country’s economic elites are the only ones to have trod its carpet.
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Venezuela has experienced an economic collapse over the past eight years that has destroyed the country. However, experts consider that it experiences a rebound effect after hitting bottom. The Chavist regime now allows the use of the dollar and has opened its hands to foreign investment. Entrepreneurs are taking advantage of lower taxes and the elimination of tariffs to do business. The effect it produced is that of a bubble. Large amounts of money are handled in this particular world. Cash. He also functions as a money launderer for hundreds of millions of dollars looted from profits from oil or drug trafficking. This created a new social class, similar to the Russian oligarchy of the 1990s, according to the newspaper the Wall Street newspaper, which fills hot spots like the Humboldt.
Real businessmen walk there, to be sure, but the “friends” of the government predominate, according to the definition of the economist Tamara Herrera. “The washhouse has a large area in the country. Opacity permeates all national activity. The absolute absence of State responsibility, which makes life easier for illegal activities or of dubious origin, ”he explains. An example is Colombian Alex Saab, extradited to the United States, accused of being the leader of Chavismo. Many fear the same will happen to them and spend all their money in Venezuela. “Of course, there are luxury spaces in which this is absolutely noticeable. “
Stalin González has climbed the hill more than once, albeit on foot. It takes four hours from Caracas through a tropical trail. When he crowns the summit, he is in awe of the Humboldt, but he does not enter. “Not even a pod. It’s full of trendy people, ”explains González, one of the opposition leaders. The term comes from a phrase by Henry Capriles, who during a presidential campaign said the state was a great outlet that many businessmen had connected to. “It’s a very elitist place,” González continues. “Not everyone who goes there, but it’s a Chavismo related environment.”
The influx of money reactivated part of the economic life of Caracas and other major cities in Venezuela. Problems persist, but some have been fixed. Stores are not suffering from the shortage before, taxi drivers who had disappeared with the collapse of the local currency have returned to the streets with mobile apps and luxury restaurants are opening their doors again. The Humboldt has plenty of alternatives to burn off those dollars, such as tours for the curious for $ 30. “All the ceilings are acoustic shells. The coverings are in green or blue. Sanabria wanted that when you look out and have that view of the horizon, you blend in with the vegetation on the hill and not interrupt the landscape, ”says a guide and visitors are stunned.
The country’s historical richness did not completely disappear with the collapse during the years of President Nicolás Maduro. Money abroad is still huge, inherited from an oil-rich country. These fortunes repatriated him to maintain his standard of living. Datanalisis study reveals that there are 3.5 million upper-middle-class Venezuelans. Half of 1999, yes, but still a significant number. “That’s why they fill places like the Humboldt and you see them. Of course, the poor population is much older. And that gives you the contrast, ”confirms analyst Luis Vicente León.
The company that manages the hotel concession is owned by regular contractors from Chavismo. The reconstruction required a large sum of public money. Companies like Marriott ran it for a while and gave up. It is not easy to find profitability: it has only 70 rooms. It’s more of a symbol than a money making machine. Salas, the manager, explains that he has clients of all kinds, although he recognizes that Chavismo particularly values work. Maduro was tasked with ending Chávez’s dream of making it happen. The manager particularly likes to show it to young people, under 30 years old. When they arrive, they do not believe they are still on the national territory. “They don’t understand that it exists, that it is possible. It was Venezuela. The country that was and can be again, ”he adds.
At the end of the day, the cable car takes the way back. The darkness of the night hides the abyss of the mountain. Upon arrival, the city and its problems come into view. Venezuela today.
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