Despite Runaway Inflation, Socialist Politicians in Venezuela Have a Taste for Luxury Watches
Before the 15 years of the populist/left mix “Bolivarianism,” oil-rich Venezuela was a country known for its beauty queens. Many luxury brands were also popular in the country. Apparently, the market for luxury watches is vibrant, especially if you are related to, or part of, the Chavista socialist leaders.
Amid the austerity of the recent years of low oil prices, the Venezuelan economy has shown its weak spot. Under Hugo Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro, investment has stopped. Such has the economy suffered that Venezuela, once a major food producer, has become a net food importer. However, it seems that Chavista socialist leaders still sport watches that cost as much as cars. (Source: “Venezuela’s top officials sport luxury watches while the rest of country starves,” Fox News, August 1, 2016.)
That’s what a popular Venezuelan blog, Relojes del Chavismo (The Watches of the Chavistas), suggests. The blog shows the watches of those associated with the Chavista regime in Venezuela. It’s not just the watches of Venezuelan Chavistas; rather, it also exposes the watches of the most famous leftist wrists in Latin America. (Source: “Relojes del Chavismo,” Relojes del Chavismo, last accessed January 11, 2017.)
Who knew that Lider Maximo Fidel Castro sported not one, but two Rolex watches after winning the 1959 Cuban Revolution? Che Guevara also wore a classic “Rolex Submariner.” Rolex itself used a famous image of Che—taken while in New York for the UN General Assembly—sporting his Submariner. (Source: “La passione del Che e Fidel per i Rolex,” Cubaora, May 16, 2015.)
Former Argentine millionaire, but Chavez ally, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, is also shown wearing a watch that most would have to work for a full year to buy. Time is money indeed in the Chavista world. You would think that custom suits and luxury watches conflict with the ideals of socialism of the 21st century.
Not in Venezuela. The officials, if not their children or relations (featured widely on the above-cited blog), limit their public dress to red shirts and military uniforms. They inevitably sport the Venezuelan flag, favored by the late president, Hugo Chávez. But, look closer and you will spot a Rolex or even more exclusive Swiss brands. No Seiko watches there.
Hugo Chávez himself was pictured wearing various watches. None were especially notable. But his successors and followers seem to have been more inspired by Fidel in the horological department.
Time Is of the “Excess,” Not the Essence, in Bolivarian Venezuela
And why not? Time seems to be abundant in the Chavista heaven of Venezuela. In the times of shortages of such mundane items as food, Venezuelans have been busy waiting in line. They wait to buy such extravagant items as toilet paper and milk. Or they might need that medication. So, looking at a watch or a clock become something of a pastime.
If you’re going to be looking at a watch, why not make it a watch worth the time? Luxury watches have become so pervasive among the Bolivarian elite that the Watches of Chavismo blog was launched during a wave of protests in early 2014.
The blog takes its cataloguing task seriously. It identifies meticulously the brands and prices of Venezuela’s revolutionary leaders’ favorite watches. Che had a Rolex, but surely Venezuela’s minister of defense, Vladimir Padrino López, deserves at least an “IWC Pilot Chronograph Top Gun Miramar.” The President of State Television Winston Vallenilla makes do with a “Rolex Yacht-Master.”
But there’s good news: average Venezuelans will have more income. They can start dreaming about their next timepiece. Last May, in fact, President Nicolás Maduro increased the minimum wage from 11,578 bolivars to 15,051 bolivars.
With such a salary, a budding Venezuelan horological collector would have to work about 80 years to earn the $12,600 needed to buy a Rolex Yacht-Master. But he better hurry, because inflation waits for nobody in Venezuela. It’s one of Venezuela’s recent records: the highest inflation in the world.
That price may have already changed by the time your eyes shifted to read this paragraph. On January 8, President Maduro said he would raise the minimum monthly wage to 40,000 bolivars. That’s about $60.00 at the highest official exchange rate. It’s $12.00 on the black market. At that rate, you would have to be no less than Methuselah to afford a Rolex Yacht-Master in Venezuela.