My last Uber Chauffeur drove a black Corolla and was worth $10,000,000. He called himself Schlomo, a Jewish name that sounds out of place in South Florida. I didn’t bring it up, but the conversation came around.
“Are you Jewish?” He asked me halfway through the ride.
“Not everyone can be perfect” He replied, smiling at me in the rear-view mirror.
This came up after I asked Schlomo how old he was when he moved to Venezuela. So far we had talked about the history of Venezuela, the daily corruption, his son’s successful career on Wall Street, and the advantages of living in a tropical climate. I rarely seek conversation with my Uber drivers, but this time I wanted to know more. Schlomo seemed to be in good spirits for a man who lost his life’s work six months ago.
A Fallen Country
Venezuela is one of the most violent countries in the world at the moment. 2015 saw an estimated 27, 875 murders. That’s 76 homicides every day in a country one-tenth the size of America. Most go unsolved. People wait hours for toilet paper, eggs and bread. Inflation is so rampant that it’s impossible to exchange the Bolivar for dollars. The inflation rate in 2015 was 180%, crippling buying power and forcing people to shop on the black market. Schlomo brought this to life for me by giving a first hand recollection of how Venezuela’s out of control government has affected him.
“I know Venezuela like the back of my hand. I’ve flown all over, all four corners. It’s a beautiful country and I loved living there. 30 years ago I began my company and today, if I could sell it in dollars, it would be worth $10,000,000. I had hundreds of employees, it’s a big business! I owned apartments, restaurants and property. That’s all gone. I left it in Venezuela.”
I ask: “If there is a change in government is there any chance you could get everything back?”
“Maybe. But there will be no change in government. Venezuela is corrupt and will not change. That’s why I’m here in America now. I couldn’t stay in Venezuela any longer. They nationalized my company, they took away everything. I had nothing left to stay for.”
This is life in Venezuela, and if you fight you can be imprisoned or killed. That’s happening today, in a country three hours from Miami. Nor is Schlomo the only affected Venezuelan that I know. Beatrice, the wife of my friend in South Florida, had her family’s chocolate plantation nationalized. Her family lost everything in the name of an ideal that has probably never existed anywhere but paper. It’s a terrible waste and a scarily accurate example of the world that Ayn Rand created in Atlas Shrugged. So while the chances of positive change in Venezuela are slim, the chances are much higher that Schlomo will remain the wealthiest Uber Chauffeur I’ll ever shake hands with.