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  • People sip cocktails at the posh Buddha Bar in Caracas, Venezuela.

    People sip cocktails at the posh Buddha Bar in Caracas, Venezuela. | Photo: AFP

Published 21 June 2017

"By day we throw stones and by night we come here," a customer said while dining with her oil executive husband at the exclusive Buddha Bar.

As Venezuelans continue to suffer from the Washington-backed economic siege on the Bolivarian republic, a small minority in the country has managed to retain a swank lifestyle, munching on sashimi and pork ribs while drinking cocktails at exclusive country clubs and discos.

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The vast gulf between the wealthy and the poor, who continue to survive on subsistence aid provided by the government, illustrates the continuation of inequality in the oft-maligned country whose socialist leaders are often depicted by the opposition as Cuban agents taking orders from Havana to impose a barracks-style “communistic experiment” on Venezuelan society.

In truth, the embattled social democracy has suffered from the precipitous fall in oil prices that occurred in 2014, slashing state revenues and causing hardships for average working-class Venezuelans.

A luxury shopping mall in Caracas, Venezuela. | Photo: AFP

At the same time, wealthy Venezuelans have been frequenting locations like Buddha Bar, an international nightclub chain that set up its first South American location in 2015, erecting tall fortified walls and serving tuna steaks, fish tacos, salmon tartar and almond parfait.

For the price of 55,700 bolivars — more than a quarter of the official monthly minimum wage — diners can partake in eight pieces of salmon and shrimp sushi.

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"You can have as good a time here in Caracas as in New York, Dubai or Saint Petersburg," one of its owners, Cristhian Estephan, told AFP.

In many cases, guests enjoy the sumptuous meals after doing battle with state security agencies and demanding an end to the “stifling dictatorship.”

"By day we throw stones and by night we come here," a customer named Ahisquel said, while dining with her oil executive husband.

Indeed, wealthy social layers in Venezuelan society have felt some discomfort from the inflation rate afflicting the country, but they are often shielded from the worst of it by their U.S. dollars. And for the ultra-rich who benefited from the private extraction and export of petroleum from the country, refuge could always be found in Miami, Madrid, Los Angeles and New York.

However, the wealthy remain unhappy with a social order that's seen vast shifts of power toward the poor since Hugo Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution upended the “traditional” and highly inequitable status quo in the South American country, even when they've managed to worm their way into the ranks of Chavismo.

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"Wealth in Venezuela is generated by state revenues that depend on the oil sector," Simon Bolivar University sociologist Colette Capriles told AFP. "The state redistributes that revenue. The Chavez government used it with preference for those who needed it most," she added, noting that the funds went toward social welfare spending.

However, the so-called “boli-bourgeoisie” have managed to use the nationalized oil industry to line their own pockets, growing rich in the process.

For the Chavista grassroots, hopes are that the national Constituent Assembly – which will gather workers, farmers, people with disabilities, students, retirees, the business sector and communal councils – will chart a fresh course, penning a new Bolivarian Constitution that will redistribute popular power to the country's masses and usher in a period of relative peace, steering the country away from the chaos propelled by the MUD opposition's increasingly violent protest tactics.

Nevertheless, Buddha Bar diners with discerning tastes like Ahisquel desire nothing less than top-class governance catering to their luxurious appetites.

"After the protests it is good to have a moment to relax,” she said. “Though we'll never relax until this government is gone."

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