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CIUDAD GUAYANA, Venezuela — It was 7 p.m., and the restaurant was empty. I hadn’t been on a date in forever, and María, a student in electrical engineering, had a ponytail and red lipstick. What do you talk about on a date when your country is collapsing?I was taking her to my favorite place in the city, informal but charming, with plastic tables and chairs outside, and sometimes live music. Outside that restaurant, outside that bubble I wanted to get into that night, people were dying in the streets fighting President Nicolás Maduro’s bloody authoritarianism.The street lamps there have never worked well, and the dim lighting, which might have been pleasant under other circumstances, brought out the drabness of the place. The delivery truck didn’t come today.”“Soft drinks? That Tuesday was the 116th day of protests since the government-controlled Supreme Court stripped the opposition-led National Assembly of its powers, and more than 100 people had since died in clashes between demonstrators and police forces or paramilitary groups.Reggae music played in the background.“Would you like some beers? The day before, the opposition had announced more protests.That day, several people were shot and wounded in Ciudad Guayana, my city, the quiet city.Whether you're a teen awaiting her first kiss or over your forties and already a dad or mum, dating may be exhilarating and terrifying all at once. Timing could make all of the distinction between a very good call and a bad call.I live in Ciudad Guayana, an industrial city in northeastern Venezuela.The opposition isn’t very strong here, and the turnout for local protests hasn’t been great.
I said that people didn’t go out because they didn’t have enough money, and before I knew it we were talking about how the country was falling apart, just what I hadn’t wanted to do that night.I got rice, wheat flour, bananas, yuccas and potatoes. María and I decided to go to the main shopping mall: With any luck we’d find a place that wasn’t about to go broke.I saw several people carrying just two or three kilograms of rice in their arms — their groceries for the apocalypse, and they didn’t need a cart. It was almost deserted, but we were able to catch the last movie screening of the day, “Wonder Woman.” We had two hours and 20 minutes of not thinking about three-digit inflation, mass emigration and people feeding on garbage.So I’ve joined the marches to the courthouses, to demand respect for the Constitution, ask for the release of protesters who have been arrested and honor those who have died.That Tuesday last week I needed a break, I needed that date.
The following Sunday the government was going to hold a bogus referendum to create a constituent assembly, giving it unlimited power to change the Constitution.