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The trick is to look the barman in the eye and give a short, emphatic nod as you order a Coke. Discreetly, the rum tumbles in and, discreetly, you toast the barman, your accomplice in crime. The Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, has banned alcohol in the week leading up to Easter Day to try to cut the number of drink‐driving‐related accidents, which soar during the holiday exodus for the beach. For Venezuelans, by some measures Latin America's biggest boozers, the edict has resounded like a clap of thunder. “Revolution? Fine. But with this Chavez has gone too far. This is just crazy, it's extremism,” said a 55‐year‐old who asked not to be named. Normally the motorcycle courier embraced the president's efforts to usher in a socialist revolution, including land reform, the nationalization of certain industries, and rhetorical assaults against the US. When it came to the dry law, however, this self‐professed “Chavista” was a counter‐revolutionary. “It's the holidays and if I want to drink I'll drink.” Many view the ban as bold and enlightened. “I've never liked Chavez but this is a good move. Driving at this time of year is to take your life in your hands,” said Veronica Castejon, 32, a Caracas saleswoman. Others across the region urged their governments to follow suit. “I wish we could adopt the same measure in Colombia,” one Medellín resident told the BBC. The sale of alcoholic beverages is prohibited on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day and between now and then it is illegal to sell alcohol after 5pm. Obtaining a drink after sunset, however, is not so hard. Many of the bars and restaurants still open this week continue service as usual, though with a wink. The police, who also seem to have been surprised by the ban, have ensured that off‐licences shut at 5pm, but otherwise seem to have turned a blind eye to clandestine consumption. In bars, wine and beer are liable to be served in coffee mugs or polystyrene cups. The atmosphere echoes the Prohibition‐era US “speakeasies”. Venezuela was the world's seventh biggest Scotch importer last year, according to the Scotch Whisky Association, and it is common to see motorists and pedestrians sipping beer in the morning. The flip side is carnage on the roads and drink‐fuelled violence which leaves dozens dead at weekends. That can rise to hundreds over public holidays.
From Guardian (London, UK). Contributed by John Langley.