Chavez vs. the spirits

If you're visiting Venezuela between now and Monday, April 9, don't expect to find it easy to get a cooling gin and tonic or cachaça in the afternoon.

President Hugo Chavez has banned the public sale of such beverages before 5 p.m. until after Easter Sunday, supposedly to reduce road deaths caused by drinking and operating vehicles in the traditionally heavy Easter week traffic.

There may be something to the safety idea. Venezuelans are known as two-fisted spirits drinkers, and in 2006 ranked seventh in the world in the importation of Scotch whisky, according to the Scotch Whisky Association.

Not that imbibing has halted in the capital city of Caracas. The Reuters news service notes "It is almost as easy as ever to get a drink in Caracas, although bartenders have to be careful. In restaurants, beer or whiskey bottles are removed from tables, and some even serve wine in coffee cups."

Chavez, whose "reform" moves usually have an anti-United States angle, says whiskey drinking is an affectation of the U.S. He already had cracked down on the illegal but popular practice of selling beer and rum from trucks in public and drinking on the streets.

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
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