CBC Radio: Venezuela loves Canada, at least at Christmas

With the holiday season coming up fast, people who celebrate Christmas are probably picking up their tree in the next week or so. Whether you are cutting your own, or just dropping by the lot at the grocery store. It’s a tradition for city and country dwellers alike.

Well, it turns out Canadian Christmas trees are not just popular here.. they’re also a hot commodity in Venezuela. Under the shade of tropical trees, the scent of Canadian spruce and fir trees is just as sweet.
Storefronts like the JVL ornament shop in the Las Mercedes neighbourhood of Caracas are full of holiday decorations: giant inflatable Santas and Christmas lights.

Shirley Ramos rings up customers buying wreaths and strings of LED lights. It’s her 18th year working here. She started when she was 12. She says people crave the smell of Canadian evergreens. (Everyone here just calls them pines.)

Outside, 24-year-old Seyna Krisciunas and her mother are waiting for the staff to finish making wreaths and little arrangements of cuttings. She says the family has always bought natural trees, “because my grandpa and my grandma are from Europe.” The post-World War II immigrants brought their traditions.

“My grandpa and grandma always said the smell remember their country because their trees over there smell like that,” she says. “The smell recalls all the things that you passed with them.”

Trees start at 1,500 bolivars. That’s about two week’s pay for many Venezuelans. But Shirley Ramos the store clerk, says the 2013 price is much lower than last year. In 2012, the price soared to 3,500 bolivars, or almost two month’s minimum wage at the time.

Prices here are unpredictable because Venezuela has currency controls. Unless the government deems the product important, dollars aren’t allocated and must be obtained on the black market, driving the price up. That’s what happened in 2012.

But with municipal elections coming Sunday, President Nicolas Maduro has been trying to build support for his party by making Christmas shopping cheaper. Christmas tree importers got their cheap dollars and the price of trees dropped dramatically.

That’s good news for Canadian exporters, says David da Silva, political counselor at the Embassy of Canada in Venezuela. He says Canada sells the Bolivarian Republic more seed potatoes and Blackberry phones, but Christmas trees are a steady seller.

“There’s the magic of having Canada’s image associated with the tree. We are the home of Santa, we are the home of the North Pole, and I guess Venezuelans like everyone else around the world would like a piece of that action,” he says. “This year there are 16,000 Christmas trees beng imported to Venezuela, that’s allmost a half-million Canadian dollars.”

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About Steven Bodzin

Steven Bodzin is a reporter. He blogged when he was a freelancer.

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