Over the last four years in Venezuela, we have faced an unprecedented social, political and economic crisis. What was recently a country of prosperity and progress has been upended by a new and disastrous reality.
Our quality of life has deteriorated significantly. Before the economic crisis began in 2014, we ate what we wanted. Since then, we’ve grown accustomed to small portions. Supermarkets often lack basic foods, and even when they’re in stock the prices are exorbitant. There is a widespread shortage of products like soap, shampoo, birth control pills, paper towels, toothpaste, medicines of all kinds, condoms and more. The list is impressive.
Venezuela’s largest-denomination banknote, the 100 bolívar, is nearly worthless, to the point that the government has begun distributing a new 20,000 bolívar note. The Venezuelan Central Bank has stopped publishing regular official inflation figures, so opposition leaders in the National Assembly are conducting their own research using central bank methodology. Last year, inflation hit 741 percent, the highest in the world.
The effect has been devastating: malnutrition, crime, violent street protests and a mass exodus to nearby countries. In March 2016, to feed the population, President Nicolás Maduro created the Local Committees for Supply and Production, or CLAP in the Spanish acronym. The CLAP is a monthly, house-to-house distribution of bags or boxes of food at very low cost. Maduro insists the CLAP benefits the majority of Venezuelans, but the daily reality is different. The supply is intermittent, and pro-government “chavistas” control the distribution and discriminate against anti-government citizens. This strategy comes from the president himself in what he describes as an “economic war.”
“The situation,” as we call this nightmare, has absorbed every household. Even those financially privileged have been in decline, while the poor and middle class are in a downward spiral that shows no sign of relenting, where the only thing waiting for us is a greater scarcity of food and medicine.
For me, as for the vast majority, every day is another day of worry. When I wake up, my head is filled with the same questions: What will I eat after I go through what I can buy? Can I get some rice or pasta? Will the money arrive?
In my travels through various cities in Venezuela, I’ve seen how the social disaster devours entire families. Millions of citizens are desperate for a basic quality of life. Children go asking for money at street lights, the elderly are wandering the streets, people are picking through garbage for something to eat, mothers are begging for medical help for their children, patients are dying in hospitals for lack of medical supplies. The desperation is worse in poorer sectors, including areas dominated by chavismo. The unrest has reached places once thought secure, even the upper-middle class.
I met a woman named María on a visit to her neighborhood in the Pavía district of Barquisimeto, a city west of Caracas. She lives with her seven children and has not been married for five years. She works as a full-time maintenance worker in a small company. Her income is the family’s only livelihood. She told me her salary is not enough to cover her and her children’s meals. She has never received help from the government despite supporting the socialist revolution, though she told me Chavez was a well-intentioned guy she saw every Sunday on his program, Aló Presidente.
In the main cities like Caracas, Valencia, Barquisimeto and Maracaibo, the apocalyptic feeling has intensified. There, the problem of scarcity is coupled with rising crime on the part of both bandits and police officers, who steal and attack with total impunity. Every day is marked by fear and the fatigue of queuing to buy anything. This is the routine of the vast majority, including government supporters who cannot escape this reality either.
A few weeks ago, I had to return to my hometown here in Anaco after living on my own for four years in Barquisimeto. What had been at first a personal and professional adventure turned, after 2014, into a hard fight to survive. My basic salary could cover my expenses for a week, which meant borrowing or hoping for the kindness of someone close to me. But like everyone else, my monthly salary was insufficient. Rent, transportation and daily food were a constant concern.
So now I live in my family’s house, sharing a roof again with my mom, my brother and my dad. All of us work, except my mother, and yet we don’t manage to cover basic groceries, which cost around 1 million bolívares (around $80 at the black market exchange rate) per month. We each earn less than 300,000 bolívares.
Like many Venezuelan families, we have considered the option of having one of us leave the country, earn money abroad and send remittances home. But the price of tickets to any country in South America is increasing. Those who left had to sell their homes, their cars and anything else of value. A lot of my friends and family have opted to go. But from their new homes they confess how distressing it is to be in a better quality of life while their families suffer daily hardship.
The discomfort overwhelms me when I think I may have to leave my dreams behind and start a new life from scratch.
Chavismo vs. the opposition
Once, while working in Barquisimeto, I covered a protest in the north of the city. The residents of Las Sabilas neighborhood began to demonstrate that morning against the irregularities in the sale of food rations. They sent their message by closing the highway that connects the north of Barquisimeto with the city center. The road was blocked for more than three hours.
Annoyed by the anarchy, the inhabitants of a neighboring sector called El Pampero began to confront the demonstrators, accusing them of opposing the government. Some expressed their anger about the situation in the country, while others defended the misiones welfare programs. After hours of burning rubber and barricades, the protests came to an end when the state police intervened, dispersing them.
Many people are aware that the creator of this social division was Chavez, with his discourse of the poor against the rich and of xenophobia. Others say it was Maduro who radicalized the quasi-religious fanaticism of the so-called socialist revolution.
My questions are: Will it be possible for Venezuelans to come together and see beyond their own party? Don’t chavistas understand that Venezuela doesn’t belong only to them?
But it is no secret to anyone that, more and more, government militants are abandoning the revolution bandwagon. The list ranges from members of the military to former ministers. Evidence of this was the low participation in the elections of the fraudulent National Constituent Assembly, or Constituyente. Another scam against the people.
The results from the National Electoral Council (CNE) suggested there were 8 million voters. The opposition contends that participation was barely 3 million ballots cast, and the Venezuelan-owned corporation that manufactured the voting equipment concurred, saying that “without a doubt” the CNE tampered with the results. In every corner of Venezuela, people stayed home. It’s belittling to be lied to when we all witnessed empty polling stations.
This is the way they’ve managed the country, with a reactionary attitude, sweeping aside anyone who dares raise their voice against the list of atrocities: political opponents imprisoned, persecution, repeated violations of human rights, mistreatment, lies and more lies.
People are upset, and they’re demanding their rights. The feeling of impotence has led to the streets, which has resulted, as of August, in at least 129 deaths. But the insanity of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and the national guardsmen continue to trample the citizens, using weapons to silence the national chorus opposing barbarism.
What we want is for this to be stopped and that whoever assumes power next will be committed to solving the structural problems of the nation. We need leaders with productive visions for the country, not ego complexes. People of facts, not outdated utopian ideas.
Fanaticism has damaged the country. Its existence weighs deeply on our conscience.
A clear example of this are the confrontations between members of the same family. Statistically speaking, out of five people, four will oppose the government’s management of the crisis. This divide often cuts between fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters.
My family is no exception. My father, who works for a chavista government entity, is a blind devotee of the revolution, another government zombie. It’s insufferable to endure state propaganda on the TV or radio, but in a kind of household dictatorship my dad forces us, playing it at a deafening volume.
Discussions on the subject have a direct impact on our lives. During elections, my father warns us to support chavismo because otherwise we’ll stop receiving our miserable CLAP benefits. Direct blackmail. This is how the country operates now: through psychological manipulation and humiliation.
In today’s Venezuela, as a product of the political confrontation, being against the government is to be a traitor, while government supporters are branded as communists.
A way together
In the face of all the outrages and frustrations, many critical Venezuelans agree that national reconciliation is the only way to overcome our differences.
A large part of the opposition fears dialogue, believing it to be another government strategy, as happened after the escalating violence of 2014 that left 43 dead. No solutions came out of the dialogue; instead, the unrest and political mistrust increased on both sides, while the country continued to decline economically.
Another section of the country believes the solution is a change of government. Not mere reforms, but rather a timetable for presidential elections, the full liberation of political prisoners and the economic opening of Venezuela.
In the end, all we want is to rebuild the prosperous country that gave birth to us. Not a country of resigned people, humiliated by physical repression and psychological manipulation. On the streets of Venezuela today, more people than ever are still full of courage. After more than 100 days of protest, after more than 100 young people killed, the people are still there on the street, demanding their freedom.
Venezuela is the country of Francisco de Miranda and Simón Bolívar. It is a nation of heroic people. Sooner than later, these monsters in neckties will be erased from our history. Venezuela, now hijacked, will become transformed once again into a triumphant country.