Life in Venezuela is a Daily Battle
One thing is true about Venezuela: Life is not easy and society is sharply divided. This reality is easy to see everyday as those who support the current regime go to the streets in large numbers to show support for the current administration, while opponents, strongly funded by foreign actors also protest the precarious state of affairs.
People never go to the streets the way they go in Venezuela, especially if things are going in the right direction and in many places, such as so-called first world nations, the disadvantaged do not have the strength to do that either.
The crisis in Venezuela stems from a combination of issues as supposed to only one or a few. It all began as any other theoretical utopia does, with empty promises of a panacea which, according to demagogues, is within reach if everyone would just line up and obediently followed the commands of a leader who knows better than everyone else.
In the case of the South American country, though, the crisis has dug the lives of people deeper than perhaps any other country in the continent. The most recent episode of Venezuelan life can be summed up as a daily battle that is strongly influenced by rationing, shortage of medicines, insecurity and political polarization.
The best description in most metropolitan areas in Venezuela is that of a roller coaster. Crossing the Venezuelan capital, the scene of three weeks of opposition protests that demand elections to the government of Nicolas Maduro, is a journey through parallel worlds, opposing visions of reality and dysfunctions that illustrate the daily life of many Venezuelans.
People have gone from not having toilet paper to not having food. Many Venezuelans have had to travel to neighbouring countries such as Colombia and Brazil to buy supplies.
Despite its natural wealth, Venezuela sells its people the most expensive fuel in the southern area. It is a bit like what happens in Brazil, where the abundance of crude oil reserves and its availability has no positive effect on the cost to the consumer.
People in urban areas, such as Petare, one of the most humble and insecure neighborhoods in the country, arrive to the markets in the middle of the morning to buy fruit and some vegetables.
In front of the most well-stocked food stores, protected with strong security bars, queues are usually long to buy bread and other basic products.
A bag of rice today costs 4,700 bolivars, about a dollar, a price that is multiplied in the illegal resale known as bachaqueo. At a service station, 20 liters of gas cost cents on the dollar.
Venezuela, a country that produces oil and whose economy depends on its value, is also hit by a dramatic hyperinflationary trend. The IMF estimates that prices will rise more than 1,700% in two years.
While the shopping center of Tolón, in the Las Mercedes urbanization, exhibits shops of European firms where a blouse is worth more than three minimum salaries – of 40,000 bolivars, less than 10 dollars -, people in Caracas cannot find medicines or diapers in the pharmacies.
“People are starving,” says Ismael Garcia, a veteran politician who supported former President Hugo Chávez and is now deputy to the Democratic Unity Table (MUD). “We must fight for the Venezuelans to express themselves.”
Maduro’s government intervened in the market with the so-called CLAP. These are local sourcing and production committees that administer regulated commodities such as flour or milk powder, which Henrique Capriles, leader of the Primero Justicia Party, considers a “blackmail” system that generates dependence on the ruling party.
Something similar was done while Chávez was in power but in the health field with the missions Barrio Adentro. This primary care project implemented with the support of Cuba remains in place after more than a decade, although its operation has been affected by other of the crucial problems of Venezuela: violence in the streets.
This is confirmed by Carlos Villegas, who has been directing the Comprehensive Diagnosis Center Rio de Janeiro for the last three years. The center helps about 60 patients a day. He believes that this model works but warns:
“Insecurity is the biggest problem.”
Last year there were, according to the NGO Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia, 28,479 murders in a country with a population of 30 million inhabitants.
In the streets, however, few uniformed policemen are seen. Except before the demonstrations.
Barricades, clashes with security forces, vandalism, looting and fist battles are common every night.
Authorities denounced an attempted attack on a children’s hospital by armed gangs. Three people were shot dead and nine electrocuted during the assault on the La Mayer bakery.
“The war against Venezuela is inside and outside Venezuela,” adds a neighbour in reference to the classic accusation from Chavistas, who attribute the impetus of the protests to the support of the United States and the Organization of American States.
Ana González warns:
“They want to get us fighting with ourselves. We are all worried about the same, with food, with medicines, with health, with everything that is happening, whether it is Chavista or not Chavista, we are all going hungry. “
“I’m a pro-government official, but what happened here was not rational opposition or government,” Angie Barrio, a 38-year-old Metro worker, said about the riots.
The daily life in Venezuela is marked by high polarization. But that does not mean that all opponents or those who demonstrate against the Government are strictly in agreement with the ideals of the forces that make up the MUD.
Not that all who defend Chavismo do so because they applaud that model, but rather because they prefer the conservation of order, the idea that everything remains in place.
Chavez also managed to install in the collective imagination a concept of sovereignty and national pride that persists in several sectors and that assimilates the notion of country to a political option.
“We cannot allow them to invade us, we have to defend the revolution,” explains Yilson Rodrigues. Meanwhile, year after year, Venezuela grows more and more divided; a situation is good for both the Chavismo and the foreign actors that fund and support the opposition, but that is deadly for those who live in the middle of two strongly opposed ideologies.