By Keryn Nelson
In light of the ongoing stream of politically driven events occuring in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, worries about the country’s future maintains.
On January 10, 2019, amidst controversy, Nicolas Maduro was sworn-in as Venezuela’s President; the result of the country’s May 2018 elections. However, opposition leader Juan Guaidó on January 23rd 2019, publicly demanded re-elections amidst claims of fraud against Maduro’s administration, during last year’s voting process. These incidents fueled an already burning fire—one that would once again attract the world’s gaze and incite input from leaders everywhere, including the likes of United States President, Donald Trump.
Today, political unrest abounds on the roadways of the South American nation, taking the form of street protests and mass migration. While millions flee from Venezuela’s borders, others stay to grapple for remaining resources and in some cases, justice.
One Venezuelan man, speaking on the condition of anonymity, and who will henceforth be referred to as “John” for the purpose of this article, shared his experience with the Caribbean Chronicle.
CC: What is the atmosphere like in Caracas at the moment?
John: The protests have not been a threat to us yet. We live in an area which had serious protests in 2014 and 2016, and which was heavily repressed then. One of my sons almost died of asphyxiation from the tear gas thrown by the police into our buildings in 2016. Even though we were not protesting, we live a few blocks away from the State-run TV station, Venezolana de Television. This time we have not had any protests in the area. But there has been some unrest in Caracas and other cities.
CC: How potent are the safety concerns among residents?
John: A nearby university, Universidad Central de Venezuela, had some faculties shut down since the 23rdof January, due to the fact that teachers, workers and students feared to leave their homes and not know if they would be able to go back because of protests, lack of transport and so on. In general, people are afraid of how state security forces will react to protests since there have been alleged shootings of young people in several areas.
CC: How are people reacting to Juan Guaidó’s declaration to act as President?
John: Honestly, people just hope that the situation of the country will change. They have been suffering from shortages of food, medicine, cooking gas, gasoline, and even cash on some occasions, for so long, and prices rise at such alarming rates, that people just want a change. People are fed up with the whole situation. Many people are living from wire transfers that are being sent from other countries and Venezuela is now even suffering inflation in hard currency. As in, what you could once buy for US$25 a month ago may now cost you US$50.
CC: Did things become more volatile after January 23? Or are some looking to it to result in possible peace for the near future?
John: It’s not a matter of whether this thing with Guaidó will make the situation more volatile or if it could result in peace. The question is, how will the government react to international pressure and how will they respond to protests? Those who are protesting right now are people from the poorest neighborhoods. The protests are being used by thugs from those neighborhoods to loot, shoot at police and to rob. So, it’s a dangerous situation which I believe will be won by the party with the strongest support from the international community.
CC: How do you feel about Maduro and the claims that the 2018 elections were rigged?
John: From my understanding, everyone knows that the Venezuelan government used their programs to get people to vote for them; they used the carnet de la patria (the homeland identity card) to check to see if people voted and those who didn’t want to vote were threatened that if they didn’t, they would lose those benefits. State employees were also threatened by their bosses who forced them to vote and who told them that they would know who they voted for.
The opposition claimed that the National Electoral Council, on the other hand, which is governed by a majority of government supporters, did not guarantee that the elections would not be rigged and they called for people not to vote. The two candidates who eventually ran for elections were said to have been financed by the government to give the elections some kind of legitimacy. However, one of these candidates, Henry Falcón, apparently noticed the government’s influence on voters and then, on the same day of the elections, called for people to abstain from voting. Only 25% of the population voted that day and Maduro won, in spite of the allegations of fraud and unfair elections.
CC: Can you paint a picture of the current state of life in Venezuela?
John: It’s a difficult situation. Food is available at very high prices. Many jobs have been lost because of the government’s policies since, according to them, and in order to protect the poor people, they initially raised the minimum salary from Bs.S 30.00 to Bs.S. 1,800, and then from Bs.S. 1,800 to Bs.S. 4,500 and then from that amount to Bs.S. 18,000 in a very short period of time. So many companies and stores have closed down due to this since they alleged that they are not allowed to transfer these costs to the prices of their services. Supermarkets, bakeries, small shops and so on, are constantly being audited to make sure that their prices are those that have been established by the government.
I recently asked for the price of 1Kg. of sugar. It was Bs.S. 2,300 two days ago, and now it is Bs.S. 5,500. As you can see, someone who earns the minimum wage can only buy 3 Kg. of sugar. One Kg. of cheese is Bs.S. 12,800 and 1 Kg of beef is Bs.S. 12,000, 36 eggs is Bs.S. 9,000.
Of course this has had a negative effect on inflation rates. I believe this is the only country in which people complain when salaries are raised because everyone knows it will have an impact on inflation.
As I mentioned before, many people now live on wire transfers from other countries. Approximately 5,000,000 Venezuelans have left the country looking for better opportunities and they, in return, send wire transfers to those that have stayed behind so that they can survive in the country.
The main problem behind getting food is that, if and when you can, you have to buy large quantities so that you have food for the future since you don’t know if you will be able to get it the next time you go to the market, or if you’ll be able to afford it. So instead of buying what you would need for the week, say 3 kg. of rice, if and when you can, you buy all you can get at whatever price it is. So, there is a huge black market of foreign currency, medicine and food going on in the country.
There is more cash than before right now and you get cheaper prices for products if you pay in cash.
CC: Are you hopeful that things will be restored to normal soon?
John: I think everyone hopes that it will calm down soon. No one wants bloodshed. But, as I also said before, many people are anxious for international support, especially medicine, food and humanitarian aid. Most people know that the U.S. is playing an important role in this situation but people are just tired of it all.