What is happening in Venezuela?
Venezuela has been suffering a socioeconomic and political crisis since 2010 under the presidency of Hugo Chavez and the current president, Nicolas Maduro. Shortages, insecurity and unemployment have forced millions to leave the country. According to recent studies, almost 90% of Venezuelans now live in poverty.
It’s a warm September morning; the sun is dripping into the large kitchen of the hostel where we are having breakfast. Nieves is sitting to my right and tells me she is from Venezuela. She describes the brutality of daily life, the struggle to get medicine, food, or travel safely. She tells me about the times she has protested, showing me videos of herself shouting at the top of her lungs against her government. Whilst listening to her bright, determined voice, I try to imagine life beyond the warmth of this kitchen, in the country she calls home, plunged into a deep socio-economic crisis since 2010.
When did you feel your day-to-day life started to change?
The feeling of a lower quality of life began about 3 years ago, for the average Venezuelan. The areas which were most affected by this bad political governance were health, food, safety and transport.
To access treatment, one has to travel to several pharmacies to find the appropriate medicine. This takes up time and effort which could be used working and being productive outside of health needs. Not only that, but many people don’t have the means to travel safely from one health centre to the next either.
“In the morning you’ll pay a certain price for rice and by the evening, that price will have changed.”
What is day-to-day life like today?
For food, a typical Venezuelan regularly spends 3 hours in queue waiting to buy your groceries cheaply. If you go somewhere more expensive, you get your food a bit sooner; even then, however, you would still be queueing for long periods of time because of the generalised shortages.
Security is another issue which unsettles the people regularly. Kidnappings and burglaries happen under the complacent watch of police, who are the representatives of the government to citizens on a daily basis. As a country, we’ve seen how the government committed fraud – during the elections for example. One of my friends was jailed simply for having an opinion that went against the government.
Nowadays, Venezuelans don’t travel by bus like in any other country in the world, they do it in open trucks without railings, putting their physical safety at risk. On top of that, you need to pay for these rides, which means you’re paying money to be transported like animals… that connotation sums up the current situation of Venezuela.
Hyperinflation has also deeply affected our way of life – in the morning you’ll pay for rice at a certain price and by the evening, the price will have changed and you’ll pay much more.
How do you engage with the situation? Do you attend protests?
I’ve always been a firm believer in taking action rather than solely criticising the problem. I have therefore openly worked in the election campaigns and protested Hugo Chavez’s government policies, which I have never agreed with. I regularly bring food, clothing, games and medicine to the neighbourhoods that need it most during critical times. During protests, I play volleyball in front of the military and the police, to show that our weapons are volleyballs, not guns.
I usually wear yellow and black clothing, which are my team colours, as well as those of Enrique Capriles Radonski, a Venezuelan politician and lawyer. He’s the presidential candidate I’m supporting this election cycle.
During protests, I play volleyball in front of the military and the police, to show that our weapons are volleyballs, not guns.
President Maduro was recently criticised for eating at an expensive steak restaurant in Turkey when 75% of Venezuelans have lost over 8kg because of malnutrition. What did you think of this?
It is deeply unfair. Whilst people are dying of hunger, he eats like a king, which he is not. Maduro is a hypocrite, as he says that being rich is despicable but he, himself, lives as a rich man. Physical violence is one thing; Maduro is also violent in his words and actions, mocking the situation of the country.
What outcome do you see to this crisis?
I personally think there is hope for this country. However, the only way in which we can achieve change and prosperity is by uniting – and if the military decides to protect this country instead of blindly supporting the government.