Such a complex and painful subject. I would like nothing more tan to state ‘the bare facts’, but every journalist knows that such thing does not exist – especially this day and age. Nietzche told it like it is a long time ago: there are no facts, only interpretations. In the Venezuelan case there are certainly interpretations, but also multiple interests at play.
It is extremely hard to perform an analysis of the Venezuelan crisis from a distance. I have only ever been to Caracas once, almost three decades ago. I was only eight years old, visiting a country whose socioeconomic landscape changes every semester. How could I question the perspective and testimonies of the people who endure the hardships of a devastating economic crisis, up close and on a daily basis? That would certainly be disrespectful.
However, distance does offer some opportunities for critical thinking. Buenos Aires, the city I live in, has proven a coveted destination for Venezuelan immigrants in the past decade. Since they are mostly employed in the service sector, we locals get to interact with them every day. They have become our friends, and sometimes family. We get to listen to their stories of struggle, but we do not experience them.
In my country, the word Venezuela alone produces the most heated discussions. This topic creates great chasms between the public opinion, to the point of being deemed taboo at family reunions. But when you take a look at the way American media cover the subject, the thing is not as nearly as polarized. This point caught my attention particularly. Even the most left biased, like Vox magazine, do not hesitate to call president Nicolás Maduro an authoritarian leader clinging to power.
This kind of consensus does not exist within the Latin American media landscape, much less amongst the Latin American people. When it comes to the Venezuela situation, moderate positions are rare – both in media and among the general public. However, and since most of the Latin American media landscape tends to be monopolized by right wing pressure groups, the vast majority of the news we get from Venezuela are downright appalling. Notwithstanding, and given our dark history with dictatorships, most of us would not dare use the same term for a democratic government like Maduro’s. Yes, its legitimacy has been put into question, but Maduro did not become president via coup d’etat.
So, what is the real meaning of this country? Strategically speaking Venezuela is a geopolitical asset. Its strategic value (namely, its vast oil reserves) makes Venezuela a force to be reckoned with. A country this rich just cannot be, and will not be, left alone. Even though most of my pals from Venezuela will not agree with me, I cannot help to think that most of the nation’s problems comes from its riches.
Unfortunately, Venezuela may be oil rich but it only produces food for a quarter of its population. The rest has to be imported, and the nation’s economy depends on oil’s international price. The United States has declared economic war against Venezuela, a stance that was taken during the Obama administration and was only encouraged by Trump’s. In 2015, economic sanctions were issued against Maduro’s administration on the grounds of human rights violations. This was an attempt to control their access to financial assistance from US citizens and companies, since Venezuela is enduring an asphyxiating financial crisis. The country has been suffering from hyperinflation for more than thirty months now, and – as the saying goes – it’s only gonna get worse before it gets better.
Another shot to the heart of Venezuela’s economy was the embargo declared against Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the country’s state-owned oil company. PDVSA controls the world’s largest oil reserves and (this is the crucial part) produces virtually all of Venezuela’s foreign exchange. Venezuela also depends on diluent imports from the US used to process the country’s heavy crude oil: once again, the United States has the upper hand.
In this context, the country is left with no currency to import the goods it does not or cannot produce: foods, medicine, paper, etc. Due to the raw materials shortage, many companies had to stop operating. Others made do with what they could get, like Kellog’s. The world-famous Frosted Flakes box recently revamped (or de-vamped?) in Venezuela. A marketing campaign was launched to support the new packaging:
The new Frosted Flakes box was marketed like an environmentally friendly product: “100% recycled! Less ink! Less chemicals! Made in Venezuela!”. Of course, we know better. This is no green move – rather, a desperate attempt to remain operational in times of scarcity. This lack of honesty is something the Venezuelan public deeply regret when it comes to institutional communication…but we’ll go back to this later.
Venezuela still needs to import basic food and hygiene products, but where from? We have already learned that the US is out of the picture, and so are its many allies (every country out there except for Russia, China and Iran). As a result, the products available at Venezuelan supermarkets come from India, Bangladesh and even Turkey. Also, fakes and knock-offs have mushroomed all around the nation.
But what is the daily life in Venezuela like? Well, seems we will never really know. Like I said, the best way to understand a situation is actually experiencing it. The next best thing is listening to the immigrants’ actual testimonies. And where I am from, there are aplenty.
According to most exiles living in my country, the situation is more than dire. It is only expectable that the ones running away from their home country are also opposed to its administration, but that is not always the case. Although extremely rare, there are actually some Maduro supporters living in Argentina. I had the chance to speak to one member of each group, and they both agreed on a fact: the quality of life in Venezuela is at an all-time low. Andrés is 41, and works as a receptionist at a fitness club here in Buenos Aires. He decided to leave his home country three years ago because of the lack of job opportunities, and the general living conditions: “the food is extremely pricey, and the criminality rate makes living impossible and uncertain”. Ximena, 30, left Caracas only a year ago. She now works the front desk at a local fast food restaurant, and does not regret leaving everything and everyone behind. “I am a socialist, you know, but the minimum wage in Venezuela is only six dollars. You wouldn’t buy a day’s food with that kind of money. I love my country, but right now…the living conditions are unbearable”.
The economic and political crisis in Venezuela needs to be addressed urgently. Given the nation’s strategic assets and natural resources, the solutions need to be local. The video Vice President Pence tweeted last January 22 does nothing but stir up the already agitated waters.
Ximena told me that, due to the wheat scarcity, people spend up to an hour everyday waiting in line in the hopes to find some bread. The rest of the day is spent thinking of ways to get the rest of the food, in a hyperinflationary economy that crushes the already meager spending power. Given these living conditions, is there really a time to think of politics? To analyze “the bigger picture”? Probably not. And that is the biggest threat to Venezuela’s sovereignty and self-determination.