Dateline: Warsaw, Poland
It’s been no secret than Venezuela is a nation in crisis. For years, the place has suffered from hyperinflation and all sorts of other economic ills at the hands off a disastrous monetary and social policy. If Nomad Capitalist is all about “go where you’re treated best”, Venezuela could be summed up as just about the opposite.
Recently, the government stepped in to “solve” the problem by devaluing the currency by 64 percent. We saw a similar move in Egypt last year, and my recent visit there suggested to me that their move did not end well.
I believe that it’s important for us to not only study what works, but what doesn’t work as well. Venezuela should be a wealthy country, but years of rule by crazies has led them into deep, dark spiral. This could be repeated anywhere. And while I’m not suggesting that the United States or anywhere else will become the next Venezuela, there is nothing special in the water that stops any of this stuff from happening anywhere else.
While I spend most of my time in Europe and Asia – places where I believe opportunities are best and most accessible – I wanted to know more about the situation in the ground in Venezuela. I had met a Venezuelan freelancer who was working in Bogota when I met her two years ago, and I decided to reach out to get the real scoop.
After all, the media often issues rather erroneous reports when it comes to anything overseas, preferring to scare would-be travelers in the United States and elsewhere from leaving their homes. There was never any doubt that the communist, authoritarian government of Venezuela was not my cup of tea, but were the toilet paper lines as bad as described?
I emailed my contact Jessica, who replied promptly and also offered two of her colleagues to comment, as well. What follows is a group interview conducted with Jessica, Sheryl, and Joisber about the real situation in Venezuela.
Each of these ladies and gentleman were very gracious and very forthcoming in answering my questions. Other than changing punctuation and re-organizing paragraphs for readability, I have not edited or “touched up” their answers in any way. This may lead to a few words seeming out of place, but I wanted to give the unaltered, unfiltered way of what is happening in Venezuela.
Here is my interview…
Tell me about the situation in Venezuela right now.
SHERYL: “The perfect Storm”. That’s the way I like to call the situation in Venezuela right now. It’s a combination of catastrophic events, not only of a political nature but also of a social, economic and even moral, which increasingly drown my country in despair. The desperation of not being able to leave home freely without feeling insecure of what could happen on the way to work or school. No one is save here.
Poor people don’t have the opportunity to take a bite to the mouth, which is why they see themselves in the need to dig in the garbage and, in the worst scenarios, to loot local shops to be able to take daily bread from the hands of others. I can say it with propriety because I have friends of very low resources who tell me such stories.
The whole country is in tension and every day there comes news of how young people were killed in the protests against the government, the brutal repression to which we are exposed for expressing an opinion contrary to those who hold the reins of the country and how we are humiliated waiting up to 6 hours in long lines to buy something as simple as bread.
I could go on, but I don’t think I’d have the words to describe all this disaster, because although many are fighting tirelessly everyday to resist this corrupt, dictatorial and ruthless government we don’t know what the final result will be or what may happen before the situation gets better.
JOISBER: The situation right now is very hard. Most of the high officers of the government are corrupted or involved in drug traffic, so they will pursuit for holding the power at all cost. President has more than 80% of people reject and he doesn’t resign because he doesn’t have where to run out. Almost all executive officers are being investigated by the USA Treasure Department, DEA or Interpol. In this scenario, I don´t think that any country deserves to receive them as guests.
People on the streets have almost two months protesting for a change and the government is just killing, repressing and putting in jail common citizens who think different, just to hold the seat. Health is in critical levels. There’s a huge shortage of medicines and medical supplies. You can’t find a single painkiller on a drugstore. Food is also a problem, you can’t have it regularly. People must pay high prices for it in the black market or just have to spend many hours making a file to obtain it.
Crime murders at least 400 persons every weekend (more than any actual military conflict in the world. Jail mobs are supported by the government itself; they trade impunity for money. Army and police forces are also corrupt. Most policemen are on the streets hunting bribes instead of enforcing laws. The black market is present in absolutely all: food, medicines, legal transactions, banking, and services. We live in a country where bribing is a common thing (anyone who can ask you for money for anything will do it, because the lack of law supports him).
JESSICA: In this moment Venezuelans are out in the streets, expressing their discontent through different forms of peaceful protests and making demands of the government:
1. To accept international humanitarian aid. This way the international community could send medicine to our country. In Venezuela it is very difficult to find medicine, there are people dying every day because they can’t find or afford the most basic treatments. People suffering of terminal illnesses, such as cancer, usually give up all hope, even before starting treatment, that is because it does not matter if you have money to pay for a treatment, usually there are no reagents in the country. Also, hospitals do not meet the minimum hygiene requirements, causing newborns to die every day. If you were the government of Venezuela, what would you do? In my case, I would accept the international humanitarian aid, but, guess what? They don’t want it, they say that everything is just fine…They are proud of this mess and they don’t want help, that would be like accepting their failure
2. To release political prisoners. The government has arrested political leaders who have fought for the rights of the people and denounced government abuses. In Venezuela if you don’t support the government then they call you a “terrorist” and it does not matter if you only go to a protest with a white T-shirt and bottle of water, for them you are still a “terrorist” It does not matter if you have never killed a single person or destroyed a place with a bomb, in Venezuela if you don’t support the government, then you are a “terrorist”. I think this is disrespectful, not only for the protesters but for the real terrorism victims.
The most popular political prisoner is Leopoldo López, he is a political leader from the party “Voluntad Popular” and he was arrested back in February 2014 when started some similar protests. He was arrested because he called people to take action, to go out and protest. In 2014 more than 20 persons died in the protests, most of them were killed by the National Guard of Venezuela (The government, obviously, controls the National Guard) but the government said it was all Leopoldo’s fault, because his speech incited hate, which is curious, because you only have to turn on the TV and watch a government’s channel to see a real hate speech.
In April of this year, Freddy Bernal, a government’s supporter and chief of one of the alimentation plans said in a pro-government’s march (textually) “If the time came when every man and woman had to take a Kalashnikov to defend Bolivar’s homeland, I am sure that we would be willing to do so”. In my opinion, Bernal is making a call to take ARMS against the opposition, he calls for murder… isn’t this hate speech? Believe it or not, Freddy Bernal is not in jail.
In Venezuela there are thousands of people like Leopoldo López in prison for demanding the fulfillment of human rights, unfortunately, in Venezuela there are thousands of people like Freddy Bernal, too.
3. To respect The National Assembly. On December 2015 the Venezuelans elected The National Assembly and the opposition party (MUD- A coalition of opposition parties) won, obtaining 109 deputies, while the government’s party (PSUV) only had 55 deputies. This was an historical victory for the opposition in Venezuela, but what happened next? The government through the TSJ (Supreme Court of Justice) began to annul all the decisions made by The National Assembly, ignoring the will of more than 7 million people who voted for that Assembly. Democracy? I don’t think so.
4. General Elections. People want Nicolás Maduro out. According with our constitution, the presidential election should be held on Decemeber 2018, however, Venezuelans don’t trust the National Electoral Council. This distrust is due to the fact that in December 2016 they had to carry out elections of governors and mayors, today, the CNE hasn’t even started the process, so this is why people don’t think that we are going to have presidential elections on December 2018. While Venezuelans demand all those things in many pacific ways, they have been repressed and attacked by the National Guard and national police.
Is the situation better or worse in Caracas – the capital city – than in the rest of Venezuela?
JESSICA: In Caracas the situation is terrible, most of the people that have been killed by the National Guard are from Caracas and there are protests every single day. But in states like Mérida, Táchira or Zulia, the repression has been worse.
SHERYL: I don’t live in Caracas, but I have relatives who do, and definitely it’s not better. In all major cities it is worse, 80% of the national population is against the government, and this is demonstrated every day. I don’t know if other countries know it but have been 50 days of continuous protests and counting. Every day it’s worse and I don’t say it because of the protests, because that’s the only way we have to express our opinion, it’s because there is less food, less medical supplies, less justice, but more insecurity, more corruption, more despair and more sadness.
The media has portrayed protests in Venezuela as violent and out of control. Is that true?
JOISBER: It is absolutely false that protestant people are violent. All mobilizations and protest activities has a pacific nature. Usually National Guard puts a pass block on streets to avoid people reach the final point (for instance a Minister’s office). When citizens reach that point, repression begins with no provocation or questions asked.
The police and army officers have violated almost all rules of engagement of this kind of environment including, shooting from helicopters, shooting directly at people, passing over people with security vehicles, entering residential zones without warrant, and using over dated tear gas.
On the other hand, the government maintains armed paramilitary groups who are sended to protests to shoot, loot and generate disorder and violence. After this, they just blame the opposite party for it (for this purpose they send those so-called “colectivos” paramilitaries wearing civilian clothes Most answers from people are made in self-defense, and in many occasions the opposition leaders disperse and rejects those focus who try to take justice in their own hands.
JESSICA: I wouldn’t say that the protests are violent or out of control, I would say that the National Guard and the National Bolivarian Police are violent and out of control. Since the start of this process the opposition leaders made a call for peaceful protests, but it doesn’t matter how peaceful you are, the “security” corps just start throwing tear gas or shooting bullets to the protesters heads (yes, that is how most of the killed protesters have died). This is why in some pictures about the situation in Venezuela you might see groups of youngsters holding shields and wearing helmets (yes, shields and helmets!) and they basically stand in front of the march, protecting all the protesters, that is why when this youngsters arrive to a march everyone starts applauding them, they are heroes.
In addition, in case what I have said is not creepy enough, the National Guard and the National Bolivarian Police are not the only threats to the life of the protesters, we also have “Colectivos”…Colectivos are groups of supporters of the government who also have guns, but they do not belong to any force of order, however, they ‘help’ the National Guard and the National Bolivarian Police to terrorize and injure (and,yes,kill) protesters. Actually, according with PROVEA (a program who defend the human rights) since the protests started more than 40 people have been killed by Colectivos, National Bolivarian Polices and National Guards.
The dangers faced by demonstrators in Venezuela are so big that a group of med students created an organization called ‘Cruz Verde’ (Green Cross), they take care of injured protesters, thanks to national and international donations (sometimes they even help injured guards). Even when this is a noble and altruistic work, the guys of the Green Cross are not safe from the Government and its assassins, a few weeks ago, more than 10 officers of the National Bolivarian Police attacked a car from the Green Cross with more than 8 bombs of tear gas and they also stole all the medicines and equipments they had. Also, a week ago one of the Red Cross volunteers, Paul Moreno was killed in the state of Zulia while he was helping people.
The government wants to show the world that the opposition is the responsible of those deaths, they want the world to believe that those killed were terrorists, but, certainly, they weren’t, they were people of my age (23), they were people who took classes with me at the university, they were people who wanted to express their frustration against an inefficient government. Those murdered guys had millions of dreams, but only one in common: a better country.
SHERYL: Almost 100% of the protests have never reached their “meeting point” (Supreme Court, National Assembly headquarters, The Ombudsman’s Office, et cetera). Why? Because the troops of the National Guard, the armed groups paid by the government (there is evidence of them) and the police instead of protecting the people and guarding their interests as was the case in Ukraine suppress the protests in a violent way.
Even the Republic’s General Attorney, who was previously adept to the government, agrees that violent acts have been facilitated by these “security” agencies. And, how can we ask a repressed and humiliated people for so long to react differently to such repression?
Venezuela is a time bomb. The people is beginning to defend themself and to break the chains that oppressed them and made them feel fear in past years. And I’m more than sure they will not stop until we have a new president.
The government has taken control of international companies like GM and Pepsi. Do you know anyone from those companies, and how have they been affected?
JESSICA: I don’t know people who had worked for GM or Pepsi so I don’t know how their lives have been affected, but what I do know is that the government took control of the principal GM fabric in Venezuela and something similar happened to Pepsi. This is a typical government play, they take control of a company or a fabric and they give the control of this to a friend, it doesn’t matter the experience you have on the field, if you support the government and you are the cousin, the brother, the son of someone, then you will have your company, this way, after a month or maybe two, most of this companies fail and the worse part of it is the way this affects the economy.
The same thing happened previously with other companies, for example, the Colombian chain of supermarkets ‘Éxito’, the government took all their supermarkets and started a new one (so this is government’s property) called ‘Bicentenario’ and let me tell you something about Bicentenario: this is a supermarket without food, or hygiene product, or anything.
SHERYL: I don’t know anyone who has worked for those companies, but I can imagine the sadness and despair that they felt. Those who lose their jobs that way can take up to two months to get another one. This is almost normal in Venezuela, not only because of the expropriations carried out by the government but also because of the personnel reductions that many companies (especially small ones) are forced to do thanks to the inflation and the high production and maintenance costs, not counting wages and administrative expenses. Because of this, they have chosen to have up to 3 jobs at a time, work independently or simply to leave the country.
The media shows photos of people waiting hours in line just to buy toilet paper. Is that true? Talk about any shortages, and what products are no longer available?
SHERYL: Yes, it’s totally true. Not only do they make long lines for toilet paper, but for cornmeal, wheat flour, vegetable oil, pasta, rice, milk, diapers, baby food, mayonnaise, tomato sauce, butter, bread in any of their presentations, toothpaste, bath soap, and much more.
And from a few months to now we can’t even buy “subsidized” products in the supermarket, because now it is only the National Guard that is responsible for distributing food and medical supplies to the whole country. At first they said they were going to deliver boxes 2 times per month with “everything you need” to eat 15 days, but as we all knew that never happened, that box is sold every 6 to 12 months. And the importation that reaches the markets is very expensive, and the great part of the population can’t afford it.
JESSICA: It is true; in Venezuela the inflation is out of control and the prices of the food are constantly growing day by day. Because of this situation, the government (instead of fixing the change control ) decided to regulate the prices of some products so that way all the people could afford them, that’s why you can see huge lines for food; there is not much regulated food but there are lots of people that can’t afford the usual prices. By now you can’t even find some products for high prices, so you have to make a 7-8 hours line.
The shortage mutated with time, during a month you won’t find mayonnaise, next month you won’t find toilet paper, right now, we can’t find bread and surely, next month there is going to disappear another product.
JOISBER: Toilet paper, diapers, tooth paste, food, BREAD. You’re allowed to make the file just once a week for establishment according to your last ID number. The ugly truth is that you make the line but there’s no warranty you’re going to find anything. Grocery buying has to be done daily, sometimes because you don’t have enough money to make a weekly buying and other times because there’s nothing to buy.
Most people have to get in line the day before, from early hours. Once I saw a girl who just got a little tooth paste after making the line for 18 hours. 90% of bakeries have no floor to produce bread. They reduce selling to 1 pound of bread for person in line (when they have bread to sell) and after a huge line. I just saw more than 400 persons in a bakery waiting in line to buy bread for tonight.
All basic products are scarce today. You find it just for luck unless you pay for it on the black market at really expensive prices. A pound of powder milk should cost 5000 Bs and you find it for 30000 Bs underground. Buying basic products and sell it on the black market has become a profession. We call them the “bachaqueros”.
Many supermarket chains import basic products like floor, pasta or rice. They bring them legally from Colombia or Brazil, but they are also expensive. For example 1 vegetable oil liter should be sold for 4000 Bs but you can buy it from a bachaquero in 9000 and the imported one cost 8200.
A missed in action product? Any cream or paste medicine (i.e. for skin care) There’s no import of prime materials for its production in Venezuela.
How is the violence and the shortages affecting the wealthy? Is anyone exempt from the issues facing the country?
JESSICA: The violence situation in Venezuela is out of control, in Venezuela if you have a smartphone you can’t go out with it, because someone can stole it from you and if you resist, they could kill you, they just don’t care, crazy, right? Actually, I do not have a single friend that hasn’t been robbed, at least. So most of us have been forced to buy a second phone, maybe a simpler one so we can stay communicated while we are on the streets, is this fair? I don’t think so..
I’m 23 years old and I study engineering at the UCV (Central University of Venezuela) and I feel that I am wasting my youth in Venezuela, maybe this is a superficial perspective, but this is my perspective: how is possible that I can’t go to the cinema after 7pm because someone might kill me? How is possible that I can’t go to a club with my friends because we might get kidnapped? How is possible that some months ago a boy who studies with me at the engineering faculty was shot in the head because he was trying to stop a thief? And you might wonder: Where is the police? Well, the police only appears when they can beat and kill young protesters, you will never find them if you want justice, actually, most of them are the main kidnappers in the country
In Venezuela no one is safe from violence, even the wealthy people, they are the main targets. Maybe they can buy the expensive products and don’t need to make lines in order to get regulated products, but they still don’t have a quiet life, none of us have it.
SHERYL: Violence affects all of us who live in this country, regardless of our economic position. In fact, those who have more money are those who are, in a way, more exposed to kidnappings, robberies and murders. If you have no direct relationship with the government you are not secure. And about the food, those who despite the speculation decide to spend their money on food with excessive prices are often also in trouble because the shelves of supermarkets are empty, what are they going to buy? Anyone is free to face the problems of the country.
JOISBER: Only the high government officers are relative exempt from the crisis. If you are a common citizen you’re affected because is hardtop feed yourself with those high prices and your low income. If your personal economy is a little better, you still have to spend a lot buying what you need.
Regarding violence, organized crime is the greatest industry in country not related to oil extraction. A jail produces in a week more money than Polar Industries in a month (Polar is the biggest private enterprise in Venezuela). Money is obtained by kidnapping, stealing or just asking for “protection” fees called “vacunas” (vaccine in English). The most contradictory part of this madness is that mob bosses help the near communities. They rule their influence zones, a job that should be made by local governors.
The crime crisis is so deep, that some groups are stealing even some of the most basic of the cities infrastructure; this week in my neighborhood they’re “working” removing telephone lines from the public posts to sell the copper as recycling stuff. We as a community tried to denounce it at the police and they send us to the telephone company. Then we went to the company and they said that this was a police issue. Impunity everywhere, beautiful isn’t it?
Unemployment has quadrupled form 7% in 2015 to 28% now. Are these figures accurate, or too low? Who do you know who is unemployed, how is it affecting them, and what are they doing about it?
JOISBER: Those numbers are too low because they are manipulated. More than 50% of Venezuelans are not on a formal employment (an institution or enterprise). You just can’t survive being somebody’s employee, taking in mind you need at least 5 times the minimal wage to maintain a 4 persons family. Actually is better do something else than being in a job a whole day for just a dollar.
Any venezuelan prefers to work informally (mostly in commerce). Even if you’re a professional like me, there’s no office paying enough to sustain your home. Government holds some social welfare, but you must be close to socialist thoughts (or pretend to be) to get it.
Only 8% of the population eats 3 times a day. In many families adults skip one or two meals to let the children have it. Every day is more common seeing people searching in garbage bags for food.
JESSICA: I think that the figures are accurate, in Venezuela you can’t have high unemployment figures because there is a law that supports the workers, so it is very difficult for a company to fire someone, this sounds great, but the government is constantly increasing the minimum wage, this way a company can’t fire someone and every 3 or maybe 5 months they have to increase the salaries of all the employees, options? Or you increase the products you sell or you go bankrupt.
Usually companies increase their products and this helps with the inflation, obviously. So, this way you won’t find so many unemployed people. Also, Venezuelans are fighters, we just don’t give up, so you will probably find someone selling tea on the lines to buy food, or someone selling candies at the subway, or someone playing the guitar for a few coins…we always find the way to help our families, of course, I am talking about the people that chose the right path.
SHERYL: Well, some say less other say more, but I believe that unemployment has been the least of our problems these last months. The Venezuelan is characterized by being proactive, I have seen many who when dismissed by the personnel cuts of which I spoke previously have been dedicated to informal commerce. However, not having a routine by the kind of work they have, affected them not only psychologically but also physical, so they lose weight and acquire diseases derived from stress.
How are resourceful young Venezuelans like yourselves using the internet to make a living?
SHERYL: Well as I said before, nobody is exempt from facing the shortages problems in the country, and those who win dollars using platforms are not the exception. Most use this extra income to save money and move to another country where they can have a better life.
JOISBER: Everyone who can earn money in dollars will do it or will try to. I know many young and not so young people using Internet in many ways to make money online. Platforms such as Upwork, Fiverr or even PTC portals represent an alternative for those who are trying to survive in this country. Is not massive, but is highly increasing.
Speaking for my case, earning just $5 a day at least I ensure a good menu for my family. The Venezuelan population has easy and cheap access to superior studies or to learn a second language in comparison to the rest of the world. This allows very capable and competitive human resource offering freelance services on portals. Besides, making money in dollars (even when a $5 payment seems like misery) is highly appreciated, because the benefits are not pulverized by inflation. You also save money for transportation and avoid the risk for robbery on your bus to work.
Unfortunately on the Internet are also a lot of scam or tricky business and the same desperation to get the head out of the water make Venezuela more susceptible to get one of those traps.
JESSICA: I work with freelancer sites and I have to say that it has been a huge help for me, because by making little or big jobs I can earn dollars, in Venezuela, there is a change control, so, If I earn $5 I can do a lot of things, actually. Thanks to freelancer sites I can help my family by buying meat once a month, with $20 I can buy the meat for a month. However, with my jobs online I actually earn more money than a person who has a minimum wage, so I am very grateful with this website and I am really happy for taking that English course 5 years ago…
In my case, I live with my parents so they take care of everything, but as I said, sometimes I help buying meat and some things, however, I use most of my earnings on personal things and right now I am saving money because I want to leave the country when I get my degree. Obviously is not the same for everyone and I am pretty sure that there are some other Venezuelans over there working with various freelancer sites like Upwork and living from it.
Talk about inflation: how is the bolivar declining, and how does it affect you?
SHERYL: The bolivar is worthless. Every day the dollar rises, so our currency is practically under the ground. Inflation is literally eaten our salary, the increases made by the president are worthless because immediately the next day begins to increase the value of everything and we are even worse than before.
JESSICA: Inflation in Venezuela is worse every day, the prices are constantly increasing. This affected my family in so many ways, in my house we just don’t eat the same way we did in the past. An example could be the price of a 2 Liters Coke; two years ago the price was 250 bolivares but now it is 4,500 bolivares – a nearly 20X increase. If you want to go to the movies, a single ticket costs almost 4,000 bolivares. The minimum wage is 60,000 bolivares plus 135000 bolivares in Cesta Tickets (A Cesta Ticket can only be used to buy food). If you need to buy food for a house with 4 people you can spend more than 200,000 bolivares (1 kilo of cheese is 11,000 and 1 kilo of meat is between 13,000 and 15,000 bolivares) all this is only in food, we are not taking into account medicines and other things.
JOISBER: Inflation is overwhelming. Each month food cost increases at least 30%. The price index is independent of the currency flow, it just grow. This year is a perfect example for parallel dollar fluctuation:
On March 1st, $1 cost 4,300 bolivares. On March 31st, $1 cost 5,200. On May 22nd, $1 cost 5,850.
But the prices just increase, with no way back from heaven. Since 2015, prices increased at least 1,000% in a year. In just the first five months of this year has is more damage than the full year before. And an egg cost one bolivar in January 2015, but today cost 450 bolivares. The President hasn’t understood that they must increase the production (among many other policies) to stop inflation. Instead they just increase the minimal wage, but when they put it 20% higher, prices increases 40%. This is just unbearable.
Talk about the black market: is everyone rushing to sell their bolivars? What currency do people prefer to hold? Tell me about the difference between the official exchange rate and the actual rate on the street. Talk about what it’s like to exchange bolivars on the black market.
JESSICA: The principal problem in Venezuela is that we have a change control established by Chávez when he was the president. In this moment you can get dollars in the black market or in an official way, but no one uses the official way.
People prefer dollars than bolivars, because our economy is a dollarized economy, which is ironic, because all the government’s leaders hate the United States (or that’s what they say).
So to sell dollars according with the black market, all that you have to do is to go to a website called Dollar Today and see the price of the dollar for that day (we actually don’t know who created this website or which parameters they use to increase the dollar) right now you will receive 5851 bolivars for $1.
The difference between the official dollar and the black market dollar is that the official dollar costs 10 bolivares (huge difference, right?) but that dollar is only used to buy medicines… well, that is what they say because I see no medicines.
SHERYL: Those who sell their bolivars are those who want to leave the country. Obviously we prefer the use of dollars because it’s worth much more than the local currency. However, we can’t use it to buy food or clothes, so its use is limited only to those who wish to leave the country or who they need it to import products from abroad to sell here or for production purposes.
The difference between the black dollar and the official is that the first one can only be used by the government to supposedly import food and medical supplies (which are obviously very inefficient, most of the preferential dollars are used to pay for the luxuries of adepts to the government and their families in the United States and Europe) and the second are those that are bought and sold every day for the purposes I described above.
I exchange dollars very often. And the exchange rate on the street is way above the official (black: $1=5,851 bolivares; official: $1=700 bolivares). All people use this type of exchange because as I said the preferential dollar can only be used and controlled by the government.
JOISBER: There are 3 kinds of currency exchange rates in Venezuela. The first is at a rate of 10 bolivares for $1, and is for money officially going to food or medicines. Then there is the “free flow” official rate of 700 bolivares to $1 for goods and services, such as tourism; this rate is nonsense. Then there is black market rate on the street, which today placed at 5850 bolivares for a dollar, and is still increasing.
The people here tend to hold the fewer amounts of bolivares as possible. Many of those who can´t buy foreign currency prefers to buy something like a blender or a washing machine. The bolivar is not an option to save. Any currency like dollars, euros or even Colombian pesos avoids savings to vaporize. Is that hard that holding the blender at least guarantees that you’ll have some money you can use, even if you sell it for less. If you leave your money in the bank you’re surely lose it. You can also buy some kinds of food –such as rice- because you can trade it later for some good you need. Everyday there’s more Facebook or Whatsapp groups to do so.
There was a Vice article about how you could live for a month on 100 euros. Is that true?
SHERYL: Yes, that’s true. Now with only 2000 euros you could buy a car. And if you save a little more money you can even buy a house or condo. If a foreigner for some reason came to Venezuela to live could achieve in one or two months what would take us many years. Amazing, right?
JESSICA: In the black market, 100 euros are 655,383 bolivares, which is equivalent to 3 minimum wages approximately. Supposing that you live alone and that you don’t have to help a familiar or something, you can actually live in luxury for 100 euros a month. However, one of the main problems right now is to change those 100 euros in the black market, not much people have all those bolivares.
JOISBER: Today this kind of life will cost you about 500 euros a month. A box with 36 bottles of beer cost $4 and a good bottle of rum like $8. With some hundreds of euros you’ll live well, but inflation is growing fast. The same candy you bought for a hundred two years ago cost today 2000 bolivares. Hotel rooms are subsided for the mentioned “official rate”, but good and services provided must be paid at real rates. Hotels must buy cleaning issues or food at local and real prices (when they can find it, of course).
Travelers have been advised to stay away, with many people saying that anyone who comes to Venezuela will be asked for bribes, detained by police, and beat up or shot in the streets. Is that true? Is Venezuela safe for foreigners?
JESSICA: It is true, in Venezuela are too many security issues and violence, that is why Venezuela is not a safe place for tourists, they can be easily recognized and kidnapped or bribed. It hurts me to say those things because I know Venezuela have so many beautiful places, however, I feel that is my responsibility to say nothing but the truth. Unfortunately the government has not even tried to maintain or take care of the touristic places, so everything is just full of trash and the hotels doesn’t meet the minimum conditions.
A few years ago, Mónica Spear, Miss Venezuela 2004, came to Venezuela to show the country to her husband and her daughter (she wasn’t living in Venezuela anymore). During one of their road trips at night, their car stopped working and they had to wait for a car crane, while they were waiting some thieves appeared and tried to stole them their objects of value but they resisted and the thieves killed them, the only survivor was Monica’s daughter and that was a miracle. This is a beautiful and rich country with kind and helpful people, but right now we are not going through our best moment.
SHERYL: I’d not advise foreigners to visit Venezuela, at least not for now. It’s a beautiful country, full of natural wonders and excellent people who, despite all the problems, continue to face this crisis with the best disposition. However, we are now going through very difficult times, in which the future of the country is being decided, and I do not think this is the best scenario for those who lead a normal life very different from ours and what they want is to spend good time with their families.
We would like everyone to know our country but, in my opinion, I think it would be very dangerous; airports are controlled by ruthless military hungry for dollars. Also, as I said, we are in a time of national tension, so it is best for tourists to leave at least for now. After having a new president I am very sure that they will be well received.
JOISBER: Venezuela is not safe for anyone in this moment. The confrontation between the government and dissidence is really accentuated and the police forces are almost exclusive dedicated to contain manifesting citizens. A foreign traveler making tourism is just a dish for criminals right now. There are some destinations in the country such as Canaima or Los Roques who try to protect tourism for themselves, because they live from tourism, but a single traveler can face such a bunch of risks trying to reach those destinations. We are on the verge of a civil war, and coming to Venezuela for tourism right now is just suicide.
If given a choice, do Venezuelans prefer to leave the country, or do they want to stay and fight it out?
JESSICA: Based on the people I know, I could say that most of the Venezuelans, specially my age (20-23) want to leave the country. Leaving everything you love behind is not easy, saying goodbye is a difficult thing but right now we need to make a choice: we save ourselves or we save Venezuela.
I respect the people who want to stay, but I want to leave, unfortunately I don’t think that a country that has been destroyed for 18 years can be fixed just in 2 years. So, in my particular case, I am waiting to get my degree to leave the country. I wish that I could come back to Venezuela in the future to help in the construction of a better country, but right now I don’t want to keep living this way, I don’t want to live thinking that I am going to be killed in any moment. I want a better future for me and my loved ones.
SHERYL: Anyone would be a difficult decision. It is not easy to go to a different country and start from scratch, leaving family, friends and a life behind. Nor is it easy to stay to fight it out without knowing if you will survive.
I believe that all Venezuelans have considered the two options equally, because on the one hand we want to find a better life, without complications, without waiting long hours in lines to buy food or personal care products, without insecurity or corruption. On the other hand, we understand that we are the only ones who have the power to change the future of our country, because if the government were we would starve for as long as they want, like Cuba.
Either way, we all have our helping method to recover the country, as well as to build it every day. Some going every day to fight it out to the protests, others viralize what happened in our country every day through social networks and raising their voice against the government, others leaving the name of Venezuela high with their achievements, and others protesting wherever they may be.
What we have all come to understand is that every action is worth, and even if it is something small, maybe a photo or video to show what is happening in certain place, it is crucial and helps actively in the recovery of our rights. Personally I think that it doesn’t matter where we are, if we are willing to help no matter what we do but the intention with which we do it. As I also believe that those who left the country by their own choice will return when all this ends to build the country we want.
JOISBER: Those who can leave just did it. The others that have some possibility to leave at least are thinking about it, or have their plan B. However, there’s still a lot who can’t or don’t want to go and are on the task to fight in order to make the change. People are really tired and are looking for the change.
The common citizen has awaked today, and we are clear that we can’t hold a decent living here unless we point some structural breakdown and put the sails in the democracy winds again. The poverty, the shortage, the crime, every one of those knocks our doors more than once a day. Here we overpassed the no return point some time ago, and most of us are very clear that the only way to survive is the restoration of our republic.
Lastly, just how rampant is corruption in Venezuela?
JESSICA: Yes, all the people related with the government are involved somehow in corruption scandals. There are politicians whose salaries are not enough to run a business in Miami, to have a house in Europe or to pay an expensive college for their sons and daughters, but they do, and when you do the math, something is just not right. Also it is ironic that all those politicians who support the government are always criticizing the United States but all their kids study and live in the United States. According with the government, everything that happens in Venezuela is America’s fault, because of the CIA… crazy, right? Welcome to my country.
Do you need another example of corruption? Let’s talk about the Odebrecht scandal of corruption, this company has been having trouble through Latin America because they had paid to governors, mayors and ministers for contracts, it is important to say that in so many countries of Latin America all the people involved in corruption are in jail. In Venezuela, everyone is innocent; actually, there is not even a process of investigation.
SHERYL: Corruption is not at all overhyped. You can see corruption everywhere, especially in the military and police corps. Here even to transporting food from one state to another, you must pay bribe. In order to enter Colombia next door you must pay a bribe. If you are apprehended during a protest and but you have not committed any crime and there is evidence to prove it you must pay a bribe to avoid jail. Here the highest paid citizens are ironically those who plunge more the country into misery.
JOISBER: The corruption? It’s simply brutal. The international reserves (any country savings) of Venezuela right now are about 10 billion dollars. In the chavismo era the nation stealing is by minimal of 400 billion dollars. I give you those numbers just putting together the most relevant fortunes made from nowhere. Just imagine any business where you buy anything paying 10 Bs for a dollar and sell the same item at a 5850 Bs for dollar rate. It’s insane.
For the high government the corruption has become a protector shield. For example USA has about 900 generals in their defense forces to manage it. In Venezuela we have more than 2000 generals. Every one of them has free way to smuggle, make dark business, and earn illegally millions with the only condition to leave Maduro alone. This is the first line of defense against a military overthrow.
Despite all the misery we’ve talked about here, Venezuela is one of the countries with most private jets per capita. Isn’t it madness? Every single politician close to the president line holds properties, industries, business, luxuries that they can’t even imagine. This is the really catch, they are there just for money. They used que people, the country and constantly jeopardize our children future just for money. We are ruled by a bunch of common thieves.
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