I Give the Floor to the People of Venezuela
These are waiters, taxi drivers, salesmen and engineers. These are their stories.
I have been on a trip to Caracas and heard a few stories on what is their current life like. In most of them, I did not start the conversation. I felt, though, that people really wanted to get it out. A plea for help.
None of this is made up and I have no political agenda whatsoever. These are waiters, taxi drivers, salesmen and engineers. These are their stories. I am the listener.
The overall tone is one of sadness. Stories of a Country that “prospered a few years ago” and now is “worse than Cuba”, in their own words.
Venezuela had a big cement factory. A sack would cost Bs. 3 (three Bolivares, the local currency).
One day, the Government decided to nationalize this company. Now, the Government is responsible for producing all the cement in the Country.
The current result is that there isn’t enough production for everyone, and a sack costs Bs. 1800.
This happened to many other products in the last years.
The taxi driver’s father used to work driving a truck that was part of the Logistics department of one of the biggest medicine labs in the Country. He had been working there for forty years.
The taxi driver used to work there himself.
When the Government started to take actions against private companies and industries, the lab stopped investing in growth, it became risky. Then, the lab founder died, which impacted the motivation of people. Then, the Government started raising taxes aggressively, which ended up forcing the shutdown of this traditional institution.
A lot of jobs were lost and never replaced. The taxi driver had already left and became a taxi driver when things started “going south”, but the dad simply waited for the final blow. The Government did not create a federal lab that would both provide the needed medicine to the population, nor the jobs for the unemployed.
The feeling is one of simple attack for the reason of attacking. Private property and capitalists are the enemy, and they need to be taken down.
Before Chavez, people would not even talk about politics.
However, the daily presidential speeches rallied people against “enemies”: the private sector, the “Gringos” (foreigners), the “Yankees” and, of course, the “opposition”. The opposition was simply people who preferred another way of conducting things. Now, they are the enemy.
Politics became like a sports team or a religion.
In the Chavez years, elections were won by a close margin. It can be said that almost half of the population is part of the “opposition”. As a consequence, what you have today is people discussing politics all the time and taking sides.
The taxi driver in the previous story mentioned that he stopped talking to his father for six months because of political arguments. They disagree politically, and the Government has led them to believe that they are enemies because of that.
They reconciled, but avoid touching on the politics subject.
It made me think how many friendships and families were torn apart by fighting a war that was forged by the Government to put people against each other.
It also scared me that I am starting to notice the same behavior in Brazil after the 2014 elections, won by a populist Government by a close margin of around 50.5% of the valid votes. People are already treating each other like enemies.
Basic goods are missing in the supermarket. Toilet paper, milk, coffee and deodorants are rare to be found.
The most critical items, when available, are kept in the cashiers instead of the shelves so that the sales of these items are limited per person.
When it is your turn at the cashier, you are asked: “Do you need a shampoo?”
“Here. Take one.”
This makes each person stay for a long time at the cashier, resulting in huge lines. If you go to the supermarket to buy a few items and you stay in line for 90 minutes, you should be happy. You got lucky.
Furthermore, it is usual that people are in line, waiting and someone yells: “The coffee has arrived!”
People leave the lines and rush to the coffee shelf. They push each other for the few available packages and then walk back to the lines, for another 90 minutes.
All prices are indexed by the Government. So, why would someone produce milk, for example, if they MUST sell for a specific price? What if the production costs are actually higher than that indexed price?
No production. No goods for the population.
The owners are attacked by the Government for being against the population for not providing the needed goods, but it simply is a math problem.
The result is that all companies, industries and services are relocating to neighboring Colombia.
People are simply waiting for the Government to provide the goods and the jobs that they pushed away with their policies and ideologies.
Education Is the Solution. Or Not
This young girl works at a store. She asked me how much I was exchanging my dollars for. She pulled her calculator, typed some numbers and told me: “Do you know how much the minimum wage is here? US$ 27!”
She said she earns minimum wage. Surprisingly, she said she is fine with it. Also, she was considering going to the University for a Degree, but gave up.
An engineer makes a little bit over the minimum wage, because of salary caps imposed by the Government. She makes almost the same, but she gets commission on sales, making her earnings higher than that of an engineer.
I bought a mug for something around US$ 10. Her commission was very welcome, indeed.
“Why would I study, then? Better saleswoman than engineer!”
The Best Job in the Country
A taxi driver told me that on a lucky day he is called to drive five passengers to the airport. In those lucky days, he makes equivalent to the minimum wage. Gas is very cheap in Venezuela, subsided by the Government, which makes taxi rides very profitable.
Why would he look for another job, if he can easily profit minimum wage on a single day?
In a big avenue, I have seen three different car shops side by side: Toyota, GM and Ford. They had one thing in common. There were no cars for sale.
Used cars are a very valuable commodity. There are no new cars available. People cling to what they have and pray they don’t break or, if they break, that they can be fixed without requiring spare parts.
This job is so good that I met an engineer who, in his spare time, makes private cab rides with his own car. He told me others are doing the same.
Betrayals and Contradictions
“You know what the saddest part is,” a guy asked me.
“It is the feeling of betrayal. You hear the speeches on how the foreigners are evil and they want to sabotage and destroy us and steal our natural resources. Then, you see images of Government high-officials spending holidays with their families in Disney World. You get the news that the children of Government officials are going to Universities in Europe or the United States. You get the news that their money is all saved in Swiss banks. You notice that none of these rich Government members want to even invest in Venezuela. They don’t even run personal businesses here. Their personal actions show that Venezuela is not a good deal.”
“In the morning, they make a speech saying that invasion by the Yankees is imminent. In the afternoon, you see images of a party being thrown at the Palace and the Government representatives are dancing, drinking and laughing. It is a joke. Shouldn’t they be getting ready for battle?”
What can people do?
I asked this to everyone who started telling me one of these stories and I get the same answer: “We can’t even manifest anymore. In the last manifestation, people were received with bullets and incarceration.”
Nobody wants to be shot or tossed in prison for asking for a better Venezuela. At least, not yet.