My beloved Venezuela… How can this country, that have taught me so much and shown me so much love, be so incredible messed up? How is it possible to have the experiences of a lifetime in a country that is slowly falling apart? My heart aches for you Venezuela because your people deserve better. Without taking political sides, this is what I see. Do not misunderstand. I truly love the Venezuelan culture and its people, but despite the wonderful experiences and new long-lasting friendships… living in Venezuela is exhausting! This is an attempt to explain (from a neutral point of view) to non-Venezuelans what is happening in this country right now.
In an attempt of describing the situation in a balance between ignorance and being paranoid I have to say: I do not feel safe in Venezuela. This does not mean I am inside my house all the time. I am just being honest. The feeling of insecurity is not based on stories from the news; it is based on the fact that my friends have been robbed in so many different parts of the city at any hour of the day. When I walk outside, or when I take the bus or even when I take a taxi, I am always alert. I know who is behind me at all times and constantly taking precautions no matter what I am doing. The insecurity is definitely the hardest thing to deal with living here.
Despite the fact that I am enjoying a new culture, I have to admit that I am starting to feel exhausted because I always have to be careful. There are few moments when safety is not part of my thoughts. I can only imagine how it must feel to live here permanently. Reading this you might wonder why on earth I am still here? Sometimes I ask myself the same question and always come to the same conclusion: Venezuela is teaching me who I am, but in the big picture that does not matter at all. The real question is: what is Venezuela teaching its people?
The food stores lack the basic groceries like toilet paper, milk, butter, oil, flower, soap and the list goes on. This forces people to get in line whenever a store receives these products. The stores puts restrictions on how many products one person can buy. This consequently makes entire families go to the supermarket during work and school hours in order to get food on the table. I have not been in the supermarket the last two months because every time I am there the line continues around the building. Sometimes I long back to Norway where there is a grocery store in every corner and we complain about a 10 minutes line. In the beginning I laughed about these things finding them so ridiculous, following the Venezuelan humor laughing about everything. Now it has come to a point where I realize how extremely exhausted people must be from making these lines. In Oslo I see people making lines for the new H&M collection, in Venezuela people are making lines for basic food products.
I will not call myself an economist. That would be a straight up lie. Nevertheless I am sure that the economy in Venezuela is going downhill. When I came here four months ago I bought a meal for 40Bs. Today the same meal costs 80Bs. I would be on thin ice trying to explain this with economical terms and analyses, but 100 per cent increase in prices over a four month period makes warning signs pop up in my head. In terms of salaries I know they have not been raised by 100 per cent the last four months. What does this mean for Venezuelans? It means they cannot afford the same things anymore. It also means working more, but not working more because they are saving for a vacation. Rather, they are working more in order to have food on the table. The obvious question is of course: why is this happening?
This is when it becomes tricky leaving politics out of the story, but I will try. When I came here I knew about a “black market” for selling dollars. This means selling dollars to private people instead of changing dollars through the official system. I thought this seemed very dangerous and criminal, but I quickly understood that using the “black market” is as common as eating an empanada for breakfast. The first dollar I sold was at the rate of 40Bs per $1. In comparison to the official rate around 6Bs per $1 (at that time), this was good business for a foreigner. The reason for the black market is that there are restrictions on the dollar. It took me quite some time to understand this because I had never heard of anything like that before in my life.
Venezuelans, no matter how rich they are, cannot get more than a certain amount a dollar per year for travelling. To get these dollars there are several requirements you have to fulfill (I will not get into these details). The point is that there are people who want more dollars than the amount that is allowed per year. This creates the black market where people can buy dollars unofficially. Another consequence of the black market is that imported products are extremely expensive and makes it almost impossible for the average Venezuelan to buy certain things. The black market also seems to determine the prices in general, but the salaries are not being regulated based on the black market. This is why things are getting more and more expensive for the Venezuelans.
A couple of weeks ago the official rate went from 6Bs to 11Bs per 1$. As I said, I sold my first dollar for 40Bs. Today the black market rate is almost at 90Bs per 1$, so you can only imagine how the prices are increasing. It can be debated how this restriction of dollars limits Venezuelan’s freedom, but it definitely causes some serious effects on the lives of Venezuelans regardless if they want to travel or not. There are several issues in this country (that I have mysteriously become so fond of), but the last thing I want to talk about is how democracy seems to be taken away from the Venezuelans… little by little.
What made me realize that Venezuela is falling more and more into a non-democratic state is the previous four days of demonstrations. Protests are still going on and this is strictly about politics, which I determinately am trying to avoid. That is why I can only tell you my experience of what is currently happening in Venezuela.
Wednesday February 12th I was having lunch with my friends. We were talking about whether or not to take part in the student demonstrations that had already started. I asked what the demonstrations were about and was told several things. Among them was that it was only a student walk marking the “youth day”. Others told me it was meant to be student protests, but that people supporting the opposition decided to join the march against the government. Regardless of the intention of the demonstrations the fact was that people all over Venezuela were walking in the streets protesting against the government. My friends wanted to take part in this, but as I have promised my friends and family to take care of my self I decided I did not want to join the protests incase they got out of control.
On our way to a shopping mall (Paris) the march of people passed us in the street. It was peaceful and I was happy to see it because I had never experienced anything like it before. The crowd passed and we went into the mall. We had a good time at the café in the mall until we started to hear a lot of noise from the street outside. My friends went downstairs to see what was going on and when she came back she told us what was happening in the streets right outside. There were people running away from the demonstrations because they had turned violent, there were shootings and people were terrified and tried to escape into the mall. We went into the café where they closed the doors and we started looking for information through twitter.
I know Twitter tend to exaggerate events, but when you see photos of hurt and even dead young people at the same time as the streets outside is completely chaos, the heart starts beating a little faster than normal. Mostly I was scared because of the uncertainty, the unknown… what is going to happen now? And of course I was scared for my friends who I knew were in the middle of everything. We had to stay in the mall for some time until the streets had calmed down and we could take the other way out and go home.
At home we started to look for news on the events happening all over the country. This is where I realized how bad the democratic situation is here in Venezuela. All news had to be found through the social media. There was no media coverage of the situation on any TV channel or radio station. Some international web pages and channels even got shut down. This extreme censorship shocked me because I did not think the freedom of press was so restrained.
The last four days have been something I have never experienced before and I have to admit: I am scared. Mostly I am scared of not knowing what will happen the next days, but I am also scared of how Venezuela is slowly loosing its democratic features. Young people in Venezuela want international media attention regarding the situation in the country. Not only about the last couple of days, but also about how the everyday life of Venezuelans has become.
So, how is it living in Venezuela? Personally I have to say living here has taught me more than any university can ever teach me, but this time it is not about me. Because the point is: I can leave. I can go home and continue my life in a very comfortable way. Can I say the same for my Venezuelan friends? Honestly… I am terrified of the situation of the country. I can only hope the wonderful young people of Venezuela, my dear friends, that you will find a solution for the future because if you all leave…what will be left of this beautiful country?