After being in Venezuela for more than a month I guess we can say a lot of different things.
We have seen a country that is divided. People who absolutely despise Chavez’s Plan and those who will always defend him and whoever follows his project.
Santa Elena is by the Brazilian border, so the common things with borders happen. Smuggling ( here specially fuel), tourism and all kinds illegal or bordering illegal activities. Because it is so close to Brazil everything is more expensive than in the rest of the places we have been to.
When I first came to Puerto Ordaz I did not particularly like it. It is true I barely spent anytime there. Then I crossed the country for about 16 hours to be able to reach Choroni, and more specifically Puerto Colombia.
Puerto Colombia is by the sea. We have spent about three weeks there. And as expected from a small place by the sea, life was calm and most of the people liked their lives and the government.
From there we saw the U.S declaring that Venezuela was a threat to them, Maduro starting to rule by decree and even children being asked in school to write to Obama saying “Yankees go home!”. We saw people despise the act and also some who defended Maduro’s request.
We heard about all missions implemented by Chavez ranging from a literacy project first to teach the elderly and then the children. The project of pocket constitutions. Private computers to all children attending school and free internet in all schools. Projects to rent money for micro-projects. Legislation to protect small fishermen and many other things. We verified there were many channels, and internet did not look censored. We felt people spoke freely in the streets since many people screamed out loud about their hatred towards the government, the lack of food, the destruction of the economy, the longs cues to buy food etc.
We were impressed to learn that while the minimum wage was 5,500 bolivares ( about 21 dollars) monthly, there were hotels charging 4,500 a night in an average weekend and charging more than 10 thousand a day for the “semana santa” (easter holidays). We were amazed to see they were filled up by Venezuelans who came for weekends and had made reservations for that week.
In Brazil easter is celebrated from next friday to sunday. But here it started yesterday and will last till the following Sunday. Considering Choroni is small, would be full, and there would probably have lots of traffic jams we decided to leave on Thursday.
It was rather miraculous that we were able to reach Maracay and get a bus to Puerto Ordaz that same day. After 16 hours travelling we were hoping to take a bus on friday to reach Santa Elena today. However, we were told all buses were sold out for that night and that we should come the next day at 5 in the morning to check for buses for that day, considering no one can buy tickets in advance now in Venezuela .
Being unable to find a ticket, we reserved a cab for the following day. The driver’s car broke down and so we went to the station at 10, only to find out that the buses were not running today. Being advised to check again every single day. It is holidays they explained “they might not be running”.
Staying longer made us learn many things. We visited the 200 hectares beautiful park la llovizna where there are huge waterfalls. In fact, we were told, that the river Caroni, one of the rivers in Puerto Ordaz, provides electricity to the majority of the country and even to some parts of Brazil and Colombia.
There is nothing like staying in a big city to realise how much this country has lost. While in little towns people might not see it so clearly here it is screaming at your face. There are some sentences we hear here which are priceless. Our cab driver told us yesterday.
“It is all falling into pieces. We are floating. Do you think I am really a taxi driver? I put a sticker in my car and I drive. That man there is selling what he does not need. There are no jobs. The new laws make it impossible for anyone to hire anyone, one could never fire them even if they did not come to work. So we do anything to float.”
Yet there are malls where the prices are completely un-payble for the average Venezuelan. There are McDonalds, Tommy, Adidas, Burger King, Tinberland, Guess, Victoria Secret etc.
There are hotels that can cost up to 15 thousand bolivares and Venezuelans that stay there.
Ad of course there are “colas” (lines) to buy food. Since the government stipulates prices for some specific items. Those are immediately bought and sold in the black market. So when they are in the supermarket people run there to buy them.
Doctors are free to all, but medicine is not there.
Those who are pro Chavez accuse the market and the US for creating this situation. They consider all that is happening to be part of an economic warfare.
Those who hate Chavez’s project blame the destruction of the industry, the total dependency of oil and the fact that this government has replaced most of the skilled people. While before in the state ran company there were experts on oil now the government has substituted those workers with people who are more aligned with the party but who are not necessarily knowledgeable about the industry.
“We have more oil than saudi Arabia. It is heavy oil and perhaps more expensive to extract, but still these are the greatest reserves in the world. Yet this incompetent and corrupt government has fired those who know how to get it.”
These debates will always be answered by Chavistas saying that “lowering oil that much is part of the economic war.”
People are divided. Venezuela imports 70 %of its food from abroad. They are rich in minerals and oil and the reason why the economy is collapsed is always debated by the different sides. I guess they might all agree in one thing: the situation is dire. The reason for that however varies according to who you ask. It has nothing to do with lack of information but rather with people’s different political views.
I am always amazed when I see these who float to survive. I am amazed because whatever side they belong to every single person I have met here was helpful.
Though they might know very clearly that we are privileged to be able to be travelling for so long, they help the best way they can.