How does Venezuela’s crisis affect ordinary people?

By MARCELO DUHALDE | March 25, 2019
Illustration BY Adolfo Arranz

Venezuelans are suffering chronic shortages in a country that is home to the world’s largest proven oil reserves and an enviable abundance of natural resources. Here’s how it affects people every day.

A day in the life

Venezuela is experiencing humanitarian and constitutional crises and its economy has spun out of control. Here we look at a typical day in the life of a junior school teacher with a bachelor’s degree working in a state school earning an average monthly salary (as of February 8, 2019) of 40,000 Bolivars (US$13 or HK$102).

4.30am alarm clock
Wake up to check the electricity and water are working. Water is usually only available for 30 minutes a day and the low pressure in the pipes makes showers virtually impossible. Basic services are falling apart from a lack of maintenance and investment and there are no apparent plans to improve supply.

Public buses are in poor condition and spare parts in short supply. The few still operating are under severe strain carrying excessive passenger loads along shoddy road surfaces. On February 11, there were only 1,500 buses for the metropolitan district of Caracas – less than 20 per cent of the fleet needed to serve a population of about 8 million. Las perreras (Spanish for kennels) became an alternative to public transport in 2018. These are illegal trucks that are not ventilated and generally in bad condition.

Withdrawing money from the bank
The authorities announce every morning how much cash can be withdrawn but ATMs are usually empty and bank managers accused of setting their own withdrawal limits. Locals can usually take out between 500Bs (US$0.15), about the cost of a short Las perreras ride, and 5,000Bs (US$1.60). Long queues form at tellers and the cost of goods can rise by the time a person gets their money.

Price controls have made it unprofitable for farmers to grow food. Shortages have become increasingly frequent and rationing is common. Supermarket queues begin as early as 3am and can stretch hundreds of metres. Customers must show their ID cards and those with an ID number ending in one or zero can buy products on Mondays, twos and threes on Tuesdays, through to eights and nines on Fridays.

Getting home
The subway is often unavailable in Caracas. To make matters worse, the government sometimes suspends services when the opposition organises a protest to prevent people from going. Many shops and convenience stores are closed by 5.30pm. Queues are faster at bakeries, which sometimes provide more affordable dinner options.

On March 7 at 4.56pm, the power went off as the country’s longest electrical shutdown began. Services were restored in some parts of the country on March 12, while the supply only fully returned on the 14.

Blackouts are frequent in Venezuela. In the first six months of 2018 there were 16,210 around the country. During power cuts, basic services stop, hospitals and emergency centres cannot operate normally. Without refrigeration, food starts rotting after two days. Communication networks are interrupted, mobile phones cannot be charged, there is no internet, banking is virtually impossible and ATMs are useless.

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