A reflection on growing up in and moving away from Venezuela during the presidencies of Chavez and Maduro.

Recorded in Madrid.
Music:
LEMMiNO – Moon
Simón Díaz – Mi Querencia
Antonio Lauro, Antonio Ochoa, Flaminia De Sola
Intro tune by James Iball.

Story #28 : Caracas

[Carys]:

Hi, I’m Carys, and before this story starts, I want to give a bit of context. The storyteller is Venezuelan, and is talking about the recent history of her country and her family’s experience. Venezuela is an oil-rich country in South America, which is experiencing lots of social upheaval and thousands are fleeing across the borders. It’s a complex topic to explain, but I’ll try to give a brief outline.

In 1992, a military officer from a working-class background led an attempted coup d’état against the government. He was called Hugo Chávez. Seven years later, after being released from jail, Chavez was elected as president with the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. He used the country’s huge oil reserves to finance large scale social spending to tackle poverty. However, under his presidency, there were many economic and infrastructural problems, and even an attempted coup. In 2013, during his second term as President, Chavez died. Shortly after, there were new elections, and the previous Vice President Nicolás Maduro narrowly won the vote. But there were questions about the fairness of this election. In the past five years, there have been many protests and shortages of basic supplies such as food and medicine. The causes of these problems are disputed, but this storyteller will give her account.

[Narrator]:

I remember in my town, there was a boy from my class that was living in the US and he came back for a week during his holiday. And he just was in one of the demonstrations in my city, which were one of the most pacific ones. And he was shot, right in the head.

[Music]

Okay I’m originally from Puerto La Cruz, in Anzoátegui in Venezuela. It’s like six hours from Caracas, and it’s in the north part of the country. It’s a city by the sea so it’s quite like relaxed and the lifestyle is also relaxed, in comparison to Caracas. When I was little, you could access to probably everything in Venezuela, you could get an education, you could get food. It was mainly okay. But, you know, there was always this sense of lack of security. Like I could never, since I was little, I could never go to the park alone, or even with my grandparents from my mother because there were some things really dangerous if you go to park.

So I don’t remember too much about it. But when I was five years old, Chávez came into the picture. So at first people was really excited because he seemed like, we thought that he cared about people, like all people from Venezuela not only the people that had money. Like I think the majority of Venezuela, they thought that Chavez was the answer. Like to get a more even country, even the conditions of the people in there. So a lot of people voted for Chávez. And at first, I think, you know, we didn’t feel the changes at first because we had the oil, the oil prices were high. So we had a lot of money to spend. And there were no shortages at first. And they started to develop social programs, like Mission Vivienda or Mission Robinson.  Mission Vivienda was like, to build houses for people that couldn’t afford it. And then Mission Robinson was like education plans. And at first, it looked like okay it was great, lalala. He has started to create this socialist movement that actually spread around Latin America as you see it today.

You know because I think a lot of people I thought favoured him like a hero. Like he faced imperialism and stuff like that. I think he did well in like, trying to defend Venezuela from

external interest and US interest. But there was a problem with Venezuela from the beginning. We didn’t develop other kind of industries. Like we got a stock with the oil. We didn’t quite develop other industries like energy or anything sustainable. So at the end it was bound to break down in a moment.

But yeah, he actually didn’t like, manage the country well. So we started to see a lot of things going wrong. For example we started to have shortcuts on electricity because they hadn’t maintained hydro-electrical plants. So we had days without power. Sometimes we had like a week without water, or gas. And that was like, every month, more or less. And then it started to get worse. The oil prices started to get lower. No, he didn’t have as much money as before, like to sustain all the things that started to go wrong. Yeah, everything started to work awfully. Like you couldn’t go… For example, when I had to renew my passport, I had to wait almost a year. I don’t know, apart from that, everything started to go wrong. Like we started to have shortcuts on really important supplies, like medical supplies. Food started to disappear somehow.

[Carys]: What kind of time is this happening?

I think it was 2011 more or less. You know, we started to see like all the consequences of the mismanagement.

[News feed]: We’re going to start off today with some breaking news from Venezuela. We just got word that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has died. The 58 year old socialist leader has been battling an unspecified cancer since 2011. Questions had been surrounding the state of the socialist leader’s health since he underwent surgery in Cuba in December.

So, when Chavez died, then we needed elections. At that time, in 2012, we had Henrique Capriles Radonski, which was like the opposition leader at the time, and then we had Nicolás Maduro Moros. We were hopeful that this time we could get out of this regime, because it had been going on like for almost 10 years. And Maduro won for a 1%. And people was really angry. Even in a constitution if you win by a 1% you have to like redo the election. But either way, since they had the control, they just took over, you know, the position. And then we started to have Maduro. I think a few months after he took charge of presidency, we started to feel like the shortcuts, and we had less and less…

[Carys]: Is this like about 2012?

More or less, 2012-2013. We didn’t have like… well, the prices started to go up a lot. For example, water was more expensive than oil. And then in 2014 we had the first demonstrations. They started okay, people was like peacefully going to the streets and demanding reelections, or at least new measures to tackle the highest inflation ever that our country, and like probably every country, has ever suffered. Coming back, in 2014 demonstrations started. I was there in Venezuela when they started. I was actually in Caracas because I had to prepare my documentation to come to Spain. So I had to be in Caracas. And suddenly, demonstrations started to get like really violent. I think the first one it was in February, they were peacefully demonstrating and one demonstration just started to… people was just going back to their homes and somebody shot, and they killed a guy.

[Carys]: The police?

I think, well we think it was the police but we don’t know. Could be like some random dude with an arma you know it was really violent, a lot of people had guns yeah. So, you know and suddenly the arrests started, it was crazy, people was afraid. That night, two of the guys that were carrying the first guy, the guy that was shot, also were found dead. And you know people started to demonstrate because they were really angry for what had happened. You know, it was all this pent-up anger that we had for the years and all the insecurity and all the bad feelings. I remember February was full of demonstrations. And a lot of people died, like at least 40 people died and most of them were young people. I think in Venezuela, normally demonstrations have been in Caracas.

[Carys]: Which is the capital.

Exactly. But from 2014 onwards, they started to happen like all around the country. And I actually wanted to in my city, until the last one that I went. We were just in front of the commercial centre, I was with my aunt. When we reached the commercial centre, we were just there like singing… And suddenly the police came and they started to shoot at the sky, and all people started running. It was awful I was really scared. I went with my aunt to my uncle’s store which was inside the commercial centre and we stayed there like, for an hour more or less. And afterwards I, you know, just like two or three months afterwards I had to leave. So I came to Spain.

[Carys]: And why did you leave?

After the demonstrations, I started to feel like it was really, really unsafe. Like, I really started to fear for my life. I saw people get thinner. And then I came to Spain, that summer I think it was in September. Oh, I stayed here, I started to live here and I started to get like the news from my mum. She started to tell me how everything has changed, that she was happy that I was not there. That was the like the major relief for her that I was not there. And then it came down to the medicines, like we couldn’t find the most normal medicines. Or it was really really expensive to get them. Like, all hospitals started to have shortcuts. Like sometimes they even had like power cuts. And the doctors had to do everything like manual to keep people alive and it was awful, they didn’t even have cotton.

Last year, my grandpa started to get sick and they took him to the hospital and they didn’t even have like medicines, my mum had to go and buy all the medicines outside, all the ones she could find. But even though she tried and she found most of them like, they couldn’t do much for him because they didn’t have the supplies. They didn’t have enough people to treat him. You know, right now there are a lot of people starving and there are a lot of people in the hospital. There are people dying because they don’t have what to eat. My mother told me that she has seen people looking for street dogs to eat. It’s awfully disgusting but they can’t do anything else. There have been a lot of children being abandoned in the streets because people cannot take care of them. I know that if my granddad had been like, here or in a place with like a normal hospital or with enough supplies, he would have survived.

I don’t know… It was awful for me because I couldn’t be there. And I mean a lot of things could have been done differently, and he could have been better. And now, for example, I have an aunt like she has cancer right now. And it’s really, really hard to find the medicines, like the treatment for all the chemotherapy and, it’s really really hard to find it. It’s awful to see that all these people, you know, they cannot do anything for them. Because the government don’t care, and they keep rejecting like, all the humanitarian help that they try to send to Venezuela. They keep and keep rejecting it. I always felt really sad when I see this kind of news. People suffering, kids that haven’t eaten in weeks…

I think I’m so lucky that I am here. Even if I had problems myself, at least I could eat. I also tried to help my family, to send them whatever I can, like whatever extra money I can send them I tried to do it. Because it’s really a help, like a lot of people in Venezuela is surviving on their remesas.

[Carys]: Remittances.

Yeah, all the people that lives outside they send, you know, money back to their families in Venezuela. So it’s really hard. So I always get like really, really angry when I see Maduro or the people from his government talking about how there are no problems in Venezuela, how everything is the fault of capitalism of the US and whatever… And I don’t say those things don’t affect like the overall picture. And now the problem is that they don’t want to step down from the power and they don’t want to do anything. So since I came here, yeah in 2014, that was last time I saw my mum and the rest of my family. But yeah…

[Carys]: And so what do you think is the future? For Venezuela, for your family, for yourself?

I don’t know, I don’t quite know myself or my family. I hope I can continue helping them, or at least bring some of them here or… I don’t know what I’d like to do. But for Venezuela, if I’m being rational, I think it’s going to be really bad. Like it’s going to get worse. But I really, really hope that things start to change soon, like for the better. Because people deserve it, like it’s not fair that children are dying of hunger. They cannot afford to eat more than once per day, and that if they are lucky. So I don’t know I just hope thing change, for the better. I don’t know, if you told me about what would eventually happen in Venezuela in the future I would be really speechless, like it’s really awful. I think the only important thing is to keep hoping.

[Sting]: For more stories like this, click subscribe. You’ve been listening to Stories for Cigarettes.