5 faces of crisis in Venezuela
Venezuela’s political and economic crisis has thrown people’s everyday lives into chaos and left 82 of them dead. Killings, looting, traffic jams and clouds of tear gas fired by riots cops at anti-government protesters are making ordinary people’s lives a nightmare. As the country marks three months since the worst unrest erupted, here are five faces of a crisis with no end in sight.
Looters emptied the freezers and seized computers and even carving knives from Ricardo Rivas’s butcher’s shop on May 16. “They took absolutely everything,” the 29-year-old said, in his western home city of San Cristobal. He was visiting his mother when he got a call telling him armed men had destroyed the business he worked years to build. “I thought of shutting it down and leaving. But I am one of those people who believe you should stay and fight,” Rivas said. He laid off half the staff and put his van up for sale to keep the business afloat. Venezuela’s Social Conflict Observatory counted 157 outbreaks of looting in the first two months of this year alone. That was before the worst of the unrest began, with the daily protests that erupted on April 1 by demonstrators who blame President Nicolas Maduro for the economic crisis. Entrepreneurial association Fedecamaras says 70 percent of Venezuela’s businesses have shut down in the past decade.
Daniel Dacosta, 64, closed up his bakery as hooded protesters outside prepared for a pitched battle with police in Caracas.Flour is scarce and the violence worsens the shortage. Dacosta has laid off staff. The bakery is running at half capacity. “Customers are not coming. The situation is explosive,” he said. “People are afraid to go out because of the tear gas and the bandits.” Maria Carolina Uzcategui, president of trade association Consecomercio, told AFP protests in downtown commercial districts are causing “numerous” losses. Consultancy Ecoanalitica estimates the economy will contract by nine percent this year if the trend continues, its director Asdrubal Oliveros said. “But we have to carry on,” Dacosta said.
For Karelis Rojas, 37, the unrest messes up just about every aspect of life: as a housewife, mother and entrepreneur. Her children, aged five and 12, stopped going to school three weeks ago because of the disturbances. The school is only two blocks from their house, but the streets are too dangerous to risk it. “People who live near the schools warn me if there are armored cars there, and if the streets are closed,” Rojas said. Clouds of tear gas fired by riot police seeped into the apartment, forcing her to shut the children in their room. She had to take her five-year-old son to a psychologist because he suffered from “fear and anxiety.” Rojas used to earn money by designing women’s garments, but “what people least want to do at the moment is buy clothes.” Rather than sit at home “crying,” she said she has sometimes joined in the protests despite the risks. “The way to show my discontent is to get out in the street,” Rojas said.
Language student Laura Doffiny, 21, said she sometimes misses up to three days of classes a week due to transport chaos. “I am meant to attend 10 classes a week and I end up having three or four,” she said. “In one of the subjects I am taking, I haven’t had a single class.” The private university she attends postponed exams in April after one of its students was killed during a protest. When classes are canceled, she joins in the demonstrations, though not all students agree with her. “Venezuela needs professionals,” reads a placard in the university. “Not martyrs.”
Driving his taxi, Jean Carlo Ponce has to weave around barricades mounted by protesters. “We try to go to areas where the taxi doesn’t risk getting set on fire,” he said. In Venezuela’s inflation crisis, something as basic as a spare tire costs a whole month’s salary. Underground train stations shut down during demonstrations, but that doesn’t help him much. Many passengers can’t afford a cab, and the disturbances keep many away. He sometimes spends two hours at a time idle. “When the protest finishes, the demonstrators leave and you’re on your own,” Ponce said. “At that point, it’s best not to hang around in case someone comes to steal your car or your money.”—