5 faces of cri­sis in Venezuela

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

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.”

Taxi driver

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.”—

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