Venezuela has often been the target for a good number of international media outlets and journalists who seek to understand the current socio-economic situation that plagues its citizens.
Perhaps you have read about its galloping hyperinflation, of the nonexistent value of its currency and how Venezuelan workers are paid 15 USD every two weeks, the scarcity of basic products, of its terrible water, gas and electricity service and the airtight control its government and military exercises over its people and more.
Naturally, you don’t know whether to believe or not these allegations. How could it be after all? Not so long ago—going as back as a decade ago—Venezuela’s self-proclaimed socialist president, Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, announced and executed multiple social needs projects, the so-called “Misiones”.
These were social missions aimed to reduce the gap between the lower classes and the higher ones, providing the formers with job opportunities, higher pays, more accessibility to food and other basic need products, nationalizing companies and expropriating lands and companies off the hands of the wealthy.
Venezuela was thriving. Its heavy oil reliance was finally paying off, financing all these social projects to support and expand the country. The PSUV (an acronym for Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela) was bursting with popularity. To be more specific, Chavez was. Not just on a national level, but internationally as well.
So, what happened? What drove Venezuela from its zenith of opulence to rags and tatters? To a country where its barebones hospitals can barely handle its patients’ load, where its schools can no longer provide students the education they need and where said students can’t afford all their school materials, where many universities have had to shut down classes since they can’t pay their professors and more. The reality of current Venezuela is a grim and bleak one.
Economic disparity, uncertainty, crime and international sanctions, all mix-up and worsen the common Venezuelan citizen. As a remote worker, I have experienced all the sort of feelings and frustrations most of us have gone through. But before that, I wish to explain a bit some of the different factors that led to this current situation.
The recipe for disaster
Many who try to understand the Venezuelan situation tend to fall for a reductionist approach, arguing that Chavez’s populist and socialist policies, others argue that our current situation is almost entirely due to the US’ foreign interference and economic sanctions.
But all these interpretations are all inaccurate or incomplete. In reality, it’s a combination of all these factors. Allow me to elaborate on this.
Oil prices during the first decade of the 20th century were at an all-time high. In Venezuela, we possess 5 principal oil refineries. These five’s output were constantly mass-producing oil barrels, being sold at high prices. This meant Venezuela’s revenue (its GDP) was at an all-time high as well.
For Chavez, this was the opportunity to announce and open multiple social aid projects (e.g. Robin Mission, Barrio Adentro Mission, Mercal Mission, etc.), which all aimed to increase accessibility and equity among the Venezuelan’ lower classes, a wealth gap widened during the 90’s economic crisis (the reason for this is a whole new topic, which dates back to the Fourth Republic and the Puntofijismo).
The impact was noticeable. Workers’ wages and unemployment diminished, lower malnutrition levels, higher food distribution among certain demographic groups, etcetera. But not everything that shines is gold. Irregularities and corruption scandals, unfulfilled promises, etcetera. associated with these social missions were prone to happen.
The Venezuelan bureaucratic processes became so bloated that, even if a project was proposed and accepted by the National Assembly, money was often redirected to other individuals’ pockets instead of bettering the infrastructure, education, food security or enhancing communal systems. To point out a few examples, we have the 2nd and 5th metro lines in Caracas, the José Inácio de Abreu e Lima agrarian project, the eolic park in Macanao, Margarita–as part of an energy project–but the most infamous case is the unfinished Tacoma Dam.
The Tacoma Dam was a huge infrastructure project, managed between the PSUV-led government and the Brazilian construction company known as Obredetch (nowadays called Novonor), to build the country’s largest dam in the Caroní river, in the Bolívar state. The original purpose was to alleviate the energy burden off the Guri Dam, the country’s largest and most important dam.
Over 9 hundred million were poured into the project, which amounted to nothing and had severely negative outcomes later on. The 2019 electric crisis, which plunged the country into darkness for almost 5 days–with gigantic economic losses for small to mid-businesses– was due to the overwork the Guri dam had been subjected to. Currently, the unfinished dam is an unspoken statement of the PSUV’s utter failure at bringing upwards the country’s infrastructure.
As a side note, I am not inherently against social aid nor social projects aimed at bettering the workers’ conditions and opportunities. However, the underlying corruption, inefficiency, media repression and use of directed violence to dissidents, precipitated a disintegration of all these projects and misuse of the funds.
The iron-fisted military control
Of course, that leads us to other aspects. Prior to his presidential tenure, Chavez wasn’t any civilian. He was a highly influential member of the military, with many connections. After his presidential presidency–and especially after the attempted 2002 coup which momentarily took him out of power–Chavez expanded the military’s capacity to intervene and to occupy public positions of power.
Theoretically, the Punto Fijo Pact made the military a third factor, non-interventional factor between the public and the State (the extent of whether this actually took place or not is highly debatable), but Chavez modified this. Since his political party had a strong grip on the National Assembly, he was capable of passing through a series of reforms that increased the military’s influence and power, as well as diminishing the National Assembly’s power to oversee them. Not just that, it also positioned several of his contemporaries in high positions. By doing this, he ensures the loyalty of those who supported him and created a political weapon capable of enacting pressure–and violence, if required–to their dissidents.
An excellent proof of this is the State’s repression of multiple workers’ and student’s protests, the repression of the Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT, National Workers Union)–whose aim was to preserve the workers’ syndicates’ autonomy and rights–and many other examples. However, the repression used to fight off potential dissidents was relatively sporadic or was covered up, since the PSUV had large support from the population.
The Farce of Participatory Democracy
After his victory, Chavez announced a new Constitution was due. He argued the old one established in 1958—in the aftermath of Perez Jimenez’s downfall—didn’t represent the majority of the population and was only a political tool to widen the gap between “the rich and the poor”.
The 1999 Bolivarian Constitution was the political and ideological tool Chavez used to enact many of his reforms, to strengthen military power and to establish a “participatory democracy”, a concept he used to contrast with the old democracy, where only a few took decisions for everyone else. To reach his goal, he drafted multiple laws that were approved by the PSUV-led National Assembly to create communal councils.
Communal councils are institutions constituted by the citizens to the citizens. In other words, they are organisms in charge of listening to the people’s needs, creating solutions for them, taking these proposed solutions to the local or regional form of governments and overseeing if they truly work, if they actually minimize the difficulties people face. That was the theory, at least.
As experts have pointed out (María Pilar, 2018), communal councils aren’t entities built from the ground, they weren’t an organic expression of the people’s needs, but rather, institutions created from the top down. The Organic Law for Communes and Social Protection is single-handedly responsible for approving—or denying—any social project or proposal that goes through it. Naturally, this power led to a co-opt of communal councils by political parties on all sides, but particularly by the PSUV.
The vertical structure of communal councils goes against the principles of a participatory democracy, where a few “leaders” or “councilman” were capable of taking decisions for the entire community. They also aren’t inclusive—any dissident, voice or group of voices that dared speak against the government policies would cut off from any potential social aid service.
Thus, if participation is an obligatory requirement for access to basic services, exclusion becomes a political tool to force citizens to be part of this party and to vote for them. These strategies were thoroughly implemented in the 2006 and 2012 elections, where the PSUV utilized the state finances to fund their political campaign and provide everyone who supported access to what they most needed. By then, the participatory democracy Chavez had championed for had undergone a transformation to the worst.
All of the previous sections served to illustrate a bit of everything occurring in Venezuela from Chavez’s rise to power to his death in 2012. In the wake of his death, his hand-picked successor, Nicolás Maduro Morro, declared himself President. The opposition parties, led by figures such as Enrique Capriles or Lorenzo Mendoza, called for righteous and transparent elections. By then, the worsening economic and social conditions (rising inflation, lower wages, higher crime rates, etc.) had diminished the PSUV’s national popularity.
Despite all of this, Maduro and his party won. However, the elections were not recognized by the opposition members, nor by a large number of international organizations, due to the state’s repressive measures against radio stations, television and channels, or any form of media that spoke against them. Plus, the government entity that oversaw the electoral process was none other than the Electoral Nacional Council (CNE), composed entirely of former PSUV members or people who had close relationships to figures of power in the State.
2013, 2014, and 2017 riots (as well as many other smaller ones) didn’t simply occur because the population rejected the electoral results. It was an outcry against the tyranny, despotism, corruption and injustices committed by the PSUV and closely aligned parties. The State, in the face of its plummeting popularity, utilizes the national security forces to brutally repress the protestors to maintain itself in power.
These repressions, along with obvious economic interest in Venezuelan resources, prompted the USA—and other countries—to impose sanctions on our country. The first ones were targeted at specific individuals, people with power whose blood-soaked money was safely stored in faraway countries, then they prohibited other countries from buying our oil.
USA’s foreign policies are aimed at sanctioning politically opposing countries, to increase pressure from within so social unrest increases, protests occur more frequently and the government is finally toppled with aid of a USA-backed party. Of course, there are many problems with this line of thinking, which I will briefly talk about in the next section.
My personal story
Sanctions don’t work on authoritarian regimes because high-ranking official members have different access to foreign money and they control every single aspect of the economy and the country in general. Those who do feel the profound effect of sanctions are the everyday workers, whose capacity to interact with other countries is diminished, prohibiting other nations from buying Venezuelan oil was the final coffin in this already troubled and broken country: the GDP plummeted, acquisition of foreign goods became harder, exacerbation of the migratory process of millions of Venezuelans, with profound socioeconomic (“brain drain”) and psychological consequences (family separations, parents and children who have lost their lives trying to leave the country, etc.)
I began as a remote worker back in 2020, due to the insistence of a very close friend. He already had months working in multiple websites, completing surveys and scratching off as much as he could to survive. Afterwards, he moved on to Fiverr and opened an English-to-Spanish (and vice versa) gig. He was doing relatively well, although he had to work large and extenuating hours just to be able to afford food and a few “luxuries” here and there.
He had always praised my writing and oratory skills, so he prompted me to open a Fiverr account as well, so I did. My profile is aimed at the writing of all sorts of papers: scientific ones, opinions, journalistic investigations, etcetera, as well as translation services just like him. I had never worked before, entirely focusing on my university career (Medicine), so this was all brand new to me.
Of course, nothing is ever easy. Years of extracting resources, corruption, lack of maintenance, and more had destroyed the country’s basic services. In this context, what I needed the most was electricity and the internet, both very deficient. Blackouts and shortages are a strategy by the government to regulate the amount of electricity needed, to avoid overloading the system, which happened back in 2018.
Many times, I have had to work overnight to compensate for the lack of electricity in daylight hours or overstress myself when an order was due in a couple of hours and the poor internet connection didn’t help me research a topic.
The 2020-2021 global shift to remote working and heavy technological reliance, as a direct consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, gave me some opportunities, which has helped me increase my median income, so I can continue my education and economically support my parents in any way I can.
The sanctions have only worsened our conditions and put a bigger dent in the productivity of all remote workers who work endless hours to provide for themselves and their families, venturing into unorthodox methods, such as playing Runescape or NFT games, such as Plant vs Undead or Axie Infinity. I don’t believe we are heading into greener grass for the near future (albeit we have made some improvements here and there), but I will continue working in this demanding and crushing environment to accomplish my goals.
- 10 obras millonarias inconclusas: la estafa social del chavismo
- Desmontando la censura y la historia oficial
- Para comprender la violencia en Venezuela
- Venezuela’s complex humanitarian crisis: Humanitarian response, challenges for civil society
- Maritza Landaeta-Jiménez et al. El Derecho a la Alimentación en Venezuela. Anales Venezolanos de Nutrición. Volumen 25, No. 2, Año 2012. Obtenible en: http://www.analesdenutricion.org.ve/ediciones/2012/2/art-4/
- El legado de Chávez. Estructuras de poder e institucionalidad en la Venezuela “post-chavista”
- María Pilar García-Guadilla. The experience of Participatory Democracy. Popular power and community development plans in Venezuela. Espacio Abierto, vol. 27, núm. 1, pp. 81-102, 2018.