The striking normality of daily life in Caracas, Venezuela: an on-the-ground account

Dancing, Caracas, 17 March 2019
John McEvoy

The Canary is currently in Venezuela. This is the latest in our series of on-the-ground articles.

 

I arrived in Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas, on 15 March. I’d previously been living in Colombia for six months. And while Venezuela has dominated headlines recently, there’s a long string of facts that could be used to demonstrate the seriousness of humanitarian issues in Colombia. These issues, however, are overlooked for two crucial, interconnected reasons: systemic violence in Colombia typically complements private capital, and the US isn’t trying to orchestrate a coup there.

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Friends in Colombia met news of me going to Venezuela with apprehension. Many were quick to talk about democracy, human rights, and shortages of basic necessities, even within a country suffering major issues with all three. It was a reminder of how a war on information precedes real armed conflict; and as we spoke, the aggressors in that war were winning.

War of information

Before arriving in Venezuela, I was already highly suspicious of the ‘humanitarian crisis’ narrative and wider representations of daily life in the country. The ‘crisis’ not only seemed exaggerated in a way that dehumanised Venezuelan people, but also a repeat of the ‘humanitarian intervention’ pretext used to invade Iraq in 2003. I nonetheless prepared myself to be proven wrong. Perhaps outlets like the BBC and CNN – with a record of agitating for military intervention abroad – were indeed painting a fair picture of the country.

What I’ve found most striking, however, is the absence of evidence for such a crisis. Key signs of any ‘humanitarian crisis’ – including homelessness and violence – actually seem to be less visible here than in some major European cities. Meanwhile, everyday life in Caracas wouldn’t look out of place in any Latin American capital: people play football in public parks; weekends see street parties and dancing; children play in public spaces. This has been true of both central areas of the city and its poorer outskirts (barrios).

Caracas has its problems, of course; many of which are particular to an economic breakdown provoked in large part by US economic sanctions. Though there is no visible shortage of food here (a manager of a private supermarket stopped me filming its abundance of food), much of it is unaffordable for those earning the minimum monthly wage (18,000 Bolívarsroughly US$1,800 or US$6 depending on where you look). Local Provisioning and Production Committees (CLAPs) supply over half of the Venezuelan population with packages of government-subsidised food and basic necessities, and many people engage in the informal economy to supplement their salary. The instability and inflation of the Bolívar, moreover, is a massive inconvenience for daily transactions, and joining block-length queues to withdraw cash seems to be a regular event.

“Doing what we can”

I spoke to Kelvin, a juice vendor outside Plaza Bolívar, about the country’s economic situation. He said:

We’re doing what we can. Everyone’s doing what they can. But look around here. Nobody’s starving. It’s not like what they’re saying in your country.

Kelvin’s words seemed to sum up the general mood in Caracas: though the economy is certainly ‘screaming‘, the people are largely coping.

Dictatorship?

As Caracas’s Caribbean coastline came into view through the plane window, a group of passengers shouted the equivalent of: “Maduro, fuck your mother”. The same chant can be heard at opposition rallies; on opposition radio stations; on the streets of Caracas. The daily abuse directed at the Venezuelan president’s family, combined with the fact that Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó has not yet been arrested (in spite of essentially calling for a military coup and inviting a foreign occupation), call the West’s ‘dictatorshipnarrative into major question.

Political violence, moreover, seems at once imminent and a distant possibility. While political debate is lively and open, rumours of the type of ‘Guarimba‘ violence seen in recent years continue. And understanding Washington’s long and bloody history of intervention in Latin America certainly makes violence seem likely.

As the days go by, the normalcy of daily Venezuelan life sits in starker and starker contrast with the extreme representations of the corporate media in the West. If London’s homeless people could see these streets, they’d be appalled that they’re being so shamefully ignored.

Featured image via Anael Ruiz, with permission

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