“In Venezuela You Find More in Lines to Buy Cheaper Goods Than Are In Protests”
by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Venezuela
May 17, 2016Translated by Stansfield Smith, Chicago ALBA Solidarity
Reprinted from Op-Ed News
In recent days, Latin American partners and colleagues have called us to learn about our situation, concerned about the information that reaches them about the lack of food in the country.
The news should be very alarming. For that reason we give a general story of our situation, based on our collective work, militancy, reflections and loves.
We confirm the lack of some items that are part of our daily diet. Rice is scarce, it is complicated to get a liter of oil, pasta appears more regularly. There is a lack cornmeal in stores, but this has not decreased the selling of arepas and empanadas in the streets. There is a lack of flour and therefore bread in stores, but no bakery in our neighborhood has closed or has stopped selling fresh bread, cakes and cookies – at very high prices. The missing bread is salted bread that is regulated at 50 bolivars and when it is found it costs 150, 200 or 350 bolivars. And at regulated prices there is no flour.
However, there is no shortage of vegetables in all their variety, or fish at a price ten times higher than what you could buy a year ago, nor is there any lack of protein-rich food in their forms of poultry and meat. It is the same with fresh cheese, ham and varieties of sausages that have never been lacking, though at very high prices. And price regulation? A government failure or inability to punish because those who made the law, made this trap.
ESSENTIAL MEDICINES FOR THE REGULAR TREATMENT FOR BLOOD PRESSURE, CIRCULATION OR CANCER ARE SCARCE
People cannot find essential medicines for treating blood pressure, circulation problems or cancer. You have to ask many people, to negotiate with sellers to obtain essential medicines. Items for house cleaning and personal grooming have increased in price a thousand percent compared to last year.
Powdered milk has disappeared and liquid milk costs 500 bolivars, compared to 25 bolivars a year ago. At the official price, the dollar cost 10 bolivars a year ago, today 420. And on the parallel market the price of a dollar is 1000 bolivars.
THE PRIVATE FINANCIAL SYSTEM HAS USED ALL MANNER OF EVADING THE FOREIGN EXCHANGE CONTROLS AND THE CONTROLLED FOOD PRICES
To understand the complexity of what is happening in our great country, you have to know this market data. The private financial system has used all manner of evading the currency exchange system and the controlled basic food prices we have had for 15 years. Business found cracks in these controls which allowed all Venezuelans have access to food at regulated prices, and with it, the emotional stability it gave us through maintaining family income and being able to invest in recreation, art and vacations. Today there are unregulated private prices, there is business underproduction, and the seizure of the little produced, to remove it when the store owner pleases.
How can this happen in this country so rich? What is the government doing? “That Maduro is useless” say some people, as do rulers of other countries. Even Google presented an iconic photo, actually taken in New York in 2011, of a store with empty shelves that supposedly showing the shortages afflicting Venezuela in 2013, before this crisis. Was Google misled? Or did Google mislead the world? Media manipulation exists. Nobody apologizes to Venezuela for promoting half-truths and life goes on as if this were nothing.
Recall that 20 years ago all that is missing today was easily found on the shelves, but most Venezuelans could not buy because we had no money or the job security we have today in spite of our uncertain future. The shortages in this wonderful country are not produced by this government, or any previous government. It is produced by capitalist, bourgeois businesses, which manipulate prices and profits, bent on overthrowing the legitimately elected government – in elections recognized worldwide for their transparency. There are some countries in the world where the leaders have not been elected by their people. This is not our case. And although some may not like the results of our elections, they are nevertheless legitimate. If we do not like the results, then we can change the methods of organizing elections, we can change the system. But let’s not blame those elected.
Maduro’s leadership is questioned, but not the manipulation by business, nor their food hoarding in warehouses, nor their underproduction questioned. All this is designed to wear out the people who have defended the dignity of this government. They do not question the financial dictatorship that subjects us to the threat of hunger every day, that subjects us to the uncertainties of medicines, that subjects us to the worry that the day may come when wage security President Chavez gave us is no longer sufficient to face the corporate monster. Because we live under a financial dictatorship, under an on-going business coup, not producing enough because they don’t want to, because they wish to see us Chavistas defeated, we who dared to believe we are a people with a future. It pains them that the government has produced education, self-esteem, patriotism, free health systems, labor, wage and social rights. This government produced the greatest feeling of dignity and hope among the poor majority in this country, and that is not easily forgotten. Is that why there are more people in lines to buy the subsidized food than there are people in protests?
BUSINESSES AND SHOP OWNERS HAVE PLAYED WITH US. THEY PRODUCE HALF AS MUCH TO GET US TO FIGHT AMONG OURSELVES
Businesses and shop owners have played with us. They produce half as much in order to get us to fight among ourselves for items that someone will have to go without. In a line of 300 people, they sell packages of toothpaste in six units, and when there are less than 50 people left in the line, they say there is no more toothpaste. If they sold one tube of toothpaste per person, there would be enough for all. But no, it is compulsory that we purchase the package 6 … and this instigates a fight! They seek to kill the feelings of solidarity, hope for the future, and collective construction that was the beauty of this new homeland of ours.
Businesses prefer to lose money in order to regain control of the government, and with it their privileges of being on the front page of newspaper, of being able to go back to the theaters without having to mix with the poor, to go to upscale restaurants without having any wage worker sitting next to their table, workers who now earn enough to go to the same restaurant as a company owner at least once a month.
What little government enterprises produce is sold at low cost, at prices that have been regulated for five years. Most people today make long lines to access them in stubborn defense of these low prices, as a way to defend this government; at the same time we also buy meats, cleaning products, and vegetables at very high price that magically go up every day. Our eating habits have changed, yuca is eaten instead of rice, spiced drinks for coffee, and we try curious alternative recipes to make arepas from platanos, and we plant crops in our backyards.
THE OPPOSITION DOES NOT GENERATE BIG PROTESTS, A POWERFUL MARCH TO PROTEST LACK OF FOOD AND MEDICAL SUPPLIES
This noble people has not yet been on the streets to protest the lack of food. Why is that? Nor has the opposition. They protest for political prisoners who are really political criminals, they bring out a few seeking an amnesty, or the exit of Maduro. But they do not generate big protests, a powerful march to protest the lack of food and medical supplies. It still doesn’t occur to the opposition to think of bringing together the feeling of tiredness with both partisan political trends.
Some people still have not stopped eating at home just as before. There are also those who already suffer from lack of food, from the pain of death because of the absence of a drug, from lack of money at the end of the month.
They could not overthrow President Chavez the two times business went on strike in 2002 and 2003 because the historical moment of political relations and alternative governments in Latin America was different. Back then we lived in better times of solidarity and integration. Twelve years of close trade relations, of joining forces to show that other forms of negotiation and trade were possible, superior to the profit-focused business world and interest payments. These relationships saved us from a coup at the time. But now governmental relations in Latin America are different and a coup may come. The US government predicts that Maduro will fall by December. The US government considers us a threat, as if our government had hurt them or had invaded other countries like they have.
In these 17 years of Latin American splendor, the everlasting elites who ruled our lands in order to enrich themselves and leave the poor in their place had enough time to reorganize their forces and attack us ceaselessly, without compassion. They do not forgive us for having wanted our own forms of government, for speaking and acting in the interests of Latin America, not in the interests of the World Bank or from the European colonialist perspective. The dynasties of worthy families educated in Catholic colleges and universities to rule (it is not said to oppress) have long gone without possessing this ruling power. This is the political caste which has now dismissed Dilma Rousseff, accused of unproven corruption, but it is her word as the woman leader of a workers’ party against the powerful word of businessmen possessing parliamentary immunity.
These deeds don’t best speak of the gains of our leftist governments: social security, job security, education in our towns, the class and ethnic origins and gender of presidents such as Dilma, Evo, Chavez and Maduro. These are untrustworthy origins in the eyes of the wealthy families of the classical world democracy inherited from the conquistadores. That caste accustomed to governmental power could not win elections against the Workers Party of Brazil or the Socialist Party of Venezuela. Only the legitimate exhaustion of an element of Chavismo faced with our situation won the opposition the National Assembly in Venezuela. These power groups, those businesses, those financial interests have taken advantage of the global economic crisis, the mistakes of government leaderships of the left, the exhaustion produced by their media manipulation, to destroy legitimate governments. After the events in Brazil, a coup in Venezuela or removal of Maduro is more likely, even if by the democratic mechanism of the referendum, after having exhausted this people with food shortages.
Before the death of President Chavez we had the greatest sense of collective happiness of our history. Our unemployment rate, which in 1999 exceeded 12%, now stands at 6.7%; our children go to schools every day with backpacks and school supplies given by the Ministry of Popular Power for Education; extreme poverty fell from 23.4% of the population to about 8%; nearly two million people became literate; the school enrollment rate increased from 43% to 77% in early childhood education, from 48% to 76% in secondary education, and the number of university students increased from 500,000 in 1999, to more than 2.5 million today. 83% of seniors, more than three million, have been included in the state pension system. The new seniors with pensions include ourselves, the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Venezuela; we have our salaries paid with social security and pensions.
More than the lack of some food and medical and medical supplies, we are concerned about the very real possibility that capitalist industry may triumph in Venezuela. This means losing the greatest social security, wages and education we have ever had. In the mirror of the future we can see the mass layoffs by the new Argentine government, the elimination of the Ministry of Culture by the new Brazilian government, both governments rule as totalitarians.
Given the concerns of our friends around the whole world, we say that every day is a day of resistance, of worry, and of work to defend the bond of solidarity that is confronted with so much exacerbated individualism, confronted with so much speculation over the present situation, and so much nervousness about the future. Every day we need to renew our hopes to safeguard the memory of what has been achieved in justice and dignity, to avoid the temptation to look back and become pillars of salt. We need to restore confidence in humanity itself and the other forms of collective power. It is an urgent task to keep reinventing politics and public policies in their various forms in favor of history’s forgotten peoples, today defeated by the economic and media war. We cannot lose in the quest for a better and more just, sisterly world.
Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Venezuela. Caracas, May 17, 2016.