What Life Inside Venezuela’s Crumbling Authoritarian Regime Looks Like

The citizens rely on the government for their livelihood, but they have little control over the government that supposedly represents them.

Sixty-five miles southwest of Venezuela’s capital Caracas lies Cagua. It’s a small city with just over 100,000 people—who live each day in survival mode. The 2018 Global Peace Index ranks Venezuela 143 out of 163 countries. Violent crime, homicide, and violent demonstrations are ranked at 5/5, making it one of the least peaceful and most dangerous countries on earth.

The Failure of Price Controls

The monthly pay that most Venezuelan workers bring home is 4,500 bolivars, or around 11 U.S. dollars, making shopping for groceries in the socialist country nearly impossible. And since the idea of buying a house or a car is simply out of the question, young people don’t have the ability to become independent from their parents.

Many places in the country have to ration water consumption, but much of their drinking water in cities is contaminated, anyway.

Oswaldo, a young man who lives in Cagua, graduated with a degree from a university in Venezuela in 2016. In an interview, Oswaldo described his life in Venezuela and the struggles he faces each day as a young man striving to succeed inside a failing country.

In addition to the problem of finding food and basic medicine, Oswaldo explained that citizens are often plagued with faults in electricity, water, and gasoline services. Many places in the country have to ration water consumption, but much of their drinking water in cities like Valencia is contaminated, anyway. The government has kept the gasoline prices so low that shortages are becoming the norm. This misallocation of resources is inevitable when gas prices are less than one penny for a gallon—sometimes dropping even lower than that.

A Different Kind of Refugee Crisis

While there is nothing explicitly prohibiting him from leaving, Oswaldo said the sketchy documentation system and price of flights deter him from even attempting to flee. The country, too, lacks the adequate resources to document who leaves and returns, posing potential problems for any Venezuelan citizen who wished to return. Nevertheless, more than 3 million Venezuelans have fled their homeland since 2015—numbers comparable to Syria and Afghanistan’s emigration tally.

3 million Venezuelans have fled their homeland since 2015—numbers comparable to Syria and Afghanistan’s emigration tally.

Movement inside the country isn’t much different. Public transportation, once a system commonly used by Venezuelans, has become a rarity. Bus owners often cannot cover the cost of the spare parts to fix their vehicles, forcing citizens to find new ways to travel.

It’s not out of the ordinary to see cargo trucks transporting people across the country or pickup trucks packed with individuals, transporting as many people as possible. The police and military have been known to take things into their own hands, charging fines and collecting bribes from innocent travelers in order to make their own ends meet.

Corruption at Every Level

Oswaldo says that getting rich in Venezuela is possible, but the only way to do so is by contracting with the government. Venezuela’s former national treasurer from 2007 to 2011 even admitted recently that he received more than $1 billion in bribes while in office. According to Oswaldo, if a business has a good relationship with the crony government, they can make a small fortune. But businesses that rely strictly on customer demand for their products rarely do.

Opposition parties don’t want to call out their rulers and risk being singled out by those in power.

The citizens rely on the government for their livelihood, but they have little control over the government that supposedly represents them. After an election, for instance, it’s not uncommon for the opposition leader to be imprisoned. Votes are often illegitimate and the corrupt electoral body names the government-backed candidate the winner.

For these reasons, political participation has diminished considerably since early 2017, Oswaldo says. Opposition parties don’t want to call out their rulers and risk being singled out by those in power. The cycle of corruption and control of people’s lives is never-ending.

Freedom Has an Uphill Battle

Organizations promoting freedom aren’t currently being persecuted because the government doesn’t feel threatened, Oswaldo says. But that could change at any moment. “All Venezuelans are at risk in our country,” he said. “Those most exposed are those who do political activism since their work puts the stability of the government at risk.”

It’s an uphill battle, Oswaldo says, but it’s a battle worth the fight.

Oswaldo is fighting for freedom in his home country—freedom that’s so often taken for granted in the United States. But Venezuelans are starting to get used to the lack of liberty and the never-ending struggle for their survival in Venezuela, which could very well lead to the regime remaining in power for some time. There are few people inside the country willing to fight against socialism, having seen the horrors of patriots fighting against a dangerous regime. But Oswaldo is holding out for the day that people have more control over their government and citizens can finally have the opportunity to find better lives.

It’s an uphill battle, Oswaldo says, but it’s a battle worth the fight.

Further Reading

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