CARACAS, Venezuela – By now the world is well aware of the dire state of Venezuela. Photos of violent repressions of protests, of mobs attacking official “president” Juan Guaidó, of the thousands flooding the Colombian border have become commonplace in global media in the past decade.
But few stop to think of what all this means for the daily life and mental health of the average Venezuelan, those who have to build a daily routine and a sense of normalcy amid the chaos.
As a longtime veteran in the Venezuelan nightmare, let me describe it through a hypothetical scenario: You wake up in the morning feeling groggy and exhausted because an impromptu blackout interrupted your sleep sometime past midnight, you’ve lost track of how many times this has occurred in the past, but that’s beside the point, it’s time to wake up — rise and shine.
You walk to the bathroom and open the sink’s faucet, only to remember that even though the water company has just raised its prices by 19,000%, your house hasn’t gotten running water in weeks. The country is under a severe coronavirus lockdown and most workplaces are to remain shut down. Lucky for you, your workplace is now being allowed to open until noon or 02:00 p.m., depending on the mood of the police officers patrolling the area on that day.
Nonetheless, you do what you must, you put on your mask, do the Sign of the Cross, and go outside to your job, hoping to earn the daily bread while stretching your finances as much as you can to wrestle against unbeatable hyperinflation and returning shortages that have once again become part of your livelihood.
At work, you may catch the news that someone was arrested for basically criticizing the government. Wrongthink is not tolerated and you rapidly remind yourself of that, which is why you carefully measure your words with strangers and in your local community.
You return home exhausted, and try to use some of that Socialist Internet (throttled and censored unless you know how to bypass your way around it) only to be received by another blackout, and another, and another, each power fluctuation can mean death for your appliances, and it’s not like you can just easily replace them with a few clicks. Power is back and you turn on the television. The regime’s main TV channel Venezolana de Televisión (VTV), tells you that everything’s fine while denouncing the evils of Capitalism and the perverse machinations of the American Empire.
Ideally, you would simply switch television channels and spare yourself the trouble, a movie or a tv series (anything is better, really) except that there is one problem: your DirecTV service provider found itself between a rock and a hard place – offer Venezuelans an alternative to state propaganda and violate U.S. sanctions on Maduro, or pull the plug. It decided to shut down operations, leaving you, and every other subscriber in the nation, with antennas and decoders that now don’t do anything on their own. If you were a more recent subscriber, then this hardware came at a hefty cost, as it was not exempt from the shortages that plague the country. Resigned at the lack of alternatives, you continue watching VTV.
The Worker-President, Driver of Victories, and Son of Chavez shows up on the TV screen, berating one of your citizens for having caught coronavirus outside of the country, scolding him from leaving the country in the first place — after all, how dare that person even consider seeking out a better life outside Bolivar’s (and Chávez’s) Fatherland? Fortunately, another blackout gives you some sweet release from the Empanada Connoisseur’s words before you were able to turn the TV off by yourself.
Nicolás Maduro cuestiona a paciente contagiado con coronavirus por haber emigrado de Venezuela: “Es un docente. ¿Qué fue a hacer un docente a Colombia, cuando hay tanto trabajo en Venezuela?” #13May pic.twitter.com/VQWAoQFEZ1
— Gabriel Bastidas (@Gbastidas) May 13, 2020
If you were lucky to have charged your cellphone before the latest blackout, you probably might give a phone call to a family member to check up on them (which itself can be difficult because cell phone connectivity is very spotty at times). After the corresponding salutations and the quintessential swear words to vent off at the state of it all, the conversation turns grim after you hear unfortunate news about those that have fallen under dire times or worse — didn’t make it.
You go to bed malnourished because protein is a luxury not everyone can afford these days and if you did, in fact, have some, you probably would prefer your children have it instead. You wake up the next day and repeat the cycle once more, each time getting progressively worse and worse until your mind and body give up and you break down.
At no point over the events of the day does the name “Juan Guaidó” pops in your head. Why would it, anyway? It’s not like your life has improved over the past year and a half like he said it would. There are two presidents in Venezuela depending on who you ask, but both just as useless, the only difference is that one would arrest you for supporting the other.
This hypothetical scenario, while a general portrait, isn’t far from the reality experienced by most Venezuelans. For most, life here is an ongoing torturous experience where nothing works the way it should. Every card is stacked against you and all of the woes and symptoms, which stem from the one and only disease – socialism – are slowly eroding you little by little, leaving you as a husk of what you used to be, or could’ve been as a human being.
No one survives this country sane. A reality that worsens with each passing day, unable to save money due to hyperinflation, unable to get access to proper health care, the hunger, the despair, the hopelessness, stripped of a future — all whilst the regime and the opposition perpetuate a never-ending status quo. It all has become so insurmountable that a surge in suicide rates last year – which went from 4-5 per 100,000 before the rise of chavismo to 9-10 per 100,000 in recent times – promptly raised the alarms.
But there’s no time to think about that. There’s always a line to get on, a blackout to endure, a medicine to yearn for.
My father, one of the last forensics remaining in the city of Punto Fijo, recently told me over the phone that he’s had to perform autopsies on three suicides over the past week, two of which were on minors. For him to have confided that sort of information must mean that it left quite the mark on him.
On the other hand, this is his normal, as it is mine. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to once again know what it’s like to have running water 24/7, to not have to micromanage our water reserves every week, to go one full month without having to worry about inflation, or to not having to look behind my shoulders when I go out.
Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.