Is it really the former and now deceased president, Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, who is creating this division? Chávez was in power for 14 years, until 2013. He increased social budgets by 60,6 percent – over 3 million Venezuelans got a roof over their heads, 1,7 million were granted pensions, 14 million finally got access to health care. GDP per capita tripled, from $ 4000 to $ 11, while poverty was halved.
Well and good, but in 2013, 48,5 percent of households were still below the poverty line, while oil prices were at the 98 dollar barrel. So, who was Chavez? Was his revolution just an illusion? "Everyone talks about Chávez. Everyone asks about Chávez. One should also ask: What was the state of the country? before Chávez? ”The man who says this is called Imran Baheeus. "The answer is that it was a land for the rich. For the white empires. ”Baheeus is 52 years old and runs a bakery in downtown Caracas. It takes half an hour, but not a single customer comes by. Inflation is sky high, at well over a million percent, banknotes are worth more than origami. Venezuela has 32 millions of inhabitants, and according to the UN, 4,3 millions of them lack adequate access to drinking water, 3,7 millions lack adequate food. And 3,4 millions have already left the country.
"You're probably rich because you're better than me. But what you are better at is stealing. ”Israel Sánchez
But it is not the system that is the problem, Baheeus argues, it is the implementation of it. “Chávez made sure that the country produced a variety of foods, the most important foods, so that everyone could meet basic life needs. Not equal wealth but equal dignity. But – as with too long assembly lines – it's easy to scam, "he says. "And that's actually why we have food now. You can get most of it. But only on the black exchange. ”And yet he thinks Chavez did the right thing. "I don't care that you learn something completely different at Harvard. Because, after all – how was it in this country when we followed the Harvard rules? It is true that the state is not functioning today, it is obvious. And now we go to the streets. But in the past, if you lacked power, you couldn't complain – since the authorities had not yet connected you to the mains. You were not included in any city plan. Today, however, we have rights. And the state has duties. Those who say that the percentage of poverty is still the same have no idea what poverty is. Today we are poor in a bed in a house. Yesterday we were poor sleeping on the street. ”
When I tell them that I live in Petare – which is the poorest slum in the capital, but which is actually more reminiscent of a city than a slum, as it houses about 400 of the capital's 000 million inhabitants – people constantly look at me as if I was not really well kept. In Petare, they ask, why? As if it's a place no one wants to go.
And it was just such a look Juan Guaidó gave me. The 35 year-old opposition leader who in January declared himself president and in April tried to take power. In his comprehensive reform proposal, Plan País ("the country plan"), today's Venezuela is portrayed as a failed state, where 91 percent live in poverty and have a welfare offer that is only empty propaganda. According to Plan País, the minimum wage does not allow you to buy food that contains more than 600 calories a day, and a million children have dropped out of the school system due to hunger. And at the same time, his wife posts photos on Instagram that their labrador, Regulo, is at dog school.
“Venezuela has the world's largest oil reserves. That's the problem, "says Felix Sanoa (66). He is a member of the Polo Patriótico collective, and has spent the last few weeks largely standing in front of the National Assembly to guard democracy, he says. Democracy and independence. “The problem is that we chose to use the oil for the good of the community, not just for the happy few. The problem is we said 'No! No!' to the gentlemen. Is that so hard to understand? ”And no, of course it is not. Not at all. However, only a few meters away are several of his fellow comrades. They are in their twenties and thirties – and armed with rifles. The collective groups ("colectivos") are somewhere in the landscape between football pubs and anarchist anti-globalization activists. Initially, the collectives were to organize social and cultural activities in their respective neighborhoods. Today, they work side by side with the security forces. And – not least – they are responsible for the distribution of food. After all, it is primarily Venezuela's oil production, and the state imports 70 percent of the food the country needs.
So, while explaining that the crisis is created by the US and its sanctions, the freezing of resources, oil revenues and currency transactions; while being told that the authorities buy medicines as usual, that it is the banks holding back the payments; while being told it's just like Chile – you look at the men shooting down protesters, before you turn your gaze to the other group of men, those in line, with their necks bent, to receive their tanned little box with flour, some sugar and rice. And then you think: Yes, Chile. But which Chile? Allendes, or Pinochets?
Trade unionists, intellectuals, workers, farmers – all around the world are largely on the political left – support Guaidó. While Maduro is supported by those with political and economic power – the military, the state apparatus, the public companies. And the international left.
The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington (DC) is occupied by American pro-Maduro activists. But it's not the police who stand outside the embassy trying to get the American activists out – it's Venezuelan activists. And both parties tell you that the Cold War is over.
It's not about a right or left side anymore, something Jolanda Noriega (41) somehow agrees with. "Guaidó stands with the rich, and Maduro with the mighty," she says. There is no left side here, not at all. "It is true that the current crisis is partly due to the sanctions. But we do not need relief. We do not want Red Cross alms – we just want our oil revenues back. And we also don't want the food supplies that the collectives distribute, there are alms, that too, but from our own authorities. ”
Her body bears clear traces of daily wear and tear throughout her life. She is a maid, but is currently doing anything to earn a living. Noriega bori one of the public houses that the Chávez government built (or bought up) to get the poor roof over their heads. The property is located in Avenida Libertador, one of the main streets in the center of Caracas. They are a family of five, but in the kitchen cupboard there is only half a kilo of rice, some flour and some soft lettuce leaves. "The neighbors were against moving in here," she says. “They stated that the value of their homes would fall, and were hostile to us from the start. And they still are. They say everything is our fault. So, the crisis. That we are smarter, that the subsidies destroyed the country, ”she says. "But that's exactly how Chávez was: Not only did he provide us with a home, but a home right in the center of Caracas. However, what matters is not what he gave us, but what he taught us: Even if you are poor, you are important. Just as important as everyone else. I'm possibly just as hungry as I was before. But before, I was invisible. Now I exist. ”
On the other hand, the neighbors – and many with them – do not consider Jolanda Noriega and others in her situation as chavists, but as opportunists. Poor, rude and without education. And now they are right in the center of Caracas – an area they do not fit into, you are told.
The robbery of the rich
Although Chávez's revolution was a real revolution in the proper sense, since everything changed, Venezuela went in a circle and ended back at the start. "Chávez did not address our biggest problem: the dependence on the oil and our main customer, the US," says Ruben Márquez (43), who I met during a support demonstration for Maduro. In his hand he did not hold a flag, but a book by Karl Marx. "What happened to Chávez is the same thing that always happens here," he says. “To ensure stability and protect the economy from the unpredictable oil price, we have always had a fixed exchange rate and solid subsidies. And with such a system there will necessarily be speculation, it lies in the nature of the system. If you are a businessman and the state – since they are going to support your commodity imports – sell you dollars at an exchange rate of 6,5 bolivar, a rate far lower than the official one, why spend the money to produce goods? It makes more sense to sell the money on the black exchange. At an exchange rate of 180 bolivar. It gives 2800 percent profit, ”he says. “This has always been our main problem. It's that simple. The fact that Venezuela's economy is based on oil is in itself true enough. But the economy of Venezuelans is based on currency speculation. And in this area, Chávez did not change anything. Venezuela has never had good or bad governments – only low or high oil prices. ”
“Venezuela has never had good or bad governments – just low
or high oil prices. ”Ruben Márquez
Fair enough. And yet: Chávez actually changed something in this area as well. "On both the right and the left, on both sides, the main players are exclusively rich," says Israel Sánchez (51), who sits inside his small grocery store in Petare. Here, the cheapest item cost 700 bolivar, more than the minimum wage is. And the item is a love stick. "Today's prevailing policy is to focus on the rich: The rich must be lured with all kinds of benefits, especially tax breaks, since they are looking for more profits, yes, but by creating wealth in themselves, the rich are helping to create wealth for us. everyone. Even for the poor losers, the ones who would remain poor losers if it was just up to them, ”says Sánchez. He is right. “The rest of us are waiting for the riches' wealth to drip down on us too. Although it has never happened before. But we are told that we must be patient, grateful. Grateful to these realms, who are not only rich but also the best among us, ”he says. “As if poverty is a mistake on you as a human being, and wealth a human quality. And now everyone is talking about Chávez. Everyone asks about Chávez. But how did it go in this country before Chávez? What was the oil money spent on? Nobody talked about it. Our previous president, Carlos Andrés Pérez, was jailed for theft of 17 billion. Well, you're probably rich because you're better than me. But what you are better at is stealing. And I know when I say this, people respond that it's populism. But, no, I'm saying it because it's the truth. "