May 2023 Be Full of Collective Victories!

Looking ahead to the new year, VA columnist Jessica Dos Santos takes stock of economic inequalities and the challenges for the Venezuelan people.

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to write a piece with the top positive stories from Venezuela in 2022. “Are you kidding me?” I replied, half-joking and half-seriously. I’m not exactly in a position to reject paid work.

But truth be told, it wasn’t easy. Sometimes, as Caribbean as we might be, we can’t find a silver lining in everything. It is especially hard when our impressions clash against official narratives in the press or when celebratory announcements are at odds with our own pockets.

This year, we could all agree that hyperinflation was over in Venezuela. According to OPEC, the second trimester saw (state oil company) PDVSA have its best output since 2020. The Venezuelan Central Bank reported the highest GDP growth in Latin America, some 18.7 percent, whereas the IMF ranked our economic performance second in the hemisphere.

The World Food Organization also believes that the last two years have seen the prevalence of malnutrition go down from a very worrying 30 percent to somewhere between 20 and 25. Electric blackouts have become much less common, though the situation has not improved as much away from Caracas, and water supply has slightly improved as well.

On top of all that, the Maduro government and the opposition sat back at the dialogue table and the US gave Chevron the greenlight to restart oil pumping and exports from Venezuela, though it added quite a few hurdles too.

Today, sanctions and questionable government policies have us celebrating crumbs like major achievements. In this case, selling oil despite the benefits for the country being far from clear or getting back US $3 billion out of some $30 billion worth of Venezuelan assets frozen abroad. It is worth recalling that these unfrozen resources will pay UN and NGO wages before reaching the Venezuelan people.

For everyday Venezuelans, there is still a lot to be done before we can feel that we are definitely moving in the right direction. For example, in March the minimum wage and pensions were raised to 130 bolívars, worth some $30. But today, barely eight months later, they are worth less than $10. There is a devaluation eating away at people’s incomes while the Central Bank seems to have no idea how to stop it. Or no intention…

Simultaneously, institutions that used to defend our rights are MIA. In one recent case, the consumer protection agency (SUNDDE) published a list of maximum prices for 40 priority foodstuffs. The publication was taken down within hours, with businessmen blasting a “communist initiative” and some government spokesmen reassuring them that the maximum prices safeguarded private sector profits. But perhaps the main novelty was that the list prices were set in US dollars.

In this regard, many are quick to declare that “almost nobody earns bolívars in Venezuela,” though there’s hardly any evidence that that’s the case. There was one attempted study by the opposition-aligned Venezuelan Finance Observatory (OVF) which stated that 69 percent of private sector wages are paid in USD but with an average wage of $126.5. The basic food basket is currently estimated at around $450 a month for a family of four. At the same time, millions of public sector workers, like teachers, continue to be paid in bolívars.

Amidst all the economic contradictions, we don’t really know what should be celebrated, what is cause for concern, or when we should just lie down and weep. It is totally unclear that something good for the government, the business sector, trade relations, global geopolitics, will also translate into something positive for us down here.

I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing that negotiations go beyond the release of high-ranking relatives in exchange for US executives jailed in Venezuela, and move towards big objectives that we can all follow and identify with.

With all the uncertainty, we have learned to treasure small joys. For example, seeing our (Olympic gold medallist triple jumper) Yulimar Rojas tear everything in her path, or Venezuelan baseball players from the MLB coming back to play in the Venezuelan league playoffs after being authorized by the US Treasury Department.

That’s another way to look at how much we have suffered in recent years. Our wounds go from economic struggles to the destruction of our families because of migration, all the way to the “silly” side of life: even our pastimes became endangered species.

I firmly believe we need to recalibrate our compass as well. In these past few months we’ve watched a parade of leisure places for elites be inaugurated. These are opulent, obscene initiatives that range from casinos to luxury department stores that sell $100,000 televisions. To add insult to injury, we see government propagandists defending these projects, as if the Venezuelan majority is supposed to cheer for rich people’s pleasures.

May 2023 be a year for collective victories, for achievements that benefit the Venezuelan people. A year where we can spend a bit more time enjoying life and a bit less accumulating second and third jobs to make ends meet. I wish and hope that we all get to ride on the economic recovery train. Cheers!

Jessica Dos Santos is a Venezuelan university professor, journalist and writer whose work has appeared in outlets such as RT, Épale CCS magazine and Investig’Action. She is the author of the book “Caracas en Alpargatas” (2018). She’s won the Aníbal Nazoa Journalism Prize in 2014 and received honorable mentions in the Simón Bolívar National Journalism prize in 2016 and 2018.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.

Translated by Venezuelanalysis.