On Sunday, a presidential election is taking place in Venezuela against the background of a deepening economic crisis. The oil-rich country is suffering water and power shortages, and its people are struggling to pay for food and medicines. Many people have fled to neighboring countries.
Despite this, few expect President Nicolás Maduro to lose. Prominent opposition leaders have been banned from running and the Democratic Unity Roundtable, the main opposition organization, called on the electorate to abstain from voting.
We asked readers in Venezuela to describe their daily lives, how they cope with the shortages and what they are planning, or hoping, for the future. Here are some of the responses, edited for length and clarity. U.S. dollar conversions have also been added.
‘One generation is in exile, and the other left behind’
Our family has separated: The young have left, looking for a better future, and we, the older ones, have stayed in Venezuela. Those of us who fought hard to have a family business have to stay here to look after it as long as we can. We are all traveling back and forth, to see our children and grandchildren scattered all over the world. One generation is in exile, and the other left behind.
We have to go to several supermarkets to get what we need. Shelves are full of nonessentials. But cooking oil, flour, coffee and rice are scarce. Prices rise every week and, since there is no cash, we are forced to pay by card. That’s how everything works now at the stores.
Public transport has virtually disappeared. There is no water, and we have blackouts every single day. We pray every day that we don’t get sick. It’s such an ordeal to get medicine, and if you do find it you have to pay in U.S. dollars. The lights are off at the parking lots of many malls and only the “up” escalators are working, to save money and spares.
We feel like we are losing our lives while waiting for things to change. So, we live day after day without a future. We adapt and get used to things. We make plans to leave once there’s nothing to fight for or look after. Leaving is Plan B. We are hopelessly waiting for change. It’s not up to us to achieve it.
— Nora Morrison
‘Most people are basically paying to go to work’
I have a small company. I go to work every day to witness how my employees’ time, work and efforts are worthless. Sadly, today, the standard food basket costs 100,000,000 bolívars (around $1000) and the minimum wage is only 2,555,000 bolívars (around $25). Most people are basically paying to go to work.
— Luis Bersani
‘I want my daughters to live without fear’
My husband migrated to Brazil, but he hasn’t been able to find a steady job. I hope he does, so that me and my two daughters can join him. I don’t want them to suffer more there, because at least we have a roof over our heads here.
I don’t go to the supermarket, because you can’t find staple products there. I buy from buhoneros or bachaqueros (smugglers), whenever I have cash. I go to the stores near my house that sell products that are 1000 times more expensive, because there is rice, flour, sugar, coffee and margarine. I buy groceries almost every day, if my husband manages to transfer me some money. I just buy what I need every day, because if I bought food for five days I’d spend all of the money and if we had an emergency I wouldn’t be able to pay for it … what if I need medicine?
I’m planning to join my husband as soon as he finds a steady job and he can rent a place for us to live. I want my daughters to live without fear, or without asking me every single day, “Did you find something to eat?” And if we leave, I hope the government is removed from power, so that we can come back to be with our family again.
— Kelis Cardoso
‘We don’t understand the power we have’
Venezuela is my country. I don’t see myself living somewhere else. I was born here. My parents and most of my family live here. My ancestors are buried here. My country has given me all I have — education, culture, a sense of belonging. I want to be part of its reconstruction, and to me it is very ungrateful to think that leaving is the only way out, and that the decision is individual rather than collective. We don’t understand the power we have as citizens and the chance to use that power to build the country we want.
— Marcela Gil
‘I’ve been using my credit card to pay for food’
I leave home around 5:30 a.m. and I walk to the main avenue to take my kids to school and my one-year-old baby to my mother’s house (in trucks, which are not entirely safe, but that’s the only transport available now), and then I go to work. I work in a supermarket, so I witness how prices rise every day. I can’t afford anything. I was paid today, with a salary increase, and I couldn’t afford to buy 1 Kilo (Just over 2 pounds) of meat, I only managed to buy 250 grams, and that’s all we eat, because I can’t buy rice, pasta or flour to make arepas (a savory cake) with my salary. I’ve been using my credit cards to pay for food for three months. I use them even though I know it’s going to be really hard to pay only the minimum each month.
I have high blood pressure, and I’m not taking medications to control it now. They are completely out of reach. Fifteen pills may cost about 2,000,000 bolívars (around $20). It’s a fortune.
— Miranyeli Gomes
‘My wage doesn’t last more than 24 hours’
Usually, I wake up around 6 a.m. to go to work. I walk to work, because it’s been almost two months since I had cash in my hands. Luckily, my work is close, but I can’t go to other places when I need to because I can’t get cash. My wage doesn’t last more than 24 hours. The last time I got paid, I earned 1,100,000 bolívars (around $11). Neither my son, who lives with his mother now, nor myself had anything to eat then. I bought two cassava breads, two bananas, and two cambures (a different variety of banana), and I gave half to him and kept the other half to take home with me. I live with my sister, my mom and my aunt. The next day I went to the supermarket where my brother works and he got me two dozen subsidized eggs, which are cheap — 371,000 bolívars (around $4) each. I bought two with what I had left, and my brother lent me money to pay for the rest. That’s all I could buy with my two-week salary: two cassavas, two bananas, two cambures and two dozen eggs. And I’m back to work without money in my pockets.
— Luis Hernández
‘Staying in Venezuela means to die either fighting or from starvation’
The only reason I had to stay in Venezuela was to finish my major. But, because of the high cost of living, I have dropped out. I can’t leave, because I don’t have a passport. I paid for it months ago, as I paid for the rest of the documents I needed to emigrate, but I’m still waiting for them, because the president and his cabinet are mean, inefficient and incompetent. And that’s why I’m still here. They are using schemes to disguise the humanitarian crisis we are going through, and to prevent an exodus.
The most painful and outrageous thing is that elementary and secondary schools only teach the political ideology preached by the government to poison the minds of the young, whose future is already ruined.
In the short term, I expect to leave the country to work abroad and help my family, my mother and my grandparents. Staying in Venezuela means to die either fighting or from starvation. And nobody wants to be a pawn in a game where the majority will only have a tiny advantage. In the long term, I want to help rebuild the country that everybody claims Venezuela could become.
— Jhon Martínez