Growing in Venezuela: A general and brief story from my point of view

Photo by Jonathan Mendez on Unsplash

There are a lot of news headlines with sad statements about the condition Venezuela faces right now and it seems that there hasn’t been ever a time when my country didn’t make such a dramatic entrance in your feed with a eye-catching horrifying title such as “Starving kids eating from the garbage”.

I wanted to take a moment to tell my story without much extra fuss about the current situation.

I was born in August, 1990 in a Peruvian immigrant family living for years in Caracas. They were fleeing from the hard living conditions they were in for a better life in the flourishing Venezuela of that time. Carlos Andrés Pérez (let’s call him CAP) was the president in that time (1989–1993), elected with the hope of bringing back the good times he had brought when it was his first presidency period.

Before I was born, the “Caracazo” happened; this word derivates from the name of the capital and it’s been given afterwards when recalling the history of the event. The Caracazo were several protests for 9 days started in February 1989. Venezuela’s economy depends solely of petrol commerce (being producer and exporters of only one product has been criticised for years, fixed by none and not our topic today but is a fact). After the economic “boom” that crude oil market generated in the 70’s the price of the barrel went down and we were slowly but surely sinking, economy-wise.

CAP announced several economical measures, such as removing subsidies, hence increasing prices, which led to social disscontempt and hysteria. Although the measures where actually needed to save the economy, or maybe that’s my personal opinion, they were made fast and without people’s real awareness of the impact and they sure made themselves be heard. The casualties of those protests are more than 200 but there’s speculation that could be up to 3.000 (different source state different numbers).

At the end things calmed down, economical measures were still on going but surely the president wasn’t liked as much as in the elections.

I was an awaited child, my parents, married for longer than a year and having been dating for a couple more, decided it was time to form a family and for 11 months my parents tried and failed to conceive me. Such is the background, and me being the first (and only) child, I was pampered with everything you could’ve imagined.

After I was born my parents traveled once or twice to Peru, I come from a christian family so I was baptised in Lima for all the family to be present. During that trip, Hugo Chávez attempted a Coup d’État against CAP (February 4th, 1992) and failed, having between 32 to 300 casualties (again, people won’t agree how many they were). This is the reason why he was in prison afterwards.

CAP had another attempt of Coup d’État on that year which killed more people but it wasn’t until the impeachment of 1993, due a suspicious embezzling of “presidential discretionary fund”, he was finally removed from office, and left the country where he died in exile.

I don’t remember any of these events but they ended up being important in my life afterwards. I will mention it later on but if you’re here reading this you probably know what’s coming.

As an only child, I was rather lonely when at home. I played with legos, dolls or puzzles. I watched plenty of TV when my parents finally hired a cable company for having more TV shows. I missed all the common programs most of Venezuelan watch, such as “El Club de los Tigritos” or “Sábado Sensacional”. I watched the same cartoons my mother enjoyed which were all Hannah-Barbera ones, lol. Later on I enjoyed Televen’s (Channel 10 in open air TV) anime section featuring Slayers, Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball

I spoke and looked weird for my classmates. Peruvian indigenous roots are more evident so I looked very “Peruvian/Ecuadorian”. My parents maintain their Lima accent, not as strong as it was before, but enough for me not sounding quite Venezuelan sometimes. If you sum all that up, I was an outcasted weirdo for all my school years.

While I was trying to understand the world, Rafael Caldera, the president at that moment, decided it was a good idea to pardon Chávez’s crimes. He cleared his record completely and he was again a clean man. If I have to choose who to hate historically, it would be Caldera.

By December 1998, my parents were talking about the coming elections frequently; just adult things to my eyes. I didn’t pay much attention but conversations went around “I tried to convinced ‘certain person’ to not to vote for him but I couldn’t” or “They tell me ‘hear him talk! He’s gonna fix everything’” or “Nobody sees what is coming!”. I surely didn’t either.

That election night, people were celebrating with fireworks, I heard that no one had won the elections with such an astounding difference in the votes. Everybody seemed happy with the results but in my house we were in silence. The TV was in mute and we were all in the living room. I remember it clearly… It was an early strike of reality and I didn’t understand it completely.

My dad put both of his hands on my shoulders and said to me with a serious expression: “Things are going to change now, Chiqui, for worse… But don’t worry because I’ll work and I’ll make sure we are ok and you have no needs (not met). People don’t see nor understand because they haven’t lived it, but we have. Your mom and I have”.

They knew Chávez intentions weren’t good. Until now, I’m not sure what gave him away to my parents but it was imminent and obvious that things were going to get bad and the worse thing of all it’s that it was unstoppable. When I asked them, later on when I grew up, they told me “he wanted to change the constitution”, which he did. He asked for people’s opinion in the matter and Venezuelans accepted the call of this “National Constituent Assembly” that will carry such endeavour.

Several changes happened that made no importance to me at that time. Changing the name of the country to Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, adding an 8th star to the flag, the Coat of Arms’ horse wasn’t “galloping forward but looking backwards so to not forget the past” and was now happily jumping to the past.

As nothing is completely bad, there were good things like recognising indigenous languages as official wherever they were spoken and the constitution will have chapters dedicated to aboriginal and environment laws (which at the end are not followed in practice but the intention was good).

There were mixed-opinion changes, particularly for what it could lead us at the end, like creating more “powers” –we had the Executive (president), Judiciary (Penal code) and Legislature (Congress), according to the trias politica model– which they were the “Electoral” one and the “Moral” one (afterwards called “Citizen”).

Finally there were suspicious changes, like unifying all the Army, giving voting rights to active military, increase of the ruling periods and indefinite re-election for candidates (which were only 2 periods per president). We went for presidential elections again and to no one’s surprise Chávez won for his first period of 6 years (because the first year apparently doesn’t count lol).

In the middle of this process, the Vargas Tragedy happened (December 1999). It is said that Chávez didn’t care about the warnings given to him about a possible huge flood about to happen in the Vargas state. He used a famous phrase said by Simón Bolívar, in a total different context, about fighting the nature for our freedom. Up to 30.000 people died in that flood.

A lot of this you can find it on your own so I’ll not stay in this subject any longer and continue with my point of view, which is not available online.

By the year 2003 I was starting high-school. For our country, best schools tend to be private religious –Christian/Catholic– ones, so little Chiqui, a.k.a. me, was studying in one since 1995, the same school where I graduated in 2008.

We were oblivious, most of us didn’t care much about the country, the situation of it or the history. Mainly because we were teenagers, indeed. But also may I point out that by governmental order, the curriculum changed and its quality decayed. We only got Universal History once in 5 years of high-school so we were stuck with Venezuelan History for 6–7 years reviewing the same content over and over again. We all hated it.

To get the idea, in 8th grade, when I was 14 years (2004–2005), our professor had to summarise from the Palaeolithic period to Columbus Arrival to America in 54 hours of class. Do you think is enough? This is just a little example of why do I think our education was deficient; and we were studying, as I said, in a good school.

Adding to that, teachers always get a lousy income, who would want to actually give good education? But we were teens; young and uninterested, rebels wanting to live the adult life thinking it would be walking on our own all afternoon, hidden drinking booze and smoking cigarettes and maybe finding a boyfriend or girlfriend despite our low self-esteem.

Around 2007, Models of United Nations, or MUNs as we called them, were in trend. Schools will prepare “committees” with moderators and topics to discuss where others will come representing a country in those committees just like in the UN. All the intellectual kids were onto it and I wasn’t the exception. But I was a cool one, not a nerd one, you know? Makes me laugh remembering how little we knew but how much fun we had recreating a Venezuelan committee with people interpreting real known Venezuelan politicians so we can mock of them. All presidents receive criticism with satyric comics and all, right?

Chávez got more radical in his opinions, divided the country in us and them, hence creating and enemy in common. His “us” were the people, el pueblo, the poor, the low-class individual who gets exploited by the imperialist and capitalist people. His “them” was all the people who lived and eat well, who had education and lived with more leisure, who get to travel outside the country and use foreign currency. That would be me, my family and my friends.

Our president spread the idea that the poor were poor because someone else is taking their riches from them and pointed at us with the blame. He fomented the despise towards those imperialists and anti-nationalists that were against him, against the progress, the revolution… the bullshit he was doing.

Insecurity went on the rise, suddenly everybody would get robbed in some point of their lives or even express kidnapped, which would only mean that they will kidnap you for hours and not for days but with the same ending: getting killed if you are not meeting their needs, be that money or something else.

From the year 2000 to 2006 I traveled several times to Peru or to Miami since we had family in both places. I never visited other cities like my friends, who went to fancy destinations in Europe but I still was traveling. Travels got more expensive and CADIVI, our currency regulator entity, would evolve to be more strict in limiting foreign currency to use.

Yes, having $/€ were forbidden. Not in the sense of going to prison for having US$1 bill but since technically there wasn’t an open market for this, without permit you couldn’t use your credit/debit cards outside of Venezuela, buying in Amazon or other foreign online store or getting bills in your hands at all; nor you nor the companies who imported products. A black market appeared for that need since Venezuela produces nothing but oil and gas.

Also, in April 2002 there was an attempt of Coup d’État to Chávez, where Pedro Carmona took the government and swore in, live on TV. My parents were so hopeful of getting out of this “earlier than expected” but bliss lasted little and in the next day of that transmission, he was removed and Chávez was back in position.

Chavez promised a lot of things, a lot of them with his so-called “Missions”. He promised a cleaned Guaire river, dignified new houses, education for all, hospitals, schools, support private investments, not closing any media or channel… and fell short on almost everything.

The river it’s dirtier than ever, less than half of the promised houses have been built (and a lot of them are empty), education is more deplorable than ever, expropriated a lot of buildings (constructed with private investments) and a lot of them are in worse condition nowadays and also he closed and took possession of communication media such as RCTV and other radio stations.

One particular thing I got pissed off with is the prohibition of guns and revocation of already granted permits. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like guns at all, I think we’re all better without but this law only disarmed honest and law-abiding civilians. After this, more robberies were violent. How is it possible that after forbidding guns there were more guns than ever? And on top of that, they were in the hands of robbers!

He did so many things wrong that my article is getting longer than life and I’m just mentioning the things I was aware of because I saw it or heard it in that moment.

The opposition against Chávez was growing, so much that in 2007 when he wanted to modify the Constitution he set on 1999, the project was rejected. He diminished and despised that “victory” of the opposition but at the end he got his way by an “amend” that changed the law ignoring the voting results.

Discontentment grew but so did the hatred between “parties”, opposition and officialism, red vs. blue… A division that until now hasn’t been amended. I grew also with a thing in mind: I should leave the country.

Venezuelan, Graphic Designer, Language Lover, Singer and Amateur Writer. EN-ES-JP-FR