Driving through Venezuela at the crossroads

World Today

Venezuela is going through a crucial moment in its history. The government and the opposition are battling for control, while the economy descends further into chaos.

For our special series “Through Their Eyes,” CGTN’s Toby Muse traveled around the country to see how Venezuelans are getting by.

Venezuela is a country in crisis. Millions have fled the economic collapse. The government and the opposition are at each other’s throats.

We wanted to get a snapshot of the country at this moment in time. We drove out of the capital to get a feel for what normal Venezuelans are hoping and fearing for the future.

As we travel through towns, we notice how many stores are closed. We stop by a hair salon. Jhoan Ascanio owns this shop, but said since the escalation of the political and economic tension, business has collapsed.

“Business is down by 80 percent because of the situation in the country. We survive with the few clients who still come,’’ he said.

He no longer has any faith in the government of Nicolas Maduro, and wants a new leader to take charge.

He was preparing to close for the day when a client entered.

Fatima Pimentel said many of her friends can’t afford the beauty salon, needing to spend the money on what food there is. Still, a trip here can be therapy in stressful times.

“I used to come every week. Now it’s gone down. Only when necessary or I have a social engagement,” she said.

“What’s the engagement today?” I asked.

“Today, I want to look beautiful,” she said with a laugh.

Driving through the country, you get the feeling that everyone is just trying to get by.

Hyperinflation is strangling the economy. I packed three bags of money for the trip, fearing my credit card may be rejected. In one bag, I carried more than 1,900 bills that amount to more than 200,000 bolivaries or $39.

Venezuelans are polarized. But in the middle are millions of so-called “ninis”- those not convinced by the opposition or the government. Janet Salazar is one of them.

She and her husband have been cattle ranching for years. But with the meat market slowing down, they decided to invest in a coffee processing plant that had shut down five years ago. The plant is in San Juan de los Morros.

She said that given the current challenges, Venezuelans have to constantly look for opportunities.

“This situation has led us to become entrepreneurs, to search for new ways to survive, to keep going, to produce. Life is working,” she said.

The business is going well, and they’re processing more than a ton of coffee a week. But she has hopes that in a year, they’ll have more than doubled their output.

“We’re passing through a critical time. But I have faith in Venezuelans. We’ll get through this,” she said.

By now, we’ve driven hundreds of kilometers. To fill up this van, it costs less than 10 cents, a legacy of subsidized fuel prices amid tremendous oil resources. We return to Caracas. Food shortages have people trying to grow their own supplies.

Orailene Macarri started an urban farm for people in her neighborhood. Here she grows vegetables and raises animals and fish. She supported the late President Hugo Chavez and sees this urban farm as part of his legacy to feed poor Venezuelans and make the country more productive.

“My objective in this revolution is to continue fighting for a better world, a humanity with more tolerance,” she said. Venezuela is at the crossroads. The present situation is unsustainable, but what comes next is anyone’s guess.