Driving through Venezuela at the crossroads

World Today

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

CGTN’s Toby Muse reports from Venezuela.

We wanted to get a snap shot 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 hairdressers. Jhoan Ascanio is the owner of one, but says since the escalation of the political and economic tension, business has collapsed.

“Business is down by 80% 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 says 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.

Today, the reason for the visit is merely to “look beautiful,” Pimentel says with a laugh.

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

Hyperinflation is strangling the economy.

Venezuelans are polarized. But in the middle are millions of so-called “ninis,” or 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 says 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.

To fill up the van used for the road trip, 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. 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.