Transposing emblem by Verónica Cordido
The only steady thing is change: atoms and cells are always moving; thoughts are always flowing; clouds are always floating; and planet earth is always spinning. So why does a country’s instability wreak havoc on our well-being?
Financial hardship, insecurity, political uncertainty and veiled labor-slave workforce economies are to blame and they’re taking a toll on people’s minds, bodies and souls. Stress, fear, inadequacy, depression, repression and pure anguish are knocking on many doors without discerning between palaces and shelters.
I do not intend to adopt any political position or endow myself with the credentials of an expert. I’m just a citizen of two countries and a victim of psychological and emotional instability in both.
I remember Venezuela back in 1999: I had just finished my superior studies and was eager to take on life. I remember we had everything the country needed to satisfy all demands without exception; supermarkets had lots of different brands and items to choose from and all our basic needs could be met at reasonable prices. We had every kind of medicine, both original and generic, from various pharmaceutical companies producing at full capacity.
Now we are in 2017. What was a good healthcare system is a mere shadow of itself. Although hospitals are free, they lack the most basic supplies and equipment needed to treat patients. Doctors find themselves working for a ridiculously low salary and do not have gloves, gauze, painkillers, anesthesia, antibiotics, antipyretics, alcohol, stitches, the right kinds of needles, working IC units, working blood banks, x-ray machines or food to feed patients.
People of all ages, races and colors die every day because they can’t find the medication they need. Furthermore, we can no longer just go to the pharmacy or store around the corner to get what we want. Now we must tour the whole city in order to find it… if we do.
Venezuelan butcheries have no meat, factories have no raw materials, and bakeries don’t have enough flour to cater to the needs of the public. This is the reason why the government has ordered them to sell just one loaf of French bread per person. So to feed a family of four, the whole household has to come along for the ride in order to get their share. That’s happening with all items affected by the national shortage and identified as “regulated products,” meaning they’re restricted in the quantity that can be bought per person.
To top it all, hygiene products such as mouthwash, toothpaste, soap and deodorant, as well as diapers and sanitary towels, among others, are sometimes almost impossible to find and are sold at very high prices. Since this is the case with many other items on the market, it is impossible to stick to a budget. And then there are the constant fluctuations that accompany galloping inflation and a never-ending recession where it has become a struggle to put food on the table and make ends meet.
Cities and towns have no water because the reservoirs aren’t working. The government is rationing the supply of water in some cases to once every 10 days and for a short period of time. Car shops have no oil, tires, batteries or most spare parts. Although this an economy with tremendous oil resources, there are constant blackouts either because of unmaintained equipment failures or simply to cut expenses for the system to later cook the books and give the people no benefit for their suffering.
Crime is at its peak. Cops have no guns, but criminals have grenades, bazookas and riffles so to speak. Even those who aren’t religious start to pray when they get to the doorsteps. Taking our phone out in public has become unthinkable; it is a recipe for disaster and a common motive for robbery and even murder. Many lives have been taken due to the incredibly high value of an old phone or a pair of shoes.
The mortality rate from crime surpasses those of war casualties, and walking around with our groceries now makes us an easy target. People are being stopped at gun point all the time when they stop at traffic lights and intersections, in the middle of the day, even in crowded areas. Everywhere you look there’s fear. The whole country is a huge red flag where there is no place to hide. Only God, faith, pure luck and fate can keep us safe.
Anger and worry are felt in almost every household, no matter what political party we support. We are dollarized in the commercialization of goods (meaning prices are based on dollars), but not in salaries, and the minimum wage covers only a few items at the grocery store. People are hungry and desperate for change.
News channels are gone, CNN in Spanish was recently banned, as were many others before, which have been closed down. There is no paper to print passports, so many Venezuelans have been stranded inside and outside the country unable to travel, including myself (I have been waiting for my passport for 4 months and cannot leave the country), as corrupt agents are illegally charging up to $500 to speed up the process, an insanely high amount in such a devalued economy.
However, to me the grass has seemed greener on the other side of the fence every time I’ve changed sides, so for me changing countries, even when I can do that relatively easily since I hold dual citizenship and have no family of my own, feels like a trade-off between which kind of unhappiness I decide to pick.
As a US citizen as well, I’m deeply grateful for all that the country has given me. I held my first job there, had my first rented apartment there, my first young adult dream, my first car, my first form of labor-slavery, my first financial anguish, my first economic hardship, my first loan, my first debt, my first repo and so on.
Needless to say, I have also received the best customer service possible, as well as endless things to choose from. Supermarkets are packed with everything imaginable, stores have the unthinkable, dreams hang from the rooftops and the hardship of financial reality hits at rock bottom.
The more I look around, the more I realize that even native-born Americans feel the same way; we are overworked, under-paid, in debt, unhappy, isolated, having a hard time making ends meet and borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. We also fear getting sick, getting old, retiring without savings, being replaced by a ferociously competitive market and always being on the verge of becoming disposable. Many have no benefits from their jobs; the young are already buried in student debt; yearly vacations are a luxury; and taking more than a few sick days can get you fired and sometimes even cause you to become homeless.
Hospitals may have all the supplies you can think of as well as the best equipment, but just stepping through the door sets the ball of bills in motion, and those bills can be astronomical – reason enough for many people to forego care. However, and I speak for myself only, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, many of us now have access to at least some sort of insurance coverage at a reasonable price, as it had become a struggle for middle class people to receive good healthcare treatment since we were not poor enough to qualify for subsidies nor wealthy enough to cover the high normal premiums, on top of all the tax obligations the government hits salaries with. If that were to change, it’d be a really tough choice for someone like myself who needs monthly medical treatment, because although I would find all the medication I need, I would have no easy access to healthcare at a reasonable price, while in Venezuela I’d have easy access to private doctors who are still somewhat affordable and are very well trained, but I would find no medication.
So, back to Venezuela, what’s good about it with all of these worrisome problems? A gray or informal economy may be a polemical topic for economists, but life isn’t much different, and it’s our duty to try to make it as bearable as possible by having an informal economy that allows people to make ends meet when, otherwise, it would be simply impossible to eat, and although it may not be one of the best forms of economics for a country, it’s the only way we’ve been able to survive due to the massive embezzlement of funds by government agents who look out for themselves before discharging their duties in a system where checks and balances don’t exist.
What does it all come down to? There is a sense of freedom and autonomy over our own lives, real or illusionary, which brings some sort of happiness and the hope that with effort we might be able to make it. So where do I feel more stable after all? On the other side of the fence every time I’ve changed sides.