Contribution by Sébastien Michel,
3rd-year student in ESSCA’s Bachelor in International Business Development.

During my second year of study, I had the opportunity to complete a semester abroad. I chose Colombia. At the end of my midterms, I had the time to travel and discover Latin America more in detail. I decided to go to Venezuela for a period of two weeks.

Why Venezuela? Because 20 years ago, my uncle decided to settle there, created his own windsurfing club, and founded a family. When I had the idea of this trip, I decided to find information about this country. On the website of French government, I saw that Venezuela was one of the most dangerous countries with the highest rate of criminality in the world. I wondered how my uncle could live in country such as that.

I arrived at Caracas airport at 10 p.m, my uncle had booked me a hotel because I was supposed to meet him the next day in Margarita, an island in the north of Venezuela, after taking a second flight. So I took a shuttle to my hotel where there were the driver, a Venezuelan, and myself. I wondered where I had ended up: the streets were completely empty, except for a few homeless people, there were no lights, and fences at each house. The night was rather stressful because for the first time in my life, I really didn’t feel safe.

Margarita Island (wikipedia)

However, the next day I was in Margarita without problem. My uncle came to pick me up under a bright sun and 35 C°, the impression I had of the country was all of a sudden completely different from how I felt the day before. He showed me where he lived, worked and made me meet some locals. We went to restaurants for lunch, went shopping, to the cinema and even to nightclubs. I was doing the same activities as in France, and I had the impression that the perception we could have on Venezuela was wrong.

Nevertheless, there were differences. For example, the supermarkets were full, but they didn’t have many choices. For instance, a supermarket shelf of 10 meters was filled with only 3 different brands of butter. Another example was the price of gasoline: filling up with gasoline is less expensive than buying a bottle of water. This is due to the fact that Venezuelan President Maduro has decided to maintain a fixed price for gasoline, but since the country is suffering from an exponential inflation, the initial price now represents nothing.

I also realized that they did not have the same relationship to security as we do. People on motorcycles rode without helmets and entire families were in the back of pickups without protection. Many people cannot have their cars repaired in Venezuela because spare parts are extremely expensive. Since their currency is losing value quickly, trading with other countries has become very difficult. One of their only effective currencies is … the barrel of oil.

Of course, despite the two weeks I spent there, I was not able to get the full picture, which is why I decided to ask a few questions to my cousin who has lived there for most of his life.

Do you think that the image we have in France of Venezuela is true?

What we are talking about in France is only part of what is happening in Venezuela. The Venezuelan people are not satisfied with the way the country is governed. Many demonstrations have been held, and to stop them the government has repeatedly violated human rights. For example, there was a story about an ex-military man who made a revolution to try to bring down Maduro. A week later, he was found dead, photos of the sliced body of the soldier leaked. We are not talking about these cases in France. Also, the French think that there is civil war everywhere in the country, but it is especially in the capital or in the big cities. For example, I live in Margarita and I’ve never felt that way.

Venezuelan protests in 2017 (wikipedia)

How is it that the president is still in office?

Since the Chavez government, the working class had been favoured by its communist ideals. It’s the working class who elected the current president. As a result, since then, the government has been offering advantages to the poorest people. They created a system where people could pick up a bag of food every month for free by presenting a specific card. To obtain this card, you had to go to the town halls to sign a paper saying that you agreed with all the decisions taken by the government. When there were demonstrations, it was more the middle or upper class that demonstrated. The working class believe that they have no right and risk losing their benefits by going to protest. That is also why the president is still in office.

Do you think the situation Venezuela will improve any time soon?

The only way for me to have real changes is to completely change the government. We must stop taking advantage of the system’s defects. For example, the government buys dollars at a low price in a bolivar and then sells them more expensively to earn money. This is a major factor in Venezuela’s inflation. However, inflation is also a strength for us. Many people take advantage of the country’s debt to make investments. They have the idea that the country will improve and when that happens they plan to take advantage of the opportunity to boost the country’s economy. Many large shopping centres, buildings and hotels are surfacing. So, I think that if there is no more abuse by the government, and inflation stops, Venezuela could once again become one of the great countries in Latin America.

It’s puzzling. Venezuela has so many qualities and so many flaws at the same time that I honestly admit I don’t know what to think about this country. All I can do is hope that in the long term Venezuela will be able to live up to its potential and become the country its citizens deserve.

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