'The Sociopolitical Collapse of Venezuela' | Interview from Venezuela

Finger-print scanners in supermarkets to ration necessities, medication shortages, scavenging in the streets, and strong limitations on freedom of speech – this all sounds like the premise of a dystopian future novel, but it is, in fact, the day-to-day life of Kaleb, a Computer Science major, turned diplomatic sector worker, now working freelance, living in Caracas, Venezuela. 

@KalebPrime made a tweet back in July regarding the value of the Bolívar, which gained traction with notice from the likes Fox News. 

In the wake of the centenary of the October Revolution, he has agreed to an interview talking about the current state of affairs in Socialist Venezuela.

Thanks for being willing to do this interview. You first rose to twitter fame by charting the inflation of the Bolívar, against both the USD and World of Warcraft Gold, what has that been like?

I never expected that tweet to blow up so hard to be honest, it was featured in so many places and languages, from Fortune Magazine to Fox News, Reddit, Slashdot, Chinese websites, and even a few local Venezuelan ones.

I started tracking the rates of both WoW gold and the Venezuelan Bolívar vs. the US Dollar when I returned to WoW following a long break. Due to the draconic currency controls that have existed in my country since 2003, our ability to make electronic purchases is severely limited - if not outright impossible nowadays.

Before Blizzard implemented the WoW token feature, I had to “trade” WoW gold privately in exchange for game time cards (since its impossible for us to use credit cards to pay for online purchases and whatnot). While this was extremely risky, it was the only way for me to continue playing the game.

I made that tweet in July 2017, and it didn’t age well: not only is WoW Gold now worth more than the Venezuelan Bolívar, one WoW gold is worth over two. Our currency has plummeted hard over the past two months.

It must be quite an experience seeing the value of your currency become less than an in-game currency. Has the state of the Venezuelan economy made it hard to find viable work?

There comes a point when you realize that no matter how hard you work here, your hard labor is no longer remunerated. People earn less than $10 here a month, whereas you can easily make that in WoW in less than a week with substantially less effort.

Runescape farming is now a widely spread activity here for the same reasons. While I’m not familiarized with that game, I am aware that farming for its in-game currency, and trading it for USD, has become a profitable endeavor for my countrymen, as absurd as that sounds.

I know that, sadly, your mother is suffering from Cancer. How is her situation? What are the consequences of the currency devaluation on her healthcare access? 

She doesn’t deserve to go through the hell that she’s going through. Finding chemotherapy and all the meds that she needs is outright impossible. Right now she is taking an alternative treatment because the main treatment she requires cannot be found in the country. Our country has an estimated 85% shortage of meds right now.

We cannot ask for foreign aid; the government in their arrogance has forbade people to send and receive medicine here. The out of control hyperinflation we’re going through has made medicine expensive here, with some of them costing more than a month’s minimum wage.

I have heard that there have been food shortages, with reports of people lining up to sift through rubbish, is this true?

The food shortages began in 2010, at first it wasn’t as widespread as it is now, the main cause of the shortage of many crucial items (such as flour, butter, toilet paper, oil, among others) is largely attributable to the Government.

In 2003, they began to regulate the prices of many of these items. After inflation began to ramp up in 2010, mass producing these items was no longer viable and companies started selling other, more expensive, variants and products to cover the costs of selling regular products at a loss.

Instead of solving the problem and incentivizing production, the Government implemented absurd regulations, such as only letting citizens buy a certain amount these products on a specific day that’s determined by the last number of your ID card – for example, mine ends in 8, so I am allowed to buy these products (if/when you can find them) only on Fridays and Sundays.

In addition, they implemented a fingerprint scanner in most supermarket and grocery stores to enforce the limitations.

As the situation became worse, people’s acquisitive power vanished. Everyone is now poorer, and, consequently, the very impoverished have resorted to scavenge through the trash in hopes to find something to eat. This is now a common sight.

What about opposition political figureheads being detained, and freedom of speech in Venezuela?

This is a country where people have been arrested for tweets (one of the reasons that there are things I’d rather not tweet about in Spanish, or at all). A lot of political figureheads have been detained due to wrong think and dissent. And when they can’t arrest them for that, they will come up with some excuse to bar them for participating in elections.

What about the protests – have you seen many? How has the Government responded?

Protests have outright died after July, but things got pretty heated up in the first semester of 2017. I personally got caught up in one as I was driving my mother to her chemotherapy. We nearly got tear gassed by the government, and I nearly crashed her vehicle – it wasn’t a good day, to say the least.

The government heavily represses protests; their main tools are tear gas, rubber pellets, and “Ballenas” or “Whales” (large tanks with pressurized water jets). Countless reports of human rights abuse were documented just in 2017 only, with over 100 people dead, in many cases due to extreme use of force by the National Guard and Police forces.

What do you think is to blame for the current state of Venezuela?

Both sides, the Government, and the opposition.

The government for their sheer arrogance and incompetence when it comes to managing what was once a rich country; the opposition leadership for their constant “deal with the devil” attitude and complicity in keeping the political status quo.

Is this more a result of President Maduro’s Socialist policies, or did it start with those of Chávez?

Maduro’s policies are a continuation of Chávez’s; he is merely following the “Plan de la Patria” (Program of the Homeland) that Chavez wrote shortly before he died. Things started to go south in 2010, however, Chávez did have the charisma to keep things afloat.

After his death, the government went in a full “every man for himself” mode, which, together with the economic crisis kicking into full force, made things worse.

To put things in perspective, when Chavez died (March of 2013), $1 was worth less than Bs. 20 on the Black Market. Today, you need Bs. 29,150 to buy a single US dollar (Bs. 25,100 per dollar just a week ago).

Do you see the situation in Venezuela getting worse or improving in the immediate future?

It’s going to get worse: we’re on a slow freefall into oblivion, and there doesn’t seem to be a way out of it. I’d like to be optimistic, but the outlook is grim. Which is why many of us see emigrating to another country as the only solution.

Do you see a solution for Venezuela’s current situation? 

The only solution has to come from new leadership, but neither the government nor the current opposition leadership want to cede power, so we’re in a locked game with no way out.

It is the centenary of the October Revolution this month. Any thoughts on how the world has changed since the boom of Socialism in the USSR?

I could play devil’s advocate and say that the idea of Socialism was spawned out of noble intentions, but it’s just a utopic dream, incompatible with many of the precepts of our very humanity.

It’s always the same cycle: it will entice the masses with the promises of a better world, and sooner or later it becomes unsustainable and the whole thing collapses upon the weight of its own failure. It happened with the USSR and it’s happening here in Venezuela. The wheel keeps spinning.

Is there anything more you would like to add, to people in America, the UK, Europe and the wider world in general – some advice perhaps from Venezuela? 

I just hope that the world sees what’s happening here in Venezuela, and learns from our collapse as a nation. I’d like to take solace in the fact that maybe other nations won’t repeat the our mistakes.

If you crave for Socialism so much, you can just come and experience it for yourself, but be careful what you wish for.

You can find Kaleb’s updates on the situation in Venezuela via his twitter: @KalebPrime.

By Zak Barlow and Sarah McAsey

'The Sociopolitical Collapse of Venezuela' | Interview from Venezuela 'The Sociopolitical Collapse of Venezuela' | Interview from Venezuela Reviewed by Student Voices on 00:46 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. **Update on the state of Venezuela**

    Their hyperinflation has now got to the point (as of 14/01/2018) where their currency is now worth Bs.178,546.48 per USD.



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