Hardship is everywhere in Venezuela these days. Everywhere I go there are people trying to fulfil their basic needs. Some more than others, but the struggle is the same.
Take Alfredo Felix for example. The 60-year-old suffers from diabetes and needs dialysis three times a week. But the power outages of the past few days have been difficult for people like him.
“Because of the blackout I couldn’t do my dialysis and I felt dizzy and weak. I don’t know what is going to happen in this country. Sometimes I feel we are at a point of no return,” he says with tears in his eyes.
The acute shortage of medicines has added to the misery of patients like Felix.
Venezuela’s cash-strapped government is struggling with an economic crisis that has forced the country to reduce imports. This combined with hyperinflation is making it difficult for people to buy or even find the medication they need. Hospitals are struggling to find basic items to help those in need.
The situation is difficult for the Venezuelan government. Most economists say United States sanctions were implemented four years ago when the damage to the economy was already done.
“The first sanctions that prevented Venezuela from negotiating its debt came after Venezuela already had one of the highest risks in the world and the risk was because of the drop in oil prices and with a government that did not want to modify its budget or the controls on exchange rate,” said Ronald Balza an economist in the capital, Caracas.
“Venezuela continued spending when it already owed billions of dollars in debt,” said Balza.
So paying interest on its debt is a major issue. In fact, some economists say the government is restructuring debt payments. But there are no official numbers from the administration.
Government officials say the US, the United Kingdom and others are freezing its assets. That they would be able to buy medicines if that money were to be released.
But what you can see here is also years of mismanagement and massive corruption that can be measured in billions of dollars.
Hospitals where I am right now, in the city of Barcelona, haven’t had gauze, syringes or basic medicine for years.
In January this year, the US announced new sanctions with the objective to choke Venezuela’s economy even more. In late April all oil exports to the US will supposedly be suspended but the sanctions go beyond the oil.
“The financial system has tentacles around the world so any commercial operation that has anything to do with Venezuela will be affected. Any transaction that is in US dollar will be affected. Now the real sanctions begin”, says Cesar Mota, an oil expert in Caracas.
As I write this, I can see oil tankers at sea. I am told already that nobody wants to buy Venezuelan oil as they are afraid of the sanctions. There is overcompliance with the US and it will affect not only every agency or person related to the Venezuelan government, but local companies as well.
The US, the European Union and other countries in the region recognise opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president. The US has said it wants to force President Nicolas Maduro out of office and hope the new sanctions will help speed up the process. But analysts warn that the strategy is unlikely to work.
“The US is betting on a total collapse of the country and it has been disappointing. It has been applied in Cuba, Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe and North Korea, yes the government got weaker, they have complications, they had to change policies, but the government did not change,” says Luis Vicente Leon, a political analyst in Venezuela.
My question is: Why is the Trump administration implementing measures that will have an enormous effect on the Venezuelan people and that has already failed in so many other countries around the world?
In fact, the sanctions will likely make people more dependent on the government.
Everyone I talk to in Venezuela is tired and upset. Except those who go to pro-government rallies who act as if nothing is actually wrong. They say people are leaving the country in search of better opportunities. That is not what I have seen in every border country with Venezuela. They arrive hungry, ill and in desperate need of help.
The majority of the population, except those with US dollars, are desperate. Many, too tired to even take to the streets to protest. Venezuela’s economy will certainly deteriorate even further as the US sanctions start to affect the oil sector later this year.
But the faces of Felix and Engibel Gomez – a 17-year-old girl with cancer – and so many others come to mind when I see a policy that will deteriorate their lives even further.
They cannot wait forever for things to change in Venezuela and one thing is certain, this year their lives will only get worse.