It all started with my mother telling me that I should start using less toilet paper because we couldn’t find it in the supermarkets anymore. When she was able to find some, milk or oil started to disappear. A few months later, “supermarket hopping” to find food became a full-time job. “They are only allowing 1 milk box per person, I’m on my way to pick you up.” She would say on the phone –whenever we were lucky enough to find some. Even so, this is considered a good situation in comparison with how it is today.
“But, what exactly is happening in your country?” people usually ask. If you know me, you know that you cannot mention my country and expect a short answer in response.
Once South America’s richest and happiest country in the world, Venezuela is suffering every possible crisis you could imagine: political, economical, social, and humanitarian. From having food and medicine shortages to being the most violent country in the world, the Venezuelan crisis is still unknown by many people.
In 2003, former President Hugo Chavez introduced a foreign exchange and price control system. Venezuela’s absurd exchange rates have caused foreign companies to leave the country, including airlines or import organizations. Consequently, while shortages left pharmacies, supermarkets, and even shopping malls empty, corruption has settled down. According to the Government, 1€ is worth 83,345.10 BsF. In reality, it is worth 762,603.74 BsF. When I was about 12 years old, I remember my mother telling me that 1€ was worth 14.00 BsF. The hyperinflation is exponential. In a year, prices have increased by 8,900 percent. However, the minimum wage hasn’t increased in face of this economical crisis. Today, the minimum wage in Venezuela is 1 million bolivars per month: This is a little bit more than one euro per month.
I could continue drawing an image of what Venezuelan crisis looks like with numbers the whole day, but I believe in loyalty to my 16-year-old self, who once wrote:
Venezuela is the first South American country declaring its independence. It is the world’s first country to abolish death penalty and has the largest resources in oil worldwide. It is the country with the most Protected Areas and National Parks in Latin America.
Venezuela is a country with a diversified geography: is has beaches, savannahs, forests, deserts, mountains –including the Andes, the longest continental mountain range in the world–, tepuis, and the highest waterfall in the world, the Angel Fall.
Venezuela is the country in which I grew up, but unfortunately, it simultaneously watched the dictatorship grow as well. I did not decide to leave my country because I wanted to experience life abroad, but because sadly, I cannot reach my goals there anymore. Like myself, about 4 million Venezuelans-which is about 12.6 percent of the population- have joined the Bolivarian diaspora: the largest recorded refugee crisis in the Americas. We have left the country looking for a better future abroad, some in the hope of simply having food on their plate. Last month, the United Nations Refugee Agency asked countries to consider Venezuelans as “refugees” that are not able to go back home.
Despite everything that is happening, Venezuela is not only my home country, but the country that made me the person I am today. It is a country that received, and was built by thousands of immigrants. It is a place that, despite this moment of calamity, makes the ones who left dream about returning one day. Because one day, I have faith we will see our country rise again.
Isabel Bonnet is a first-year communication science student at the University of Amsterdam. Her columns focus on Venezuela.
The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.