Beginning in summer 2018, reports of the Venezuelan economic crisis dominated news headlines. The collapse of this South American country started in 2014 when the price of oil plummeted. As the BBC explains, Venezuela boasts massive oil reserves. But because of Venezuela's oil surplus, the socialist government - installed by populist President Hugo Chàvez, who ran the country from 1999 until his death in 2013 - invested in nominal resources, with oil exports comprising 95% of their earnings.
In 2014, Venezuela experienced an export currency shortfall, making it difficult to import foreign items. Add to this the willingness of President Nicolás Maduro to print more money and slash zeros off their currency, the bolívar, as a bandage-like effort, and hyperinflation begins.
According to The New York Times, as of August 2018, that hyperinflation sat at a staggering 32,714%, with some predicting it could top 1 million percent by December 2018. Coupled with debilitating US sanctions, high corruption rates, and the country's capitalist-centered socialism, the government's efforts produced a crisis in Venezuela.
Because of this, ABC News writers Esther Castillejo and Ignacio Torres reported in August 2018 how nearly 3,000 Venezuelans had fled their homes each day, with many heading for neighboring Colombia. William Spindler, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has stated, "The exodus of Venezuelans from the country is one of Latin America's largest mass-population movements in history." Approximately 2.3 million citizens abandoned their country as of August 2018.
But for those who choose to stay or cannot flee, what is daily life in Venezuela like? Below are alarming and sobering glimpses into the hardships faced by Venezuelans during this unprecedented crisis. For the people still weathering the financial storm, survival remains a matter of patience, craftiness, and pure luck.
Back in April 2008, Justice Ministry officials of Venezuela went to Shenzhen to learn more about China's national identity card program. Ten years later, the South American country rolled out their own version of the card, called the "carnet de la patria," or "fatherland card."
Working with ZTE, China's largest tech companies, the Venezuelan government created a mandatory identity card that can track things like a person's birthday, political affiliation, medical history, and financial stance.
So far, about half the population has received one of these fatherland cards. Some believe this is President Nicolas Maduro's way of maintaining control, and human rights groups are concerned about the potential for mass surveillance.
NBC News writer Mariana Zuñiga covered the daily struggles of average Venezuelans in an article published in March 2018. One particularly startling story involved a Caracas woman buying eggs. The woman previously spent 480,000 bolívars (or $14.40) for a single carton of eggs, only to find they're more expensive than before:
She picks it up, believing the price is the same, but the clerk tells her that the price has increased, to more than she can afford on her salary as an elementary school teacher. Luckily, her wage combined with her husband’s still allows her to complete her weekly purchases.
Journalist Nayrobis Rodriguez, in a piece published by Al Jazeera in May 2018, gave readers a glimpse into her day-to-day life in Venezuela, including a week-long search for toilet paper. She writes:
My search began on Tuesday morning: one, two, three, four shops. In every one, I got the same response: "We don't have any toilet roll, and we're not going to have any in the next few days."
No one could explain why there was no toilet roll, just that there wasn't any, just like there weren't any other toiletries, such as shampoo, conditioner, soap, or toothpaste.
Rodriguez eventually waited two hours in line to purchase a single roll of toilet paper from a shop in Cumaná - only to go home empty-handed. By sheer luck, she finally found what she needed. Seven days later, when her sister was first in line at a large market selling four-packs of toilet paper, she ultimately paid a hefty sum - "the equivalent of more than 86% of the monthly minimum wage in Venezuela."
Some families have to choose between hygienic products and food. As NBC News writer Mariana Zuñiga reported, one man's weekly salary was only 50,000 bolívars more than a soap bar. To make do, he watered down leftover shampoo for use as body soap.
In a Washington Post piece from April 2018, Carlos Hernández Blanco described internet, power, and water outages as weekly - if not daily - occurrences. During the latter, he and his family had to line up with buckets in tow at a water faucet down the street to stock up on reserves. Blanco states how having multiple buckets of water around the house is "just common sense."
Blanco counts himself lucky concerning his functioning electricity - outages "usually last about an hour, and occur weeks apart." For other regions in Venezuela, however, outages last for weeks. Meanwhile, other communities lack the luxury of water and electricity altogether.