No music, no money: Surviving lockdown in Venezuela

By Alice Hernandez

Caracas, May 6 (EFE).- Music was everything to Evelyn Martínez. Until the lockdown over the Covid-19 pandemic came into force, she played at a restaurant in Venezuela but with no income and five mouths to feed, she now relies on the help of family and friends because not even government bonds are enough to tide her over.

“The bonds arrive, but they do not really get us through. There are new ones but they have not reached here yet. The last one we received, about 450,000 bolivars ($2.55), allowed me to buy half a carton of eggs” Martínez tells Efe.

She and her husband Winston made between $15 to $100 at their concerts every weekend

On 16 March the Nicolás Maduro government ordered the “social and voluntary” quarantine of the country over the pandemic. The restaurant closed, and with it, the main source of income for the family from Antímano, Western Caracas, disappeared.

Winston is on a public official salary that barely reaches $4 a month, and Evelyn’s brother, who has Down syndrome, receives government bonds for his condition. But the income they get is not enough for the family, which also has two children.

The Venezuelan government offers bonds to citizens who hold the homeland card, an ID card that includes a specific QR code to each user.

Caja CLAP, a government food distribution program, is one of several aid programmes, but according to Martínez the visits are infrequent and when they do come they “bring three packets of rice, three of pasta and that does not last two weeks.”

The singer says the hardest thing is telling the children “we only have rice and grains.”

Although it may be small portions, the family never goes to bed without a meal thanks to a support network of people who bring them supplies.

“They know that we have been left at a loss. They have reached out to us with food,” she says.

The minimum wage in Venezuela is $2.33, an amount the government raised last week for the second time this year, and which, until then, was less than $2.

In order to eat, a family needs around 273 minimum wages, which amounts to $341, according to April estimates by the Center for Documentation and Social Analysis (Cendas).

The precariousness many face has pushed Venezuelans to seek a “solution”, the name given to extra jobs people take on to raise enough money to make ends meet every month.

With 357 infections and 10 Covid-19 deaths, Venezuela has reached its eighth week in lockdown with employment and the economy taking a massive blow.

Giovanni Ojeda left his permanent job as a gardener in a condominium 15 days before the quarantine because he was making more money working as a freelancer.

“If I had known that this was going to happen, I would not have done it,” the gardener from Minas de Baruta, a popular area of Caracas, laments.

He had 11 clients, providing earnings of between $15 and $20 a month.

Because he is now confined to his home, his only income is what three of those clients give him “because they understand the situation.”

Ojeda says quarantine has made it very difficult.

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