Conflicts & War

Resource-rich Venezuela suffers stark reversal of fortune

By Sabela Bello

Caracas, Sep 25 (efe-epa)- Though now a distant memory, many in Venezuela can recall a time less than 40 years ago when the world looked at the Caribbean nation with admiration.

With its wealth in oil, natural gas, minerals, cacao, tourist offerings and fishing resources, the homeland of South American independence hero Simon Bolivar occupied the top spot in gross domestic product per capita in Latin America.

Now it ranks third-to-last.

Those in Venezuela who can recall those golden years, many of whom are now retired, look back on the past with a mixture of nostalgia, resignation and anger.

Blanca Mendoza, 80, told Efe that she worked for three decades as a judicial branch employee yet now receives a monthly pension of less than 1 million bolivars ($2.55), an amount she describes as “useless.”

Enrique Rubio Araujo finds himself in a similar situation. He recalled that in the 1980s his monthly salary of 2,000 bolivars (then equivalent to around $500) covered his basic expenses and also allowed him to travel and accumulate some savings.

“We lived well in the ’80s. Caracas was a city that was lovely, peaceful, with no problems. Today it’s horrible. The situation has become extremely difficult, especially for the elderly,” Mendoza said,

Her pension is insufficient to afford the cost of various medications she needs for different health conditions, although she said she occasionally receives a small remittance in dollars from a daughter who lives in the United States.

Though unhappy overall with the government’s economic management, she said she appreciates “the material support that President (Nicolas) Maduro occasionally provides,” referring to aid in the form of food and basic necessities.

Rubio, for his part, told Efe he misses the reliable public services, public safety and freedom he enjoyed in the 1980s.

“There was gas. All of the public services worked, and if you went out and protested they didn’t put you in jail like they do now. They criminalize protests,” he said, placing the blame squarely on the leftist governments in power since Hugo Chavez’s victory in the 1998 presidential election.

“The other parties (before Chavismo) governed more or less well, and we lived more or less well. But then Chavez arrived with funding from Cuba and invented socialism, which is the same as communism,” Rubio said.

Scornful of the leftist Bolivarian Revolution of the past 21 years, he said that if a desert were run under communism “in a year there would be no sand.”

Rubio said that after Chavez took office in early 1999 he started expropriating privately held assets and “deceiving and subjugating people.”

“Because they do away with all the public services and private enterprises. After they get rid of everything, they come with their CLAP (subsidized, government-distributed) food boxes and that’s how they get people under their thumb,” he added.

While Rubio says the late Chavez (who died in 2013 after a battle with cancer) and his protege and successor, Maduro, deliberately brought ruin to Venezuela’s economy, the government blames crushing US sanctions on the country’s lifeblood oil industry for its economic woes.

“They (government officials) live like kings and say there’s a blockade. The blockade is for us. Life was much better before,” Rubio said.

Venezuela still has abundant natural resources, from petroleum and natural gas to gold.

But oil rigs are not being properly maintained and production has plummeted, while crude has contaminated treasured beaches and protected natural areas in the Caribbean region.

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