Keeping the Funk Fresh

The number one challenge facing foreign correspondents in Venezuela today is how to keep telling the story of decline without it all getting horribly stale and repetitive. 

Foreign journos in Venezuela today have a fotógrafo de billetes problem. Just like the fictional Chigüiresque “bill photographer” who couldn’t sleep at night fretting that he was running out of ideas for how to take pictures of bank notes, foreign journalists in Venezuela are under constant pressure to find new ways to say the same thing. The result is a kind of arms race with journalists trying to outdo each other on how to communicate a single, grim, overwhelming fact: the country is preternaturally fucked.

That’s how Gawker has decided to put it, leveraging the full potential to put F-Bombs-in-headlines that being a new media outlet opens up for them.

Thing is, even those guys are running into diminishing returns. Venezuela is so Fucked is a good, eye-catching headline, but it doesn’t leave you much room to grow. The follow up is going to be a necessarily derivative Venezuela Still Fucked – accurate, sure, but a little tired. By round three, the downsides to this strategy start to become unmissable: Venezuela More Fucked Than Ever just looks desperate.

More buttoned-down media are participating in this same arms race in a, um, more buttoned-down kind of way. Bloomberg tries to throw reporting at the problem, with a genuinely upsetting piece entitled Yellow Water, Dirty Air, Power Outages: Venezuela Hits a New Low that piles on the reportorial detail until you’re ready to slit your wrists. 

The lack of public order means attempts to alleviate the problems are going poorly. Water trucks dispatched to help reduce suffering from the drought, for example, are being routinely robbed.

“Two or three times a week a water truck we send out is robbed,” said Tatiana Noguera, a water official. “The trucks get stopped by gangs who make the driver change the route and discharge the water in an area they control.”

More than 3,700 cases of respiratory illness related to calima have been reported at state health centers around Caracas since March, said Dr. Miguel Viscuna, an epidemiologist. Medicine — like toilet paper, chicken and other basic goods — is increasingly hard to find.

“The water is coming out very yellow, very bad quality,” said Ana Carvajal, an infectious disease specialist at the Universitario Hospital in Caracas. “We’re seeing an uptick in different illnesses, especially diarrhea. The lack of clean water is causing skin problems like scabies and folliculitis. There’s no medicine. All we can do is prescribe sulfur soap.”

In 2015, Venezuela’s economy — largely dependent on the sale of oil — contracted by 5.7 percent and is expected to shrink by an additional 8 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. The currency has lost 98 percent of its value on the black market since Maduro took office in 2013. Inflation is projected to rise to nearly 500 percent.

All of this has made Maduro not a very popular leader. His opponents won an overwhelming victory in legislative elections in December. But nearly every attempt by the new legislature to take the country in a new direction has been blocked by Maduro and a Supreme Court he appointed right after the elections.

“We voted and we won,” said Mendoza, the hairdresser, as she choked back tears. “But now we see that all has been for nothing.”

Jesus…that bills photographer had it good…