We are Broke[n]

The level of desperation Venezuelans are feeling comes from their broken spirits and from their broken wallets. It is time we face the fact that we have become a nation of indigents.

“How much longer do we have to tolerate this?”

“What must happen for the government to do something?”


These are questions that every Venezuelan hears frequently. Just in the last couple of weeks I heard it from my parents, my fiancé, the caretaker of my building, a couple of construction workers, and my doctor. I also read it in every single one of my WA chat groups, as well as in a some tweets and FB statuses.

At this point, it’s safe to say that the “we are a rich country” myth is busted. Reality has bit us in the face, and we have awakened to the new normal: what an extremely poor country we really are. The vast majority of Venezuelans are broke, and that explains why they are also spiritually broken.

According to the Encuesta de Condiciones de Vida UCAB-UCV-USB for 2015, 87% of respondents believe that their income was insufficient to purchase food. Mind you, this is just food – other basic goods and services, like clothing, shoes, transportation, etc., are less essential.

Now, we can quibble with how income measures should or should not be used to measure poverty. There is a long debate in the literature about the search for alternative measures of poverty. But whichever measure you use, I think it’s safe to say that if you can’t scrounge up a few bolos to buy three meals a day for yourself and your kin … you’re poor.

Even if Venezuelans made enough money to buy groceries, there is absolutely no guarantee that they would get what they want or even what they need. Many have been recurring to domestic hoarding, but as time passes and inflation and scarcity rise, the stocks are decreasing fast.

Many Venezuelans got their first credit card to use Cadivi and used those preferential cheap dollars to cover expenses and even save up. Now, those dollars are being slowly sold to cover everyday expenses and credit cards are needed to pay for everyday necessities. “Venezuela está endeudada hasta las metras” seems to be taking a whole new meaning – not only are we indebted, but our savings are quickly decreasing.

Here is another sign of poverty: standing in line. Las colas have become the rule and not the exception.

According to Datanálisis, in 2008 an average Venezuelan purchased essential goods every 10 days; but in February 2016, purchases were made every 3 days. Venezuelans had to visit at least 4 local and las colas averaged 5 hours -though some do up to 11 hours of cola to buy luxury goods, such as price-controlled meat.

If you had the time and patience to ruletear por Caracas and do a couple of colas, you have to fight –in some cases, literally– to get price-controlled products, the only ones a large majority can afford. Some people even give birth while in line to get food.

As for bachaqueros, it is a love-hate relationship.

Venezuelans look down on informal black-market vendors and many would add an insult or two, if not for fear of being attacked by them or their “group of friends.” Even so, most Venezuelans now have at least one bachaquero in their contacts list… and the WA-market has become an easy solution for those who have the means but not the time to fight for food in supermarkets. I think it might be an exaggeration, but still: in July 2015, Datanálisis reported that 70% of people who did colas were bachaqueros.

The medicine situation seems even more critical with every passing second, and by April medicine scarcity had reached a scary 85%: the colas at drugstores are huge, the regular answer from the pharmacist tends to be “no hay,”  and social media has become the way to get the much needed medicines.

Rich people don’t stand in line. Think about that next time you’re frying under the tropical sun, waiting to buy price-controlled toothpaste.

And now we have a new problem to add to the mix: power shortages limit the working hours of commercial establishments… and will probably deepen crime problems.

At this point, it’s safe to say that the “we are a rich country” myth is busted.

This has created a new form of polarization: after the minister for Electric Energy, Luis Motta Dominguez announced that Caracas wouldn’t be included in the initial power-cuts plan because it houses the government. The rest of the country vividly showed their arrechera for the undeniable fact that Caracas is the favorite and most loved kid.

Still, we might feel poor, but we’re not really poor. Even though our salaries can’t cover all our expenses, we are the lucky ones. Because when it comes to low-income Venezuelans, the situation is even more worrying.

According to the Encuesta de Condiciones de Vida UCAB-UCV-USB for 2015, Venezuelans follow a survival diet. Food purchases focus on cheaper calories: animal protein is a luxury food and 40% of the food basket is made up of corn-flour, rice and pasta. This has increased obesity and type 2 diabetes to alarming levels.

“How much longer do we have to tolerate this?”

“What must happen for the government to do something?”


It is said that Greeks invented philosophy because they were the first civilization in modern history to have the spare time to think about who we are and where we came from. As Venezuela’s economy shuts down, as holidays are decreed and people spend their free time standing in line, it might make sense for philosophy to take root in Venezuela.

Perhaps pondering our poverty in the midst of our soul-crushing reality will help us find the answer to these questions.