Hey grandkid,

It’s me again, writing you another letter to drain the frustrations of life as a 20-something in Venezuela in 2016. You’re not born yet, of course. Actually, your theoretical mom/dad isn’t born yet either, so it’s all a little speculative. But they will be, and so will you, and there are some things I want to make sure you know about what your grandma went through all the way back in 2016.

When I was young I remember hearing a joke -or, back then I thought it was a joke- about the Argentinean hyper-inflation back in the 80s: “At sunrise people would walk to the bank with a bucket on their hands and line up all day to empty out their bank accounts, only to find out at sunset that by the time the bucket cost more than all the money in it”.

At the time it seemed like a fairytale, but now I get it. I live it every day.

Everybody’s heard the number — Venezuelan annualized 720% inflation projected for 2016  but unless you live it it’s hard to quite grasp what that feels like.

Yesterday I talked to a friend of mine who left the country exactly one year ago:

-“How much is a cachito running for these days? 250 Bolivares?”

– “Last time I checked, Bs.1,000.”

– “Are you sure? That can’t be right.”

– “Yup.”

– “So, what’s the price of a piece of cake in that pastry shop we used to go to?”

– “Last week it was 1,700 but they just adjusted it to 3,000 a piece.”

– “But… It’s impossible… How much does a can of coke costs?”

– “Uh, bueno, there’s no coke anymore because companies ran out of sugar, but a Coke Zero to drink along with your cachito would costs around 500 or 700 Bs.”

– “I can’t believe you, then how much would you spend on an average restaurant?”

– “Hmm, I think around 12,000 to 15,000?”.

The silence made me think that our skype connection had failed, until I heard her broken voice:

– “I don’t know, it’s all so confusing, I used to earn 16,000 a month until I left in July’15… Would I be poor now?”

“Well, maybe you would be earning around 100,000 now”

“But Toña…that isn’t proportional with the price hikes you’re talking about!”

“Well, did you think the whole ‘Dieta de Maduro’ was just a joke?”

Truth is, chamín, that I have been living the craziest year of my life in many aspects, but the economic one is the most painful: Five years ago my salary as a half-time intern was 2,200 Bs (~230$) and today as a full time engineer it would be 150,000 Bs (~150$), that’s why me, and most of my friends, matamos tigres — that’s 2010s slang for finding freelance jobs on the side — in order to make a living. (Well, actually, most of my friends left the country several years ago, but more about that some other time.)

A 2 liter bottle of soda — which I drank on a daily basis until coke disappeared — went from Bs.150 last October to 360 in December, to 500 in February, to 750 in April, to 1,200 in June, to 1,500 in August.

A bit of context, a 2 liter bottle of soda — which I drank on a daily basis until coke disappeared — went from Bs.150 last October to 360 in December, to 500 in February, to 750 in April, to 1,200 in June, to 1,500 in August. You see something similar with most groceries that aren’t subject to price controls: of course, no wage increase can keep up with price hikes at that pace.

Back in January, I went to buy a pack of binder separators and they were at Bs.800. I thought the guy was trying to rip me off and left the store in a huff; Today, at that price, they’d be a steal. The other day I checked again and they were going for Bs.4,000. I got mad all over again, stormed out all over again, then went into the next store just to find them for Bs.90: that store had neglected to revise its binder-separator prices from when they really were a producto de primera necesidad: when you needed them to set up the CADIVI folders to request the preferential rate dollars.

Each time I see a new price increase I stand astonished, but just a week or two later the new price seems normal. I know that sounds silly, but it keeps happening to your grandma! High inflation has a special ability to never let people lose their capacity to be surprised, but at the same time strongarms you into accepting it all meekly.

It all seems like a cruel joke, I know, but it’s real.

The other day I wasn’t able to cash a small check from a client because the piles of bills literally wouldn’t fit in my purse, pockets and hands put together.

Earlier this year we read that the country didn’t have enough money to pay for its money.  Today I bought a popsicle from a guy selling ice cream on the street, and all the bills he had —a huge pack of them— were of our highest denomination note. It makes sense, all his products being priced in multiples of 100: anything in the middle would be silly. The sad part is that the whole package of bills couldn’t buy him a new t-shirt or book even if he was so minded. The other day I wasn’t able to cash a small check from a client because the piles of bills literally wouldn’t fit in my purse, pockets and hands put together.

People’s purchasing power has cratered: even if you rely on super-cheap price controlled products, it’s hard to get by. The new minimum wage in Venezuela buys 480 eggs, while the minimum wage in the U.S. buys 4,700. Pretty much all of our income is now spent on food, and most families I know are living off their life savings — held abroad, of course, as it’s been years since it’s been possible to save in bolivars.

Today, I would need Bs.4,300 to buy four dollars, but my parents could’ve bought a million bucks with the same amount when they were dating. My neighbor bought her apartment in 2009 for the same amount of money she paid last week for its security door. Last week I bought a new case for my phone for three times the price I paid for the actual phone four years ago. I don’t know if it’s the Coca-Cola withdrawal, but recently, more than once, I’ve caught myself daydreaming about possible ways to transfer money back in time.

In the end, kid, I know none of this is comparable with the out-and-out hyperinflation many countries went through in the 20th century: in the 1920s Germany saw its currency plunge from 4.2 marks per USD to 4 trillion/USD in just nine years, in 1985 Bolivia’s annualized inflation was 60,000%, and in the beginning of the 1990s Yugoslavia reached a daily inflation rate of 64.6%.

Thank God we’re not there — yet — but what worries me is that many of the reasons inflation went completely haywire in those countries apply to us, too: money printing, falling exports, nationalization of private companies, a complete lack of common sense from policy makers, among others. Many of the stories from their early years are almost identical to the ones I’m writing about here: Scary. Stuff.

That we’re even talking about Weimar-style hyperinflation as a possibility is scary. But even if it doesn’t end up going that far, the inflation we have is high enough to keep seeping into your day-to-day in ways you’re never really prepared for.

Today, looking through a kiosk near my house (the one pictured up top, in fact), I found a unicorn: three cans of regular coke. Three! Excitedly I took out all my cash to buy them. I thought they would be, I don’t know, Bs.500 each: that’s what they were last month, just before they vanished from the shelves. No dice, the lady tells me they’re 1,100 each. I curb my enthusiasm, realizing I just don’t have the cash. I never do have enough. The lady sees the expression in my face change, and snipes back: “mija, todo el mundo las quiere, nadie las quiere pagar.”

Those cokes have been on my mind all day. When I finish writing this, I’m going to go stand in line for an ATM. The most they’ll issue in one transaction is Bs.600, so I’ll have to stand there and withdraw cash six times to get enough to buy three cans of coke.

And the worst of it is, I’m going to do it.

It may be the last time I find coke all year.

Love you,
Dios te bendiga,

Tu Abuela

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  1. Ah yes, the Bolivar “Fuerte”, as if naming the currency such would make it so. If it were me, I would be saving enough of this junk currency to buy a airline ticket and get the hell out of Venezuela. Venezuela = Cuba.

    • That was the plan five or six years ago. Now, you have to pay in dollars the equivalent to an annual salary (Dollars are illegal to own, by the way). By the time you have the money the price is two or three times more. I’m 21, from a middle class family, with two jobs, and i don’t know how am i supposed to survive until i get my college degree in two years.

    • That was a deft trick that Chávez used to sweep the inflation problem under the rug, because there’s a lot less stress when all the prices you read and hear to pay are one thousand times lower.

      Just imagine the PR disaster it would be for chavismo today (if it even existed at that pace) if people was listening everyday “A flour packet will cost you two MILLION bolivars, ah, it’ll serve you for only one and half days.” or “The transport wage is one hundred thousand bolivars, and that’s the short travel, two blocks farther it’ll cost you three hundred thousand bolivars.”

      Sure there must be some little inflation when a mustard pot costed one year ago barely more than 100 Bs and it now costs above 2500 Bs (Bs = bolivars)

  2. It blows my mind how apparently smart people like the one who writes this article with a great handling of the English language have decided to live like zombies through this chaos. I left for good 20 years ago and never looked back. I wish I had had at least the language skills the author shows in the article back then. Sorry, but I cannot be sorry if that’s what the article intends to transmit.

  3. Dude, 150000 as a professional Engineer?

    Me and my friends graduated in 2011, we’re all engineers and started working that same year. Right now Im the one earning the most (100000 WITH cesta tickets) and two of them are earning around 28000-32000 without cesta tickets (and for one of them, his employer owes the employees the cesta tickets since July!).

    On the other hand, a waitress at Hotel Intercontinental can earn easily that a week. I have a friend, summa cum laude in petroleum engineering that resigned her job as an engineer to work as a waitress there, because she made in a week as a waitress what she made as an engineer in a month.

    We dont have salaries in this country, we have tips. And even at that, lousy ones.

    Venezuela is not just FUBAR, its the land where everthing can happen and nothing, not even your life, matters

    • I have a friend, summa cum laude in petroleum engineering that resigned her job as an engineer to work as a waitress there, because she made in a week as a waitress what she made as an engineer in a month.
      That sums up the Cuban economy, where people working in tourist trades make more than professionals.

  4. Im pretty sure she’s not coining the term, she’s just using It and explaining It to a future granddaughter who we hope might not use that term anymore.

  5. Grandma. What’s a binder separator ?? What’s Venezuela ?? What’s a book. ?? What’s an egg ?? I’m going to hyper loop back to 2016 for a look on my next dreamcation. Always Coca Cola.

  6. Oh well. You might think it is besides the point but coca-cola on a daily basis? You might want to think of lowering your sugar consumption levels…Just a tiiiiiiny bit

  7. Spent 5 hours in a queue , on the sole weekday Im allowed to buy foodstuffs , waiting to be given the chance of buying whatever basic food articles are offered at the supermarket that day , the result : two one kg bags of rice and two small margarine pots ………!! better than two weeks ago when after hours on the queue we were told that nothing would be arriving that day !!

    Now all that food that we got from Brazil and Argentine will probably stop being imported making food supplies even more scarce , fortunately Uruguay still sends its cheeses while waiting to be paid the cheese they sent us months back …….have little hope that food supplies will improve ……makes you kind of worry how we are expected to survive…!!

    There is talk that the border with colombia will be open to truck traffic soon, maybe it willl allow more food to enter the country ….lets hope so.!!

  8. Si no fuera sarcasmo, pues diría que tu mensaje lo habría escrito un pobre inútil de esos fachos que se les reventó el trasero con aquel refresco que había sacado la Coca Cola.

  9. You can’t either, eating in a balanced way became downright impossible in Venezuela unless you’re filthy rich.

    Most venezuelans’ diet is now composed of cheap, hollow carbs and oils, almost neither protein nor veggies, and that’s why there’s a lot of malnourished famined people around lately.

    • In some cases, yes, an orange juice bottle of 1,8 liters is more expensive than a 2 liters pepsi, because yesterday I bought one, the juice was at 1500 Bs while the pepsi was at 1200 Bs.

      It’s irrelevant if refreshers harm people, you can’t compare them to cigarrettes for the simple reason that they just hurt the person consuming them, while cigarrettes usually harm non-smokers (I’ve been a passive smoker for almost 20 years, because one of my parents used to smoke almost 2 packs of freakin Red Astor everyday, it turns that only a cardiac arrest is needed to take a person out of the addiction for good, said parent hasn’t touched a cigarrette for almost 10 years so far)

      The point is, the person who drinks sodas hurts himself, not anybody else, so it’s a damn fascist-ass obssession to go and ban the thing just because someone else doesn’t like it, because that person’s unaffected by the other one drinking soda, but still wants to control his life like a good little nazi.

      Water? Dude, my kidneys and those of many venezuelans are pretty damaged just from drinking the sewage that the regime tries to pass as drinkable water, even when I pour chlorine and boil the thing, you can notice how the thick detritus of many minerals ends resting in the bottom of the bottles and jars I use to collect said water to drink it later. Ah, there are MANY people drinking UNTREATED water in Venezuela and have NO way to at least boil it, because in most cases they don’t even have access to the gas needed to power the kitchen to heat said water.

      Ok, water is better in most cases, I acknowledge that, but not when said water punches holes in your damn galvanized tubes or outright DISSOLVES your water tariff meter as if it was some strain of Cosmic Rust.

      Also, bottled water is damn expensive too, the big bottle of 18 liters (aka “botellón”) costs 600 Bs, and the tiny bottles are sold like mother-cell drinks, and NOT EVEN those could be counted as totally purified water, I left one of those big bottles getting sunlight for some days, and it grew MOSS inside.

      And the point I said in my previous post still stands, the only “cheap” food is hollow carbs, corn flour, pasta and similar stuff, you could toss rice there if you want, but it’ll give the same result, without proteins, you’ll get malnourished people, fruits and veggies have become really expensive thanks to Agropatria (Or AgroNADA) and the stupid dogma that dictates that “engineered plants give cancer” when they are actually engineered to make them resistant to plagues and to grow faster, thus making them more profitable in the most capitalist sense (Not in the idiotic chabobo conspiranoia that claimed Monsanto wanted to poison all of Latin America)

      There might exist some exaggerations in the article, charging someone 3000 Bs for 1,5 liters of soda is a mugging, I would’ve told the person selling it that she could drink that stuff, but I’ve seen people trying to sell one kilo of pasta or sugar at 4000 and 3000 respectively, so it’s plausible.

  10. Taking money out of ATM is not that easy… Banco Mercantil allows 3 withdrawals of 3000 bs per day… If you go to an ATM that is not of your bank, it will allow only two withdrawals of 600 bs, and some like Banco Provincial only allow one withdrawal. So you have to carry your checks with you and cash a check if you need more than 9000 in cash and cross your fingers so they give you the money in 100 bs bills and not in 50 or 20 bs bills … you need a backpack for those cases …

  11. Monday I saw at the local kiosk a young man asking for cigarettes, he handed 120 Bs and the lady of the kiosk gave him ONE cigarette … not so long ago they would give you a pack of 12 for that amount of money…


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