Photo: Mabel Sarmiento

“It’s been three years since I bought new shoes. I patch up the ones I have, and try to keep them from the rain. I take care of them as if they were a baby,” Isabel Peña told me when she protested outside Catia’s Hospital Periférico. She, along with her co-workers, has been on active strike for 25 days, called by the Capital District’s Nurses Association.

In Venezuela, a nurse doesn’t earn more than Bs. 5,000,000, less than $2 a month. A uniform costs over Bs. 30,000,000 —six monthly wages— and the special shoes they use can cost up to Bs. 90,000,000 —18 monthly wages. Low salaries and terrible working conditions pushed the sector to the streets, in a country where protests are criminalized and people are imprisoned for exercising a constitutional right.

She, along with her co-workers, has been on active strike for 25 days.

For Isabel, however, repression, the economic chokehold and the intimidation of colectivos don’t deter her from joining the strike. “I come from Los Valles del Tuy and I sleep in the hospital to avoid having to pay the bus fare. Sometimes I ask for my night shifts to be paid with food; a kilo of rice, for instance.” She has a degree in Nursing, 22 years of experience and her salary is one of the highest in the institution she represents. However, she can’t afford the basic food basket, which costs more than Bs. 200,000,000.

On Friday, July 6, the government gave the nurses a single Bs. 20,000,000 bonus, enough to buy a kilo of powdered detergent, cheese and meat. That’s why the strike that demands proper wages, better working conditions and guarantees hasn’t been lifted. Bioanalysts, nutritionists, dentists and pharmacists across 20 states in the country have joined the protest. Since Tuesday, July 10, doctors all over the country decided to only treat emergencies in hospitals, in support of the nurses’ strike. Ten hospitals and healthcare centers in Caracas have chosen to support the strike as well.

The National Hospital Survey of 2018 showed that 79% of healthcare centers lack surgical material and 88% suffer medicine shortages. Already in 2017, 51% of surgery rooms in Venezuela were out of order.

Poor salaries spark protests

Currently, there’s no possible salary compensation; unless they’re offered a raise equivalent to the one given to military officers, 2,400% on average.

Photo: Mabel Sarmiento

Luis Morales, a nurse at Caracas’ University Hospital, earns about Bs. 800,000 —less than half a dollar —fortnightly. Morales works at the hospital, in a home for the elderly and does night shifts in a private clinic. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be able eat or pay the bus fair. I scarcely see my family. It’s a huge sacrifice.” He’s been a nurse his whole life, but he doesn’t have the work benefits to purchase a house. His severance package amounts to less than $1.

The hospital crisis and low wages for healthcare workers have caused a national strike and active street protests. However, there’s no improvement in the horizon. Health Minister Carlos Alvarado, who took office on June 25, when the strike started, has given no signs of wanting to make progress in negotiations. The nurses expected him to fulfill his promise to meet with them on Monday 9 and Tuesday 10. Nevertheless, that never happened. Now the workers are threatening to take the protest to Miraflores.

The hospital crisis and low wages for healthcare workers have caused a national strike and active street protests.

Ana Rosario Contreras, head of the Capital District Nurses’ Association, reacted to the State’s negligence by ratifying the strike and announcing possible mass resignations in the sector. “We’re willing to give our support because we have nothing to lose. Our severance package is worth 400 grams of milk. That’s our reality. We’re not afraid,” said María Díaz, a nurse, while a group of workers behind her shouted: “We save lives with misery wages while soldiers who assault and destroy lives get millions.”

Venezuela is characterized by a long history of a healthcare system accessible to all Venezuelans. Today, however, despite the government’s great interest in capitalizing the illusion that they’ve offered new health options for the poor, the truth is that doctors, nurses, analysts, pharmacists are the ones who subsidize the health of Venezuelan citizens.

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18 COMMENTS

  1. The sad truth is that no amount of raises will solve the structural problem. They should be protesting for a change of government to one that stop the crazy ass policies of the Maduro and crew.

    • So true.

      In the meantime, all the rest of Venezuela looks at them with passive sympathy.

      Maybe the people do have the government they deserve.

    • Ask them, and I would wager that you would find a majority embrace Chavismo. Who doesn’t love something for nothing?

      I guarantee, that the next Chavista who trots out after Maduro is deposed will promise the same things… and when he can’t deliver, El Pueblo STILL won’t shit-can Chavismo. Because they are true believers who think that all sorts of largesse awaits those who believe hard enough.

      Its like the moron who burns his hand by touching a hot stove. He doesn’t believe that HEAT burned his hand… he believes he touched the wrong kind of stove.

  2. Thank you, Ms. Sarmiento, for this excellent piece. But the sad truth is that there is no solution to the problem. The regime will offer a token increase in salaries, which they will pay for by printing more Bolivars. This will stoke the flames of the runaway, hyperinflation, that will almost immediately nullify, and undoubtedly reduce, any very brief increase in purchasing power.

    Tough as it is, there is only one solution, as Glenn mentions above.

  3. You mentioned something that is worth noting…
    “they’re offered a raise equivalent to the one given to military officers, 2,400% on average.”

    So they give their military officers raises to keep up with inflation?
    How are they managing to keep the enlisted ranks from revolting? Free food?

    • The enlisted ranks do get benefits, but they likely also see the explicit and implicit threat of completely screwing themselves and their families if they even think of revolting.

  4. If this strike is just a proxy for a protest against Maduro I am fine but if it really is a strike for higher wages I am completely lost and do not understand.

  5. Strikes will work IF everyone does it. Or at the very least, the people who have achieved “go Galt’.

    If the owner of a trucking firm says, “Sorry guys… we can’t afford to work under Chavismo. Don’t come in tomorrow.”… it will work. Chavismo might say, “We will confiscate your trucks”… but trucks that won’t run for Chavistas** are of what use?

    The Chavistas confiscated Kellogg’s… what are they producing? Bridgestone? GM? Kimberly Clark? Having the people to work is only one part of the equation. I manufacture timber frame homes and cabinetry. If I decided to not purchase timber or wood for cabinets, what good is it to have employees who produce NOTHING?

    **If Uncle Sam came into my shop today, and said to me that he was seizing all of my assets if I didn’t work at a loss, guess how many of my vehicles would have engines that were drained of oil, filled with sand and run until they were seized up? How many of my tools would be gone, and the rest monkey wrenched? A shop that would be a pile of ashes?

    • El Guapo, Chavistas have a perfect record of destroying all businesses they confiscate. Business owners need not do a thing. They wrongly assume that the knowledge base and entrepreneurial skill needed to run the business can be handled by any corrupt military officer. Chavistas themselves will steal what they can as fast as they can.

      However, don’t forget to put gasoline in the brake fluid, add water to the gas tank, take the battery, drain the transmission, remove a few hidden wires, and put Chavez images on all sides of the vehicle. Also, remove all computer programs and records dealing with the business.

      • You wouldn’t have to worry about that. Part of being in business is knowing when to suddenly NOT be in business.

        In college (business/construction management major), we were encouraged to attend seminars offered by various business oriented groups (ie Chamber of Commerce). One seminar I attended was called “Scorched Earth”, and it involved various speakers offering insight in salvaging what can be salvaged from a business undergoing “nationalization” (or any other confiscation). This was 1982-86. The Commies were still the bad guys, and anti-success morons like Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy thought that government control of key industries was the way to go.

        ANYWAY, in my safe I have what is called a BOB… a Bug Out Bag. In it I have all the things I need, as well as information/lists of “things to do” that can be done in a few hours with even a little bit of help. Be assured that within 12 hours, my physical business assets worth confiscating will be worthless.

  6. “We’re willing to give our support because we have nothing to lose. Our severance package is worth 400 grams of milk. That’s our reality. We’re not afraid,” said María Díaz, a nurse, while a group of workers behind her shouted: “We save lives with misery wages while soldiers who assault and destroy lives get millions.”
    ———

    “Nothing to lose” makes a dangerous population.

    • One of the most valuable lessons that my father taught me was to never put someone in a position where they have nothing to lose.
      His lesson was in the context of business but it holds true in many situations.
      When someone has nothing to lose they have no incentive to cooperate and many times will act irrationally.
      Giving someone a face saving way out of a situation even if you pay in the short term can yield long term gains.
      The Maduro regime is in this position. The complaints in front of the ICC coupled with possible indictments and prosecution in other countries, has taken an amnesty negotiated by the opposition to transfer power off of the table. Any type of amnesty granted from a new Venezuelan government will not stop the international wheels of justice from continuing to turn.
      The regime has no choice but to fight to maintain control until the bitter end.

  7. While slave wages to nurses in Venezuela is appalling, neighboring countries are benefiting from educated experienced nurses and other professionals exiting Venezuela. People can be beneficent only up to a point, then they have to take care of themselves first. Nurses are past the breaking point.

    A major difference between the Cuba model and the Venezuela model is that emigration from Venezuela is possible. Venezuelans do not need rafts to leave. Emigration by Cuba’s slaves is geographically and politically restricted.

    Maduro’s attempt to enslave the population and make them fully dependent on his largess will fail and cause permanent damages in health care, the petroleum industry, and other infrastructure. The only solution is the change governments now!

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