Photos: Mario Pérez

On Friday, August 18, President Nicolás Maduro announced a set of economic measures that simply makes no sense at all. Among many important changes, the most controversial would be that the minimum wage is to rise from BsF. 3,000,000 to BsF. 180,000,000 (BsS. 1.800). Aware this would help bankrupt what little remains of the private sector, Maduro pledged the government would cover the entire private sector wage bill for three months, while also somehow vowing to bring the budget deficit down to zero.

Opposition leaders summoned a 24 hour national strike, which implied that no one was to move from their house on Tuesday 21.

Given the announcements, opposition leaders summoned a 24 hour national strike, which implied that no one was to move from their house on Tuesday 21, in order to protest against the measures. Yet, the streets told another story. People are undoubtedly unhappy with the measures, but a national strike didn’t seem like a convenient option. Why? An array of reasons that go from the fact that people need to eat and make money within a broken economy; to the declining trust deposited in opposition leaders and political parties. It’s only logical to assume that this strike was going to be a huge bust.

I called various business owners to confirm whether people had gone to work or abided the strike in Maracaibo. I also wanted to know how they felt the economic measures would affect them and their businesses. I started by reviewing different media outlets, which allowed me to assess the difference between what I saw and what I read.

I have to say: I found a huge disparity between the streets I saw and the ones I read about. Opposition politicians stated that the streets were empty in support of the strike; however, upon closer inspection, it was easy to tell that even though most of the businesses were closed, it wasn’t because of the strike, but rather because they had to update their systems in order to cope with the change of currency.  

Even though most of the businesses were closed, it wasn’t because of the strike.

The first business owner I spoke to is Juana, a marble workshop owner. All of her employees arrived to work on time the day of the strike, which means public transport was working. Nonetheless, her store was not open due to system updates that had to be installed. She stated that in order to overcome these measures she had to come to an agreement with her workers “because of Venezuelan labor laws, workers are so well protected that they have a huge say in the company’s actions, as much as an owner, or perhaps even more”. She stated that this strike made no sense for her, because at the end of the day owners still have to pay their workers.

Barney, a hardware store owner, told me that 15% of his workers didn’t go to work today. He opened his shop to assess budgets because of system updates. When I spoke to him he was coming out of a meeting with other business owners, where they were trying to reach similar or equal terms in order to stay in business. He talked to me a little bit about his plan: adjustment of salaries, imports reevaluation, but most importantly, how many workers are going to be kept if the cash flow isn’t as expected?

Ramona, a construction contractor, says that all of her workers showed up to work that day, although certainly not on time. As Juana, she didn’t open her store because she needed a system update, which—it’s worth noticing—can take a lot of time. Her perception of the strike is that it doesn’t work if people are in dire need of money in order to buy food. What is her plan to deal with the measures? In order to do that, she has to let some of her employees go.

The strike has done nothing for this city. What’s done real harm is the currency conversion.

Finally, I spoke to a gas station owner called Fulgencio, who stated that his “isleros” got there on time, even before he did. For him, sales proceeded within the normal range that day. He is one of the few who had no choice in this matter, as gas sales are a basic need, therefore it is mandatory that he opens his doors every day. “The strike has done nothing for this city. What’s done real harm is the currency conversion”.  However, he feels that eventually he will have to sell his gas station because of the minimum wage increase. He doesn’t trust the government covering the salaries of the workers.

So far, it seems the national strike has failed. Was this strike set up to fail from the very beginning? If the opposition leaders really want civic rallies they need to plan them really well, or instead, people will choose one of the most basic instincts: to eat.

*No real names were used, we changed them to protect the identities of our sources.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.

8 COMMENTS

  1. The Country is virtually paralyzed, but there is no public clamor. The Govt. shoots itself in the foot, but still hobbles on….

  2. Reminds me of the guy who sees a man beating his wife, and steps in to “help,” only to be attacked by the wife, who fears that losing a partner, even an abusive one, is worse than going it alone. Or with an opposition whose agenda includes her only in passing, as a means not to serve, but to get what they want.

    That’s a rough situation, by any measure,

  3. For what it’s worth, my woman said she figured between 60 and 70% of the businesses in Maturin were closed today. And she had a good look around as she drove all over the city looking for paint. Did she find a single can of house paint? No.

  4. Is interesting……..compare the US strata ..middle class to Venezuelan lower classes……who can aford to strike?….march?…protest?……all the people i know have mortages..health insurance…car ..life ..insurance…..food is expensive…gas….i take a day off…i lose 20% of my income?…hell no…….is the same for Vene’s……strike?..or eat…….who can blame them

    • It isn’t El Pueblo who needs to go on strike. That would be silly.

      The achievers and the successful need to go on strike. Within 2 days, it would be chaos in ChavismoLand.

      For sake of example, let us say that ElGuapo owns the only grocery store in ChavismoVille, Zulia. On August 17, Mr. Guapo decides, after hearing Maduro prattle on for an hour,

      1. That he has had enough and brings down the santamarias for the last time. Cerrado.

      2. He calls his employees, telling them they should come in on Saturday and clear everything from the shelves, as this is their “last payday” and that “everything must go”. You are fired. Everything is yours to eat or sell.

      3. ElGuapo goes back to his domicile and sips on some iced tea and turns on the boob tube. He’s got food. He’s got water. He’s got booze. He has gasoline. He has bullets and guns.

      Now, imagine that every person who owns a business does this. Unless I misunderstand how business works, a person isn’t required to be in business. If they cannot make a profit, they can’t be in business. And since ElGuapo and his like-minded former business people didn’t sell a thing (giving it all away), poor SUNDDE might just as well piss into the wind.

      Clearly, the Chavistas won’t like it and WILL threaten the former business people… with what? Take away their business? Business is more than just supplies and a building. It takes someone who knows the business, and has capital to run the business.

      The Chavists won’t have time to confiscate and threaten, because in 3 days, there is going to be RIOTS when El Pueblo doesn’t have a job, nor money to buy food.

  5. Well if Venezuelans want Chavista lite then they should have it . I guess that means the same policies but done democratically. I think that consigns the country to poverty but I certsinly would oppose US intervenyion, miliary and economic if el pueblo freely vote for Chavismo lite.

  6. How can you strike and paralyze a country whose economy is already paralyzed? To me, this is the stupidity of it.

    In addition, although I appreciate the analogies to Atlas Shrugged made here, we’re talking apples and oranges.

    The U.S. has always been a vibrant, Capitalist society, whereas VZ is a society where Atlas Shrugged in 1999.

    It’s not valid to talk about this happening now. It started happening two decades ago!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here