Electronic Nomads: The Life of a Venezuelan Freelancer

After the blackouts on March 7 and 25, the life of the Venezuelan freelancer has become even more difficult. Many have lost the jobs that support entire families, because workers can’t deliver on time, while others have improvised homemade devices to get energy. Others prowl the city hunting for electricity and internet signal.

I’m writing this from a rooftop, connected to a power plant of 4.5 Kva by 120/220 v that runs on gasoline, owned by a shoe store. Most of the shops, restaurants and malls in my city have similar thermoelectric plants that kick in during the daily blackouts that leave us without energy most of the day. Mobile or digital signal is intermittent, which has forced us to practice the difficult art of climbing. Only in the highest rooftops of my street I can listen to news or communicate with my coworkers.

Like thousands of freelancers, I’ve become an electric nomad, hunting for energy, internet connection and phone signal the same way I look for water in the mines or through water trucks to survive.

My job depends on an active internet connection and electricity to write, so the blackouts on March 7 and 25 were a complete nightmare. Hundreds of writers, proofreaders, journalists, designers, photographers, editors, teachers, translators, operators, producers, talent hunters, illustrators, online store owners, community managers, image and sound technicians, youtubers and influencers have lost their jobs in the last 30 days.

Only in the highest rooftops of my street I can listen to news or communicate with my coworkers.

Working remotely with foreign clients was a viable option to withstand the crisis, considering the lowest pay for jobs on platforms such as Fiverr, Upwork or Workana represented a much more significant profit that the minimum wage ($4) in Venezuela. The competition of Venezuelan freelancers in job webpages was fairly significant because we’re cheap labor within the digital community, but after the blackout many companies and employees have decided not to hire Venezuelan workers. Several job offers demand “power stability” for hiring.

Andrea Pinto López, from Valencia, says: “Whenever there’s a blackout during the day, we go to Sambil Valencia. We live nearby, the power plant works 24/7 and there’s good Movistar signal. We work there sometimes between 10 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., using the phone as a router. We’ve spent lots of money on our phones, but it allows us to do our job and fulfill our commitments, so it’s worth it. Initially, we had to go there for several days to work sitting on the floor all day, it was horrible and we ended up in pain. Now we know where the outlets and the chairs are, we take our power strips and created a sort of itinerant coworking space in those areas of the mall. It’s very frustrating, but fortunately both of us (my boyfriend is a long-distance project coordinator and I’m a writer) have managed to deliver to our clients on time. Knowing that I’m working and producing amidst this chaos is what keeps me sane and willing to go on.”

I asked freelancers on Twitter how they’ve been handling these dark days, and I got over a thousand answers between mentions and replies. The testimonies are shocking: people who patrol their cities in search for places to connect their phones and laptops, small makeshift coworking spaces in coffee shops, restaurants or hotels with power plants, carrying all sorts of plugs to connect and work wherever there’s electricity, improvised UPSs with car batteries to power up desktop computers and nightly pilgrimages to phone centrals so they can send their work to their clients. Organized electric nomads carrying their equipment -at great risk, remember that Venezuela’s one of the most dangerous countries in the world and you can get killed for your phone-, working against the clock and under pressure, not knowing when they’ll be left in the dark again. It’s like living in a cyberpunk uchrony where, amidst a disaster that threatens to send us back to the 18th century, we do all we can to remain aflored with improvised or outdated technology.

“During the blackout, I organized a camp in my home because I have enough water and gas for several days. I housed two families with almost ten people each and preserved their food and medicines in my fridge. I solved the electricity problem by using an energy converter for vehicles. I’m a content creator, I handle technology accounts. I get internet by connecting my computer to my phone’s hotspot so I could finish my work,” said Beatriz Rondón, from Sebucan, Caracas.

Hundreds of writers, journalists, designers, photographers, editors, translators, illustrators, online store owners, community managers, etc have lost their jobs in the last 30 days.

Many foreign clients either don’t understand Venezuela’s situation or find it inconvenient to work with people who can’t deliver on time; however, many others have been very understanding and have empathized with their employees, adjusting their schedules and not cutting down payments.

Some freelancers have chosen to work offline because they can organize without needing an internet connection, at least while their laptops’ batteries last, and they use any open signal to send them over. Others have been finding the necessary equipment to survive without electricity and, as preppers in an apocalyptic films, they’ve bought their own power generators, satellite internet and UPSs to keep connected regardless of circumstances. Unfortunately, most people can’t do that, many lost their equipment during the abrupt voltage fluctuations and recovering them is an impossible task. Others depend on their jobs to support their families and small children -who can’t go to school as per regime decree-, they can’t go anywhere to work outside their homes.

This is causing internal migrations, like any catastrophe. Freelancers in cities near the borders -the worst affected have suffered over 100-hour blackouts- have quickly migrated as digital refugees to Colombia in order to keep working. Others, closer to Caracas -where blackouts are less common- have also moved there to keep their jobs.

Claudia Da Silva, a resident of Merida, wrote: “I had to leave the city where I’ve lived my entire life. I had to come to Caracas to avoid starving to death, because power rationing in Merida was going to leave me jobless. Now I’m in an unknown city, but at least it’s in the 21st century. My family’s still in the Middle Ages.”

According to Igor Gavidia, new regime electric energy minister, the electric crisis could span an entire year (or indefinitely, as long as chavistas remain in power) and considering that internet connection is almost non-existent here -about 0.8 mbps- and that most Venezuelans connect through State-run CANTV, which was experiencing serious operational problems even before the first blackout, the dramatic migration wave of 2019 caused by the blackouts is likely to include an important number of freelancers who have been stoically resisting the crisis thus far, doing all they can to survive.

David Parra

Mérida-based writer, who won the Monte Ávila Editores Contest for Unpublished Authors in 2014 with my book «La Coleccionista». Some of my poems are part of the poetry anthology «Amanecimos Sobre la Palabra, Antología de Poesía Joven y Reciente Venezolana» (2016). 'm interested in writing chronicles and make investigative journalism focused on the west side of the country.