I have to hand in a 20,000 word article right now, but at the same time I have to fix a problem with my fridge, that isn’t cooling anymore. It’s not the first time this has happened. My fridge usually plays these games on me whenever we have electric fluctuations, a regular event in Caracas, so I juggle and manage to finish the text and see the technician, who’s only able to come in today after two weeks of waiting, because there are blockades in Western Caracas to prevent people from leaving their homes.
I pull through today, but I struggle with falling asleep. I don’t know which hurdle Venezuela and Maduro will throw at me tomorrow, I don’t have bubbles to escape reality anymore. I wake up at around seven almost every morning, read the news that I can, and receive at least ten news bulletins. The pandemic takes everything in its path. As I try to organize my day and look into how I’m going to continue my investigation on domestic gas canisters, the internet signal dies. I go through thousands of maneuvers to try and bring it back, almost giving mouth-to-mouth to the outlet: nothing, the signal’s gone. I just want to cry.
I start to handwrite the gas distribution knots, to have an idea on how I’m going to present the eight infographics that the special report will show. The internet comes back, but the signal is capriciously unstable; after a while, it stays put. Today I have running water, electricity, and internet: it feels like a first world country and all.
I call B, reporter and partner in the research. What’s supposed to be a meeting to discuss her progress in the investigation about the gas burning in Monagas State, ends up being a self-help session. When water comes through her pipes, it’s with sediments and brown, but then she hasn’t had electricity in the last ten days. Her 2G cell phone signal from Movistar dies constantly and she hasn’t been able to call the experts. She also has a migraine, bad mood, and very low morale. Who can blame her?
I have to choose between the water and the Jose technician. Survival wins.
I turn to a run-down rhetoric. I try to explain that she’s not the only one who feels trapped, the entire country does, but the obstacles for her mean taking four or five days to get through to the engineers in Monagas, because they have no signal and nobody gets the messages. She also has to get up really early to interview X union member, because it’s the only time of day that the man has a phone signal to take her call, and she has to bleach her clothes thanks to the dirty water she gets at home.
Since I’m having so much trouble getting in touch with the cooking gas experts (the one that comes in canisters), I’m carrying out another investigation to keep myself busy. It’s the same thing I was telling B, we have to get started on several stories at once not only to have a higher publishing rate, but also to avoid the feeling of being stuck, the asphyxia you get after four months of imprisonment, afraid of COVID-19.
A fear that struck close to home for me because my neighbor, the one 20 mts. away from my apartment, tested positive. I’m panicking. How many times did I cross paths with him? Were we wearing facemasks?
Days go by, and the worry that has been squeezing my stomach goes away. I know I don’t have COVID-19 because the self-appointed communal council in my neighborhood came to our building and made us go on foot–almost by force–to a house two blocks away, with four desks on the front door, where we were tested. I took my cell phone, in case I tested positive and the state arrested me. At least I could tell my husband.
At long last I’m able to schedule an interview with an employee of the Complejo Criogénico de Jose, after a week-long wait, and with a lot of workers who didn’t dare talk to me because they feared retaliation. Via WhatsApp, the residents’ association informs us that the water is back on in the building, after a week of drought. I have to choose between the water and the Jose technician. Survival wins. I drop everything–every single thing. I don’t know for how long we’ll have running water, and I have to clean my apartment all the way through. I have to do laundry and everything else I have piled up. At least I managed to get in touch with someone at Jose; it’ll take a few days until we can talk again, but the piece is already delayed anyway, so what the heck.
I finish cleaning and get back to work by late afternoon. I can’t handle the internet connection anymore, I give up. The team from my website, Crónica.Uno, decides to give me a Banda Ancha Móvil (BAM – Mobile Broadband) device, which costs an arm and a leg, and has to have credit added every week. They’ve had to buy at least five of these thingies for the staff. Everything has a cost.
Some days I just can’t get out of bed. It’s not that I want to sleep in, it’s that I just can’t get up. I ask myself tens of times, why am I doing this? What will I achieve? I’m an atheist, but since the pandemic began, I’ve become a bit more spiritual and I think that maybe there’s some force in the universe that I can address and gain some strength. I talk to the universe or to myself, I really don’t know, but it works.
Some days I just can’t get out of bed. It’s not that I want to sleep in, it’s that I just can’t get up.
I drink coffee and prepare myself for the editor’s weekly meeting, on Zoom. As we log on and organize the agenda, each person tells the story of their own mini-tragedies. One of the coordinators was left stranded in Cagua, Aragua State, with her car; another has a weird fever, not COVID-19, but she can’t afford to get tested and the insurance won’t cover it; another has his wife stuck in Spain and hasn’t been able to bring her back. According to my license plate number, it’s my day to go and fuel up my car with subsidized gasoline (during the meeting I ask my friend who works with the Bloomberg agency and she tells me that I should go and wait in line because fuel’s about to run out).
The meeting ends and I give myself courage to go to the subsidized gas station. The line requires a bravery that I don’t have, so I end up going to a station in dollars that’s close to my house. My wallet hurts, but I have no other choice. I call my friend to tell her about it, but she’s hysterical: she has to send an urgent piece and her internet isn’t working, it disconnects frequently and the email won’t go out. We’ve all been there.
I’m making progress in my investigation, slowly. I manage to interview experts and register testimonies of people who haven’t had cooking gas in six months. One tells me that she went to buy it in the black market and pay the delivery boy in dollars, but she had trouble getting the dollars. She ended up buying it from a grocery store owner. My heart aches. I have a cooking gas line and I only paid 2,800 bolivars for two years’ service. That’s right, I paid 0.007 dollars at that day’s exchange rate, while she had to pay 12 dollars for one month.
We have a new meeting, but this time it’s the entire crew: reporters, editors, photographers, designers. For the first hour, people just let off steam. Anger, frustration, fear, rage, despair. The seven reporters we have in Táchira, Zulia, and Bolívar states have the worst of it; they go without electricity six hours per day, they don’t have any more fuel, and they can’t report even if they wanted to. When power comes back, they try to upload their pieces on WordPress, but the internet won’t allow them, so they send messages through WhatsApp and us coordinators end up uploading the articles, videos, and photos to WordPress. Our correspondent in Aragua was harassed by the officers from the Cuerpo de Investigaciones, Cientificas, Penales y Criminalísticas (CICPC, Venezuela’s body of criminal investigations). The NGO Espacio Público, which defends freedom of speech, is counselling her to avoid any situation that might put her in harm’s way, and our reporter in Carabobo tells us, distressed, that she has a pulmonary infection and she’s being treated as if she had COVID-19. The day is almost lost by trying to solve problems so they can survive, but when they do manage to send material in, it’s of high quality and it portrays the calamitous, tough life inland residents have to face.
The meeting is so tough that we decide to schedule a session with a psychologist through Zoom, so she can provide us with tools to handle stress and uncertainty. It works for a while. Three months after I begin, I’m able to publish my article with the investigation on cooking gas canisters. I should feel overjoyed for this, and for the positive reception it got. I was even asked for an interview with an icon of journalism, Cesar Miguel Rondón. But for some reason, I’m just not happy. The infographics and designs are beautiful, but I read the text and I want to cry. Reporting had never been so difficult and painful.
Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported.
Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.Donate