Queuing is a part of the day-to-day reality of Venezuela. To pick up basic groceries or take out cash from the ATM, Venezuelans often have to form a line and wait their turn.
Due to shortages, the endeavor might turn out to be fruitless, with empty shelves where essential items like eggs, rice, toilet paper and diapers used to be.
While these issues cause frustration, more pressing is the drop in real earnings. It is difficult to calculate the exact rate of inflation, with official sources placing it at around 60 percent, and others more than double that.
With parliamentary elections coming later this week, it would be easy to assume that this spells the end of the socialist government.
But, in spite of the testing circumstances, a strong sector of Venezuelans have not turned their back on Chavismo. Many cite the social gains the government has made in the last 16 years, while others remember the difficulties suffered during the governments in the years before Hugo Chavez became president in 1999. Most agree that there is a need to be patient, to weather the economic hardship in order to achieve real socialism.
“What they wanted to do 40 years ago, they want to do now. Return, but for what?”
“Have the people lost their memory or what?” Josefina Bravo told teleSUR English, remembering having to queue up overnight to get milk 30 years ago when her daughter was a newborn baby. Now a grandmother of six, Josefina is not only the linchpin of her family, but a community stalwart, working with seven communities in the the Barrio Nuevo, Barrio Tricolor and Barrio Adentro projects, helping neighborhoods make their environments better, allocating new housing, and advising on sanitation and nutrition.
“What they wanted to do 40 years ago, they want to do now. Return, but for what? Everything has advanced. We have managed to improve ourselves in these 16 years,” she said, adding, “What are we going to do with the elderly? With their pensions they buy their medicine, their food, all of that. Some people can’t look after their parents. How are we going to do it? Because before, there was none of that.
“Why am I still a Chavista?” she asked rhetorically. “Because I love Chavez. He was a great communicator, he was a teacher for me. Chavez was a true socialist. We haven’t arrived at socialism, we are trying to achieve socialism. This is going to be really hard. Because it’s a systematic war, by the media and everything. Socialism is a communitarian vision. So that we all have things, so that there are none of these inequalities. So that you’re not better than me, and me better than you. As humans we’re all equal, we all have the same rights.”
“We continue with the fight that Chavez started so that it keeps moving forward, because before we were forgotten about.”
I met Jairo Villareal at the Esquina Caliente in Plaza Bolivar, where supporters of the ruling PSUV socialist party take it in turns to make impassioned speeches and exchange ideas about socialism.
A driver by trade, Jairo is a member of his communal council in Parroquia Catedral, which makes decisions on the day-to-day workings of communities.
“We continue with the fight that Chavez started so that it keeps moving forward, because before we were forgotten about. It has had a lot of benefits,” he said. “At the moment I’m participating in Mision Robinson, where adults can learn to read, and more. It’s the best way that I can support these people, who really never had this opportunity, there’s so many, too many, that really need this help,” he said.
“What we are doing now is a test. This is training for all. Because before, we had everything. It was easy.”
Maria del Carmen Parrega has been working at Martinez Centeno school for 16 years. Its a state-funded Bolivarian school, which means the children receive free school meals, as well as the laptops.
“Those who support Chavez, we have to be loyal. We have to be really sincere people. And Chavez was born … from love. And what we are doing now is a test. This is training for all of us. Because before, we had everything,” she said.
“Now no. Now you have to care for yourself. You have to look after your family. Everyone. Let’s look, we have one chicken, we are going to share this chicken, we’re not going to eat it all at once. Before we would just chuck some of it, now no. Now we are going to really use it. We pray that by 2021 we end with poverty. That’s one of the goals that he had. And this can only be achieved if all of us become conscious of what Venezuela is … what family is, that we need to be united, that on Dec. 6 we all have to go to defend the revolution,” she said.
“Popular, organized power, to give a response to the communities was Hugo Chavez’s idea.”
Jose Acosta allocates funds for each of the projects in his communal council in the Caracas neighborhood La Vega. The resources for these programs come from the government. Like many Venezuelans, Jose plays an active role in the decision-making and the running of his community.
“If there is no organization, we don’t have anything. Our fundamental base is organization. Because the census, house by house tells us how many families live there, which people live there, and let us know what each family needs. for us as a communal, popular, organized power to give a response, through the institution of the state,” he explained.
“Right now we’re in an economic war. Private companies hide food, or don’t produce food. To try to change the minds of us Chavistas, revolutionaries. They want to change our ideology. But us, we want to continue with the revolution,” Acosta concluded.