LA GUAIRA, VENEZUELA (AFP) – When Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido called for street protests at the weekend in a bid to rekindle popular outrage against President Nicolas Maduro, only a few hundred people turned up.
It’s a far cry from the tens of thousands he mobilised a year ago after declaring himself interim president and winning recognition from more than 50 countries.
Many, like Jhoan Navarro, would rather turn their attention to the beach these days, glad of a distraction from the seemingly unending political standoff which they say has brought little change to their lives.
Navarro last Sunday made the hour’s journey north from Caracas to Camuri Chico beach on the Caribbean coast with his wife and daughter “for a change of air, to clear our minds”.
“When I have a problem with my wife we work it out together, but we know that neither Maduro nor Guaido are going to solve our economic problems,” said Navarro, bopping to music blaring from the speakers of his car, parked on the edge of the sand.
Like many, he has become inured to Guaido’s year-long joust with Maduro. Maria Eugenia Hernandez, on the beach with a group of her friends – “all single mothers” – said she had supported Guaido from the beginning.
But she admits the 36-year-old opposition leader has made no inroads on the socialist president’s grip on power.
“To be honest, he hasn’t done much. I don’t see any change. Nothing,” said Hernandez.
A year ago on January 23, Guaido used his status as Speaker of Parliament to proclaim himself interim president, but Maduro has faced down protests and held fast to power with the help of the armed forces. Guaido last week survived dramatic attempts to prevent his re-election as head of the National Assembly, and called a series of new protests to try to drive out the leftist Maduro, who is overseeing an economy in freefall and stands accused of acting like a dictator.
“I can’t complain, I have a good job,” said Navarro, 29, a bank employee who is among the fortunate to be paid partly in United States (US) dollars, a buffer against the country’s runaway inflation.
The bolivar, the national currency, lost nearly 99 per cent of its value in 2019, according to the Central Bank. Meanwhile, inflation is approaching a stratospheric 200,000 per cent, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In the heat of the southern hemisphere summer, Venezuelans want to take advantage of the country’s Caribbean beaches to try to forget their struggles. It’s a respite from the daily grind of surviving a crippling economic crisis. Sitting on the teeming beach, Juan Gonzalez said he had come to “party with my friends”.
He doesn’t care for “either Maduro or Guaido” but said he would like to see the back of Maduro because he had fouled up the economy and “doesn’t want to dollarise” it. As a courier, Gonzalez is paid in bolivars at the monthly minimum wage, which the government increased by 50 per cent last Friday. It rose to VES450,000 or USD6.70 at the official exchange rate.
“My salary is not enough for me,” Gonzalez said soberly.
GETTING USED TO IT
Further up the sand, Nelson Bolivares, 57, was cooking fish over an open fire, using the dismantled safety guard of a ventilator as a grill. What annoyed him, he said, are the Venezuelans who emigrate.
“Those who leave, they do it because they want to, not because of the situation in the country,” he said. Venezuelans are going through the worst economic and social crisis in their recent history.
Medicine and food shortages are common, particularly in the provinces, as well as recurrent power blackouts and fuel shortages, despite Venezuela sitting on one of the world’s largest reserves of crude. According to the United Nations (UN), 4.5 million Venezuelans have fled the country since the end of 2015, most of them settling in Colombia, Chile and Peru. Maria Eugenia Hernandez said she has no intention of abandoning Caracas or her work as a pastry chef in the immediate future.
“You end up getting used to it.”