By Franco Vielma – Sep 3, 2021
Let us begin by admitting that a good part of what we call “political debate” in Venezuela is a disorderly dispute over personal anecdotes and the country’s issues.
Sometimes that diatribe has little or nothing to do with politicians or with political affairs but with other issues. However, of course, those issues are also political, because in Venezuela we have the ability to turn Messi’s visit to Venezuela for the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifiers into a political issue.
Allow me not to comment on our national soccer team, so as not to digress into national tragedies.
Over the past few days, we have seen that Messi has become a trend. The image was more than striking: Messi and the rest of the Argentine team getting off a Yutong bus bearing the Misión Transporte logo, the same ones that travel from Caracas to Barinas, to go to the training grounds at the Brígido Iriarte Stadium, in the foothills of El Koki’s former kingdom.
Days before this, Mexican YouTuber Luisito Comunica had come to Venezuela and, apparently, this time he did not get mugged. The influencer, who has more than 37 million followers on his YouTube channel, went roaming by El Vigía; he went to the stilt houses to the south of Lake Maracaibo in order to see the lightnings of Catatumbo, and was also in Caracas where he stayed at the luxurious Humboldt Hotel on the top of Guaraira Repano. In other words, he was face to face with two extreme contrasts of Venezuela.
The almost simultaneous visit by both public figures, as we know, generated another episode of that all too common disorderly “debate” about the country and its current situation.
That diatribe is not at all unrelated to what has now become a constant theme; one that rebounds intermittently regarding the real situation in Venezuela and “the country that got fixed,” a phrase that many use sarcastically and that others use to affirm that some things are better off than before.
The discussion inside and outside of the country
For months now, Venezuelan YouTuber Ances Díaz has been the target of controversy for publishing on daily topics of Venezuelan life and for very punctually highlighting changes in the supply situation, the general conditions in the country and trivial issues as well, such as a queue in Los Cortijos shopping center, where people lined up to purchase televisions and appliances on sale, paying for them in dollars.
Another YouTuber, perhaps the most recalcitrant and mindless of these sad Venezuelan exports, Javier Hala Madrid, @javierhalamadrid, received quite a lot of attention for addressing Mexican YouTuber Alex Tienda, @AlexTienda. Javier referred to the personal situation of a poor young man from Petare, who has to work for a living, and stated that “this is the real situation in Venezuela.”
Alex Tienda responded by offering to help the young man and questioning Javier’s intentions of generating controversy and attracting attention by highlighting only the bad things about his country.
— NTN24 Venezuela (@NTN24ve) June 25, 2021
In diverse social platforms, many clamored to give Tienda Venezuelan nationality and the whole show was not without its emotional content and the usual commonplace phrases, many of them quite empty, about a love for Venezuela and other similar national references.
Let me point out here that, in the midst of all the triviality and apparent sterility of all these feuds among YouTubers, it is a fact that any debate about the current situation in Venezuela generates attention and interaction. And, let’s face it, that is, after all, the business model for YouTubers.
During his latest visit to Venezuela, Luisito Comunica made an initial video of his first impressions of the country, after his last visit back in 2017. The video presented several topics, such as what “has improved” and what “has worsened,” according to his point of view.
Regarding “what has worsened,” Luisito spoke of the queues for gasoline, the devaluation of the currency, access to electricity, water, and the costs of many goods which are paid in dollars. Of course, Luisito made sure not to mention the blockade, which is the main cause behind the fall in the State’s revenue earnings and which has a clear link with all of these issues.
However, a fragment of the video, precisely Luisito’s final, positive and optimistic balance on Venezuela was the one that was widely disseminated. He mentioned that he saw people “happier” than in 2017, either because of “conformity,” or “resilience,” or because “yes, there are many things that have improved.”
Luisito Comunica sobre su reciente viaje a Venezuela: “La gente está mucho más alegre”. pic.twitter.com/dAKdkpDKLE
— Directo a la Fuente (@directolafuente) August 31, 2021
Luisito made reference to shops filled with products, a “dollarized” economy, higher consumption, more shopping centers, and he predicted “great things” to come for the country.
In reality, neither Messi nor the YouTubers are specifically a truly concrete and objective reference for the situation in Venezuela. But they have managed to generate a debate that has gone off in two directions, especially between those who left and those who stayed in Venezuela.
Due to many factors, it is extremely difficult to establish non-subjective or not merely perceptual criteria regarding the real dimensions of the situation in the country, since these criteria are justified from each person’s particular point of view.
The current debate on the state of Venezuela concerns each person’s individual situation, inside or outside Venezuela; however it stems from a false premise: that of the “country that got fixed,” a concept as diffuse and frail as the very notion of “a country in ruins” or “a country that was damaged.”
There are no such things. The Venezuelan reality does not admit such determinisms. If so, our country has been both “fixed” and “damaged” at the same time, forever. For such determinisms only exist in particular approaches to the national life.
On the other hand, all these debates, without a general understanding of the causes, origins and perspectives, is extremely brief and also too extensive.
This debate concerns issues as particularized as the availability of Nutella in the country for the liking of the sifrinas [snobs] living in the center of Caracas; or the availability of fuel for a banana distributor in Obispos, in Barinas; or the purchasing power of the impoverished workers of the public sector that is the concern of any public sector worker; or those who receive foreign remittances and spend that money eating at some food court.
The debate goes from the dollarized economy, to the tequeño combos at $1 dollar; from the small merchant to the high end entrepreneur. It ranges from those who make an income with cryptocurrencies and trading, to those who have to walk because there is no public transport available and they cannot afford a taxi.
There are those who receive remittances in Venezuela; there are those who send them from abroad. There are those who generate income in Venezuela; there are Venezuelans who have failed abroad.
The themes are as extensive as the Venezuelan demographics inside and outside the country.
Let’s make it clear: the debate, inside or outside, is infinite; it is as particularized as is each person’s situation. In this terrain, it is impossible to overcome subjectivity, therefore, it is a trap; it is a labyrinth and there will be no possible overall agreements or consensus. The debate does not admit polarizing determinisms or rigorous “truths.”
The real dimension of the country
However, there is a non-subjective dimension that is sending sporadic but extremely crucial signals, both regarding the country’s economy and the general state of various ambits within Venezuela.
Regarding this, and speaking now of the possibility of being objective, it is appropriate to mention some forecasts made by various Venezuelan and foreign economic study centers. These forecasts suggest that the Venezuelan economy could grow this year. It is not definitive. The Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) will confirm or discard this in due course when it publishes its results. These are, one must be warned, just estimates that are still being made.
Such forecasts point to a return of the Venezuelan economy towards a positive terrain. One forecasting entity is the UN-associated Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL). In a recent report for Latin America, CEPAL pointed out that Venezuela’s GDP could continue to contract in 2021, but may register positive numbers in 2022, with a 1% increase.
There are other more positive forecasts that suggest that economic growth could come this year. According to the Institute of International Finance (IIF), which is a global business association of financial institutions, Venezuela may register a GDP increase of 1% to 5.4% during 2022.
Also, estimates from within the country, such as that of the economic research entity Dinámica Venezuela of economist Eduardo Fortuny, expects a 4% growth this year and 3% for 2022.
The Andrés Bello Catholic University, which has historically shown open political hostility towards Chavismo, has estimated a positive economic growth of 2% at the end of the current year.
There are still negative estimates, such as the one maintained by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but even this entity, which places Venezuela in red numbers this year, has indicated that the trend is reversing.
There are people who get such impressions of recovery on the street. They say things like “where do so many dollars come from,” or “I went downtown and there were people shopping,” or “there is more commercial activity.” Anyway, these are impressions that are not meant to be generalizde. Many people continue to have difficulty in making ends meet, especially those whose incomes are linked to the public sector: from the salaried workers to the pensioners who do not have access to remittances or other forms of income.
But there are signs of other economic activities recovering.
In addition to this, there is the perception that blackouts decreased in 2021, compared to previous years, especially in terms of the electricity rationing that has decreased. Such an impression is fundamentally relative to the place within the Venezuelan territory where one may happen to live.
One thing that is certain is that CANTV’s Broad Band Access (ABA) continues to expand and to offer speed increases of megabytes per second to many users.
The diesel crisis has receded considerably. Social media users have reported a considerable drop in gasoline queues within the country, and it is estimated that the national gasoline refining capacity will soon stabilize when the El Palito refinery goes back into service and gets rebooted with Iranian-made spare parts. The demand for more than 130,000 barrels of gasoline per day will be met in this scenario.
— Últimas Noticias (@UNoticias) July 2, 2020
The features and spasms of internal life within the fabric of the country continue with their ups and downs, but that is happening within a growing perception that “the worst is over.”
Does this mean that the crisis has disappeared and that “the country got fixed”? Perhaps we should stop using such Manichean formulae. The country has had and will have problems at its best or worst moments. And we must concede that the magnitude of the difficulties will continue to be significant to the extent that the country remains blockaded and the State’s income revenue sources remain seized or disqualified.
I must also insist that the real dimension of the country is one thing, and the frail and subjective debates anchored to the particularized visions of our national reality and each person’s situation would be a very different thing.
There are some among those who left Venezuela and want the country to fail, because only that would validate their decision to leave.
Then there are those outside the country who have had very hard times, and for economic, family or existential reasons, would like to return. But there are also those who left and said they would return when things improved a bit, and despite what is happening today, they will not return.
There are those of us who stayed in the country and want everything to improve even more, because we love this land and because that would validate our decision to remain.
Let us also realize that, despite so much turmoil, many of us do not want to leave, and that if the situation continues to improve, that would reaffirm our rooting and attachment to what we have here.
There is one thing of which we can be sure: what happens in Venezuela in the coming months and years will be the responsibility of those who remained, not of those who left. Everything will be made possible by the hands of those of us who suffer and still enjoy this land.
Those who migrated, we must thank them for the remittances, which are very necessary; but what is happening in Venezuela has to do fundamentally with what is happening here.
In regard to Messi and the YouTubers there is nothing much to add, because this country is really our business and only we know how to interpret it, and we will do so with our own measures and according to the rhythms of our own reality.
Featured image: Mexican YouTuber Luis Arturo Villar, a.k.a Luisito Comunica, on his most recent visit to Venezuela. Photo: Twitter / @luisitocomunica
Translation: Orinoco Tribune
Franco Vielma is a Sociologist, writer. He is part of the Mision Verdad collective.