Civil Unrest in the World’s Richest Country…

Riots in Merida Venezuela

Civil unrest prowled the street like the fifth horseman of the apocalypse, a burning brand in one hand and a red flag in the other. The blockade glinted in the afternoon sun, black smoke from burning tires spiralling into the sky. My gruff taxi driver turned to me, “we must go around”. He gunned the ancient car into reverse and we shot away from the scene, anxious to be gone before the police arrived with their gas, batons and rubber bullets. The streets of Merida were alive with activity, an aura of menace hung heavy in the air.

Gangs of students in red shirts marched towards the city centre, spraying walls with graffiti. Police in urban camo stood shoulder to shoulder with the infamous guardia nacional, AKs strapped to their chests. They eyed the protestors suspiciously, ready at any minute to advance upon the hothead who dared aim a firework at their ranks. My driver swore in Spanish and mounted the curb. An armoured vehicle of some kind, water cannon at the ready, rolled past us, siren blazing, imploring those in front to move or be crushed. We executed a perfect 500 point turn and retreated away from the noise, along side-streets and narrow roads towards the quieter barrios of the city. He dropped me near a lush green park, the obligatory statue of Simon Bolivar, sword at the ready, in the Center. A pair of gringo backpackers strolled around snapping pictures, snacking on empanadas and gulping plastic cups of steaming black coffee, this was the ‘tourist centre’.

I wandered into a small cafe, it was an oasis of calm. It was not what I had expected, I had been in Merida just four hours and had struggled to cross the city without running into blockades, the students were out in force, the police more so; surely the whole city was swept up in a whirlwind of madness? I could not have been more wrong. From my seat I watched as young couple flirted, children played and pensioners played chess. There appeared to be little going on in this part of the city. It was a total parallel to the near-revolution I had witnessed a few minutes before. I had little notion of what to expect when I decided to visit Venezuela. Almost everyone I had spoken to had warned me that the country was on the brink of civil war; a hotbed for crime, food shortages and rampant corruption. For the first time in a while I had been nervous about visiting a new country; Venezuela had seemed dangerous, mysterious and a little bit mental all at once. The nerves had added to the allure, I simply had to go, I needed to find out what was really going on…


Roadblocks in Merida Venezuela

A hastily thrown together road-block.


I sipped on a strong black coffee, there was no milk available. Across from me sat a gangly man in a checkered shirt, a pair of spectacles dangling from his nose. Large ears stuck out from under bushy hair, he was reading. I approached him and in my rudimentary Spanish attempted to ask him what was going on. He answered in English, a promising start…


Roberto was preparing to leave the country and keen to share his insights, confessions perhaps, on why he could no longer stay in his homeland.


I asked him about the protests, why only a few Venezuelans seemed to be getting involved.


“The protests just make things worse, they shut down the roads and slow everything down. Whenever a protest starts to gain momentum, the police do not hesitate; they crush it, this is why many Venezuelans now choose to stay out of the way”


Things had not always been this way, once Roberto too had taken to the streets, he had thrown rocks at the police, dragged fallen comrades away from hails of bullets, he had been a front-line man, or so he told me.


“We have no weapons, we cannot beat the police, whenever we make progress; they send in the Guardia Nacional, they are very bad, very corrupt”


Roberto had no choice he said, he simply must leave. Ten years ago, his father, a university professor, earned around $2000 a month. Today, due to the rampant inflation which has only gotten worse due to the insane black market rates, he earns just $60 a month for the same job, barely enough to get by.


“The government is a street gang, they rob, they take what is not theirs, there is nothing we can do”


According to Roberto, the government had stolen huge tracts of land and companies as well as numerous properties to distribute amongst it’s cronies. He told me of a friend who had been forced to leave his profitable farm by masked gunmen in the middle of the night. A week later; an army officer moved in, he had the deed to the land, or so he said. Roberto’s friend had never returned to his home. The government’s unfair meddling and opaque corruption was destroying local businesses and devaluing the bolivar even further.


He raised his voice, gesticulating wildly, a far-cry from his previously calm demeanour. People began to stare, unable to understand what he was saying, for we were conversing mostly in English but picking up on the passion, and hostility, in his voice. We left the cafe to talk in private.


“Why didn’t the German people get rid of the Nazis” Roberto asked pointedly, jabbing his finger towards my chest, a clever answer to a foolish question. “Without weapons, without pressure from other governments, we cannot win, we can only suffer”.


Roberto was sick of suffering, he was leaving – off to Cuba and then, perhaps, onwards to America. Right now, basic food-stuffs were scarce, people queued for hours to buy powdered milk, bread and toilet paper, Roberto was tired of queuing, he dreamed of a fully stocked fridge, a brimming medicine cabinet.


“We’re importing everything and it’s still not enough”


Venezuela should be one of the richest countries in the world, the country has the largest oil reserves in the world and a full tank of gasoline (around 60 liters) costs just 2 bolivars, a little less than one cent. Bottled water on the other hand costs over one hundred times more.


Roberto told me that Venezuela was now importing gasoline from Brazil, a travesty for a country where oil bubbles freely from the ground. He had to go, he had a plane to catch that very day, away from Merida and onwards to Caracas and then, Cuba.


I thanked him for his time and asked him one more question, “What does the future hold for Venezuela?’


He looked me in the eye, it was hard to say how much of what he had told me had been completely accurate but he looked serious.


“Bloodshed, lots of bloodshed”


With plummeting oil prices, rising inflation, increasing shortages and the clamouring voices of a million unheard souls, it was hard to disagree with him.


I shook his hand and he left. One more emigrant, part of a mass exodus, leaving the shores of a once beloved homeland, perhaps never to return.




Please note: Roberto’s name has been changed. I do not claim to be an expert on Venezuelan politics, all I can report upon are the feelings of those I have met on my travels in this truly stunning, somewhat tragic, country. There are two sides to every story, something I am more than aware of however the increased devaluation of the bolivar, rampant corruption scandals and history of police brutality seem to suggest that a change of government is necessary and, perhaps, imminent. With luck, Roberto can return to a calmer, more peaceful, Venezuela sooner than he anticipates.


Venezuela travel information is in short supply at the moment, I am aiming to open the world to what a wonderful place Venezuela really is and to encourage others to visit one of the last frontiers of adventure travel.


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  • Donny says:

    Fascinating to read a first hand report from Venezuela, whose self destruction has garnered few headlines in the English language press. I only wish there was more of a silver lining for the Venezuelan people I have met in Colombia that, like Roberto, feel they can no longer live in their home country and may never return.

  • Shobha says:

    Interesting – I had no idea Venezuela had such massive oil reserves. Which makes the poverty even worse. Did you ask him why Cuba? Its got its own problems so not the first country I would think of for economic migrants.

    • Daniella says:

      As a native Venezuelan myself, and worker on the air traffic industry, Shobha, I can answer that question. American Airlines (along with others) only sell international tickets in DOLLARS, no longer in our national currency. The only ones who do, do it in highly unpayable rates. Besides, we’re getting more and more isolated when it comes to air traffic. Air Canada and Alitalia have or will stop coming here soon.
      Second, as you might have seen, Cuba is slowly but surely opening up to the rest of the world. Thanks to Venezuelan’s never ending oil supply to them, now they’re on the way of improving.

      To put it shortly – Venezuela is now the new Cuba (in its worst stage).

    • Will Hatton says:

      Thanks so much Daniella for such a detailed response – this is pretty much what my friend Roberto said; that Venezuela is on it’s way to being the next Cuba and that although domestic flights are super cheap, international flights are very expensive as fewer and fewer airlines want to work with Venezuela at the moment – which obviously truly sucks for the Venezuelan people.

  • Daniella says:

    Thanks for your response, Will! Well, ironically, many domestic airlines are *trying* to take over those overseas routes – namely, Conviasa to Madrid and Buenos Aires with airplanes outsourced (is that the correct word? I’m still practicing my English) from Malaysia Airlines (which, contrary to what we might believe, have not presented any problems around here, heh). Aserca was flying to Curacao (which now is covered by AVIOR, which also flies to Aruba) but stopped due to lack of domestic air fare payments. Santa Barbara (another airline, rumouredly -sp?- owned by government) flies to Miami and Panamá. But, of course, these are like applying a mere kiddie Band-Aid to a bullet hole. The offer doesn’t fully cover the demand, which is increasing due to the dollars for traveling (CADIVI/Cencoex…you might have heard of them). If you want any further info, I’ll be happy to help.

  • Sios says:

    Tragic but yet interesting of how a country with high oil reserves get so poor, sure the venezuelans have a lot to talk about it…

  • Elias says:

    well, I am Venezuelan, and it’s really really sad how a very “rich” country is getting poor… anyway I just saw what you wrote about our country ,actually I live in Merida and I study at ULA (I don’t know if you heard about it when you were here). It’s really frustrating living here (I mean being governated by these people) I think Venezuela has a lot to offer but it’s hard to improve when many Venezuelans has a poor way of thinking. In the other hand, I’m glad you enjoyed our country, It has many amazing places, Venezuelans are always welcoming people.

  • It is quite humbling when things get put into perspective like this. Venezuela has been on my radar for a long time, yet I have been on the fence. I am lured in by it’s natural wonders and inspiration from ‘Up’!! :) But it would be foolish to assume that it is a perfectly safe place. I can imagine your conversations were fascinating, I didn’t know that Venezuela was so oil rich, but it is a text book example of how the country can have all the resources to be great but be ruined by corruption. Great piece, thanks for sharing.

  • HugoChavez says:

    Keep in mind this: People who are against the current Venezuelan government likes to talk shit about Venezuela. These people are mostly pro-USA, and they like to lick gringo’s balls. That’s why you’re going to read/hear too many lies about Venezuela.

    I don’t agree 100% with what Will Hatton wrote in his blog about Venezuela, but at least he recognize some of the lies.

    There are economics problems right now?
    yes, since 2013, and the low price of oil does not help.

    Mass exodus? no. There are more Mexicans or Central Americans going to U.S. than Venezuelan people leaving its country. There are more people going to Venezuela than people leaving Venezuela. At least, 100.000 Colombian leave its country to go to Venezuela every year. Population in Venezuela increase every year, it doesn’t decrease.

    if you want an objective perspective about Venezuela, go to this link:

  • Deison Araujo says:

    I’m venezuelan and I really find very interesting your article, it’s actually very sad to see many friends leaving our country, from january until now 11 friends have already left the country, in less than 7 months. Another 4 will leave on august 2 other on september, so it would be 16 in 9 months. Not to mention those who have not yet said they will leave the country or have not decided to go yet. I may have more friends who leave the country because of the fact that I have more friends with greater purchasing power than that which has the great majority of Venezuelans, eventhough that does not detract from the fact that many are leaving the country. When you ask young people you realize that most of them want to flee the situation, and the only way is leaving our beloved country.

  • Stefani says:

    El comentario que dice el que se hace llamar Hugo Chavez es un disparate, como todos los seguidores de este gobierno, tiene un mani en el cerebro.

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