CNN, December 18, 2020
Earlier this month, Ingrid Sanchez tried to rustle up votes here for the ruling Socialist Party in Petare, Venezuela’s largest barrio. As parliamentary elections got underway on December 6, she hired motorcycles and jeeps to ferry poor but faithful voters up steep hills to the polling station.
Sanchez has no money to spare — a former teacher, she lives on a state pension worth just one and a half dollars per month. It was the Socialist Party — the late Hugo Chavez’s party — that gave Ingrid cash to pay for the vehicles. But they weren’t Venezuelan bolivars — they were US dollars. And as she counted it, Sanchez realized that the four $20 bills she held were worth more than 50 months of her pension.
“Everything is in dollars now,” she says ruefully — a sign of monumental change in the country that she says would have Chavez turning in his grave.
Sanchez, 57 years old, is a faithful member of the Socialist Party and believes fiercely in the vision of late president Hugo Chavez, who prophesied a Marxist utopia where the state would look after the needs of the people, raise the quality of life, erase inequality and limit private enterprise to a minor role in the economy. “One never loses hope, and that is a project that I still believe in,” she said.
But Venezuela today hardly resembles the one pictured by Chavez. Hunger is rampant, inequality dizzying, and public hospitals stand derelict as the country deals with the coronavirus pandemic. The US dollar is increasingly taking precedence over the bolivar, and while the Venezuelan minimum wage is the lowest in the region, the country’s stock market is booming. Chavez’s successor, current President Nicolas Maduro, recently inaugurated an ultra-luxury hotel where rooms are the equivalent of $300 per night.
All of which raises a question that Sanchez has clearly been wrestling with: Is socialism still alive in Venezuela? “I don’t know, we are doing things upside down,” she says.