Caracas—According to The New York Times, Venezuela is “a country that is in a state of total collapse,” with shuttered government offices, widespread hunger, and failing hospitals that resemble “hell on earth.” There is reportedly “often little traffic in Caracas simply because so few people, either for lack of money or work, are going out.” The Washington Post, which has repeatedly called for foreign intervention against Venezuela, describes the country using similar, at times identical, language of “collapse,” “catastrophe,” “complete disaster,” and “failed state.” A recent Post article describes a “McDonald’s, empty of customers because runaway inflation means a Happy Meal costs nearly a third of an average monthly wage.” NPR reports “Venezuela is Running Out of Beer Amid Severe Economic Crisis”. When Coca-Cola announced plans to halt production due to a lack of sugar, Forbes dubbed Venezuela “the Country With No Coke.” The Wall Street Journal reports on fears that people will “die of hunger.”
Is Venezuela descending into a nightmarish scenario, as these stories suggest? To answer this question I’ve spent the last three weeks talking to dozens of people—rich and poor, Chavista and opposition, urban and rural—across Venezuela. My investigation leaves little doubt that Venezuela is in the midst of a severe crisis, characterized by triple-digit inflation, scarcities of basic goods, widespread changes in food-consumption patterns, and mounting social and political discontent. Yet mainstream media have consistently misrepresented and significantly exaggerated the severity of the crisis. It’s real and should by no means be minimized, but Venezuela is not in a state of cataclysmic collapse.
Accounts suggesting otherwise are not only inaccurate but also dangerous, insofar as they prepare the ground for foreign intervention. This week the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States is holding an emergency meeting to consider OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro’s invocation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter against Venezuela. This action is taken against countries that have experienced an “unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state,” and can lead to a country’s suspension from the OAS. The Venezuelan government, which despite some foot-dragging has allowed steps toward holding a recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro, vigorously rejects this charge, as do many OAS member states. It is worth noting that the OAS has not invoked the Democratic Charter against Brazil, which recently experienced what many OAS member states and prominent Latin American observers see as a coup.
Within days of my arrival to Caracas a few weeks ago it became clear that while life in Venezuela is far from normal, and many are suffering from the crisis, mainstream media images of a country in utter disarray are clearly overstated. Far from being empty, Caracas’s streets and highways exhibit the same pattern of heavy car and foot traffic found in other large Latin American cities. The metro feels as crowded as ever. Restaurants in the affluent neighborhood of Las Mercedes are jam-packed and have been for weeks, according to friends who live in the neighborhood. The shelves of private supermarkets in Las Mercedes and other affluent neighborhoods are full, with plentiful chicken, cheese, and fresh produce. The Wendy’s down the block from the apartment I’m staying in has been full most times I’ve passed it, including on a rainy Sunday night when a steady stream of customers passed through. Beer has not disappeared (and will be available for at least the rest of this year). And I’ve even had multiple Coca-Cola sightings.