Economics

A government-led tour of Venezuela with a foreign reporter didn't go quite as planned

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A demonstrator throws a petrol bomb during riots at a rally against Venezuelan President.

 

A demonstrator throws a petrol bomb during riots at a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela, June 7, 2017. 

Credit:

Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

Daily protests. Rising crime. Food shortages.

That's the reality on the ground in Venezuela.

The country is in the midst of a severe economic crisis, and political unrest is escalating. Protests led by Venezuelans denouncing President Nicolás Maduro have now entered their third month.

But that's not what Buzzfeed News reporter Karla Zabludovsky set out to cover on a recent reporting trip to Caracas, Venezuela’s capital.

“I wanted desperately to believe that there was something good to be said. No situation is ever black or white, and I really wanted to see a different side from what my colleagues there and abroad were reporting,” Zabludovsky said.

Venezuela's socialist government has tried to restrict reporting by the foreign press.

But when Zabludovsky — who is normally based in Mexico — told officials she wanted their side of the story — “the good side of the revolution” — they let her in.

On a recent Sunday in May, she spent a day touring Caracas, along with her Venezuelan state-mandated tour guide, William Contreras.

The tour included stops at an urban garden, a school where medical students were giving free checkups to students and a government clinic where a handful of people were getting treated for diabetes-related injuries.

“[My tour guide] wanted me to see a Venezuela that is fighting ... to save the revolution, that is happy to fight, that has loyal followers who are eager to sacrifice themselves for the good of the whole,” Zabludovsky said.

But the tour didn’t go quite as planned, she writes in her piece for BuzzFeed, “This Is What It’s Like To Spend A Day With A Venezuelan Government Minder.”

“There were cracks in the official story at virtually every turn,”  Zabludovsky said, including during the last stop of the day, at the Sierra Maestra Ibis Pino CDI, a public clinic.

She describes this in her piece: “The clinic seemed, at first glance, to be in fighting shape. The medicine cabinets had some syringes and pillboxes, a rarity amid the widespread shortage of medicines in the country. For the first time during the day, Contreras appeared to have let his guard down.

"As we headed for the door to wrap up the day, Mery Mendoza, a middle-aged woman who volunteers at the clinic regularly, approached Contreras.

"Mendoza’s trembling voice oozed with frustration as she threw a barrage of complaints at him: The hospital was struggling to feed patients anything other than rice; one of the hallways had gone dark for days until a social worker fixed the light bulbs; patients had to bring their own soap and donate Clorox to have the floors cleaned.

"Oh, and the AC at the morgue wasn’t working.”

Following this incident, Zabludovsky says her tour guide seemed “defeated.”

“When we got back in the car, he kind of had the first and only breakdown during the day and he said that even if he did reach out to a high-level official in government, it was unlikely to have a big effect,” she said.

Zabludovsky says she doesn’t doubt Contreras believes in the revolution. But he’s likely “just as frustrated as everyone else in the country,” she said.

“It’s very difficult to live in Venezuela now. ... You stand in line for hours to get food. Everything is incredibly expensive. It’s very dangerous. People worry for their safety, the safety of their family,” she said.

Zabludovsky hasn’t heard from her tour guide or members of the government since publishing her account on Tuesday. But she says she has heard from others in the country.

“I have heard from regular people in Venezuela, who said that they’re glad that the truth is still getting out, despite efforts by the government to make it seem like things are rosy,” Zabludovsky said.

In Business, Economics and JobsEconomics.

Tagged: South AmericaVenezuela.