I fell in love with Caracas before I stepped out of the taxi. On that early morning ride from the airport into the city, I saw revolutionary graffiti on barrio walls, crumbling but grandiose oil-boom architecture, music and sunshine in every corner. Then I saw the soldiers, tear gas, and barricades. I had come to Venezuela’s capital city for the first time in 2014, wanting to witness its tumultuous transition. President Hugo Chávez had died, his successor had won a narrow victory, and Venezuela’s economy was falling apart.
Chávez had implemented a series of policies that earned him love and loathing. He pumped Venezuela’s vast oil wealth into social programs for the poor and working class. He subsidized goods like flour, milk, coffee, and toilet paper to keep them affordable. He kept the bolívar, Venezuela’s currency, at an artificially high value. But the socialist dream also created immense potential for corruption. The dividends flowed to the people but also into suspicious international deals and development projects.
The president’s death was soon followed by a crash in the global oil market. Violence, hyperinflation, and a shortage of basic necessities became facts of daily life — and also cause for unrest. When I returned to Caracas this summer for my fifth visit, the capital was like an old friend who had lost weight and now had a haunted look in her eyes. The food lines had grown longer, the streets after dark more deserted, the faces wearier. Venezuelans ask, how much worse can it get?
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