British photojournalist Alan Gignoux and Venezuelan
journalist-filmmaker Carolina Graterol, both based in London, went to
Venezuela for a month to shoot a documentary for a major global TV
channel. They talked with journalist Paul Cochrane about the mainstream
media’s portrayal of Venezuela compared to their experiences on the
Paul Cochrane (PC): What were you doing in Venezuela, how long were you there and where did you go?
Alan Gignoux (AG): We went in June 2018 for a month to shoot a
documentary; I can’t disclose what channels it will be on right now, but
it should be on air soon. We visited the capital Caracas, Mérida (in
the Andes), Cumaná (on the coast), and Ciudad Guayana (near the mouth of
the Orinoco river).
PC: How did being in Venezuela compare to what you were seeing in Western media?
Carolina Graterol (CG): I am a journalist, I have family in
Venezuela, and I knew the reality was very different from what the media
is portraying, but still I was surprised. The first thing we noticed
was the lack of poverty. Alan wanted to film homeless and poor people on
the streets. I saw three people sleeping rough just this morning in
London, but in Venezuela, we couldn’t find any, in big cities or towns.
We wanted to interview them, but we couldn’t find them. It is because of
multi disciplinary programmes run by the government, with social
services working to get children off the streets, or returned to their
families. The programme has been going on for a long time but I hadn’t
realized how effective it was.
PC: Alan, what surprised you?
AG: We have to be realistic. Things look worn down and tired. There
is food, there are private restaurants and cafes open, and you could
feel the economic crisis kicking in but poverty is not as bad as what
I’ve seen in Brazil or Colombia, where there are lots of street
children. Venezuela doesn’t seem to have a homeless problem, and the
favelas have running water and electricity. The extreme poverty didn’t
seem as bad as in other South American countries. People told me before
going I should be worried about crime, but we worked with a lady from El
Salvador, and she said Venezuela was easy compared to her country,
where there are security guards with machine guns outside coffee shops.
They also say a lot of Venezuelan criminals left as there’s not that
much to rob, with better pickings in Argentina, Chile or wherever.
PC: How have the US sanctions impacted Venezuelans?
CG: Food is expensive, but people are buying things, even at ten
times their salary. Due to inflation, you have to make multiple card
payments as the machine wouldn’t take such a high transaction all at
once. The government has created a system, Local Committees for
Production and Supply (known by its Spanish acronym CLAP) that feeds
people, 6 million families, every month via a box of food. The idea of
the government was to bypass private distribution networks, hoarding and
scarcity. Our assistant was from a middle class area in Caracas, and
she was the only Chavista there, but people got together and created a
CLAP system, with the box containing 19 products. Unless you have a huge
salary, or money from outside, you have to use other ways to feed
yourself. People’s larders were full, as they started building up
supplies for emergencies. People have lost weight, I reckon many adults
10 to 15 kilos. Last time I was in Venezuela three years ago, I found a
lot of obese people, like in the US, due to excessive eating, but this
time people were a good size, and nobody is dying from hunger or
PC: So what are Venezuelans eating?
CG: A vegetarian diet. People apologized as they couldn’t offer us
meat, instead vegetables, lentils, and black beans. So everyone has been
forced to have a vegetarian diet, and maybe the main complaint was that
people couldn’t eat meat like they used to do. The situation is not
that serious. Before Hugo Chavez came to power, Venezuela had 40%
critical poverty out of 80% poverty, but that rate went down to 27%, and
before the crisis was just 6 or 7% critical poverty. Everyone is
receiving help from the government.
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