The global financial crisis, which began several years ago, has affected most countries in the world. Economic and political changes have drastically influenced people’s lifestyles and migration patterns. Roldán Mendoza, from Venezuela, told «Read Square» about the atmosphere in his country and the reason he studies in Russia.
What made you decide to come to Russia and get a second degree here?
It was by sheer chance that I ended up here. I hadn’t ever been to Russia before. I am an architect and I have been working in Venezuela for 4 years. One day, I bought a newspaper and our government was looking for people who want to come to Russia and study at Moscow State University of Civil Engineering . I just gave my documents and waited for 3 months. I got a call saying that I’d been recognized as a good candidate to go to Russia. It was a big opportunity for me. The most important thing that I am going to try is to learn Russian (laughing). Right now, I’m making an architecture model with my friend, which we want to present at a competition and win a prize for.
I am an architect and I have been working in Venezuela for 4 years.
Nevertheless, it is a riddle for me why you quit your job and came to Russia. Tell me something about your country — economic, social and politic spheres, anything really.
So, it’s well-known that Venezuela is full of resources – petroleum, for instance. Our country exports it to the USA and other countries. So, we can suppose that if there is a lot of petroleum, the living standards should be higher. Is it true?
Let’s begin with Hugo Chávez. He was our president for about 16 years. Many supported him; and many didn’t. Overall, he was a good president because he had so many ideas to change our country. ‘We have to make a new Venezuela, we have to make a new republic’ — he said. One of his priorities was helping poor people. So doctors from Cuba came to Venezuela and began developing our medical sphere. Of course, we have doctors; but they don’t want to go to the places where poor people live. They don’t have money and prefer to work in clinics. If you have money you will go to the clinic; if not, welcome to the hospital.
Since Chávez’s decision to invite doctors from Cuba, we have had a good relationship with Cuba. In 2002, people who didn’t like Hugo Chávez made the revolution. For 2 days, the president was in jail. Many other problems started. For example, many people in our country have guns. And we can suppose that our system of justice is not good. If I kill someone and I have money I can easily leave the country and don’t care. For that reason we have many guns in the street and it is terrible. This problem has existed for many years. Many people in our country have guns
It’s truly unfortunate that there are so many difficulties in getting justice. Do you think petroleum and other resources in your country could be the key to reversing economic problems?
The most significant issue for us is changing our economic system. From the last century, our economy’s stability just sell the petroleum to the USA. When the price drops, we don’t have any dollars. The government is broke. We have petroleum, but we need to make other things ourselves. Although we’ve started to communicate with China to begin making different electronic devices, it is not enough. We have to work in our land, we have to produce food. Chávez didn’t want to create fabrics like capitalists did. He wanted to give people work. He wanted to change the system — he supposed that it is better to pay by barter than to pay by money.
I support the government. I’ve always loved the idea of the revolution and the idea of working for our country. I was happy if we have one million of Chávez. All people work for one idea.
And what did you think when Chávez died?
Chávez’s death was hard and gave way to great uncertainty. We didn’t know what would happen. The president wanted people to vote for Nicolas Maduro. That happened. We had a new election, which Maduro won. Our companies have to buy many products in other countries, for which they need dollars
What percentage of the votes does the winner usually have at elections?
When Chávez was alive, he won with 60% of the votes. Maduro also won, but with just 53%.
And how has the economic situation changed under him?
A lot of institutions need dollars to work, which we don’t have at all. Frequently, our companies have to buy many products in other countries, for which they need dollars. All of them (rich businessman) don’t like Nicolas Maduro, They sold government dollars to different countries and buy different things. And then sell bought things at the higher price. Many companies make the same things, and after that our economical system was on the deep end. When Chávez was the president, businessman cooperated with ministers. They gave people workplaces.
Not only has that changed but also every year, prices rise. For instance, electronics are much more expensive than they used to be. Many companies have to buy them abroad for export prices. This is especially hard for us, the common people, to buy such items as export prices are very high.
Even now, our country wants to promote the car industry, but every year there isn’t enough money. If you go to Venezuela such problems are ubiquitous – they’re on tv, in the newspapers and on the radio!
Let’s talk a bit about the social sphere in Venezuela. Is education, for instance, free in your country?
In Chávez’s times many people needed to pay for education, for school and university. Later, Chávez made it free. But after this decision, the state university of Venezuela began to require more and more money from the government. This rise in demand for resources was very curious because the number of students remained the same each year!
And how is Venezuela’s relationship with neighboring countries? Do they support each other?
Colombians come to us and buy all kinds of things, from food to electronic devices, which they take back to Colombia with them. This leaves Venezuelans nothing – when Venezuelans go to the supermarket to buy something, they find that we don’t have anything. Many Colombians profit this way. They then say to us, “Hey come to us, because it is much cheaper here.”
Petroleum in our country is the cheapest in the world. You can fill you car with just 2 dollars. In Colombia you need about 15 dollars. So, many people for 20 years come to Venezuela especially to buy gasoline and then sell our resources inside Colombia. A lot of Colombians have made a business of it. They start with one car and then they buy more and more. Our government never takes a hard decision. Now we have 100% inflation. Different people who have opportunities buy cars and then sell them for much more money. Without these opportunities, we would have to work all the time to buy a car or a flat. We can’t even buy a car for the market price.
As for dollars, we can’t buy them at all. Banks don’t sell any, so you can only buy them in the streets. To stop this exploitation, our government decided to close the border between our countries. But now we also have problems with food and with money, and even though these problems have lasted years, the government is only beginning to take notice.
Roldán, at the end of our interview I’d love to hear your opinion. What makes Russians different from Venezuelans?
I observed that Russians don’t discuss politics much. Maybe it’s because everything is well and so you have no reason to talk about it. In Venezuela, in every cafe you will hear conversations about Maduro, Chávez and our politicians because everyone is involved in this.