‘We keep fighting’

They’ve endured years of economic pain and political strife. Yet Venezuelans have found a way to survive with bittersweet moments of joy.

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For years, Venezuelans have been enveloped in crisis.

Food shortages, power outages, crippling inflation and a socialist state near collapse have brought misery to most Venezuelans.

But they haven’t given up hope.

The Washington Post traveled the country to learn about how Venezuelans are managing to survive.

Every day, Venezuelans arrive by the busload in the border town of San Antonio, hoping to make their way to a different country and a better life. More than 3 million people have fled Venezuela in the past five years.

Jorge Lara had big plans, but he dropped out of law school to find a job — any job — to help feed his two children. He now sells bus tickets to fellow Venezuelans who are leaving the country.

Major protests against the government were held in February in towns along the border.

In the nearby city of San Cristobal, it’s easy to trace the roots of the anger. The local market is well stocked but struggling because few can afford to buy. The main hospital strains to provide basic services. Businesses are shutting down.

After his family clothing store was in operation for more than 30 years, Luis Florez was forced to close it.

Venezuela is home to the largest-known oil reserves in the world. Yet drivers in San Cristobal can wait in line for days to fill their tanks. They’ve found novel ways to pass the time.

From the border to the nation’s capital of Caracas, the legacy of a former president still looms large.

Hugo Chávez died in 2013, leaving behind a socialist nation with a strong economy built primarily on national oil production. But global oil prices tumbled the next year. Inflation skyrocketed. The national currency became virtually worthless.

Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, struggled to keep political and economic stability. The results have been grim. In 2017, the United States imposed financial sanctions against his government and business allies.

Today, it’s common to see lines stretch for blocks outside downtown banks. Banks allow only small withdrawals of the almost-worthless currency, forcing many to spend hours in line and to go from one branch to another just to get the cash they need.

Even having a job doesn’t guarantee cash. José Corro lives alone in Petare, one of Caracas’s most notorious slums. Every day he walks across the highway to work odd jobs in an apartment complex for better-off Venezuelans. Even they sometimes pay him in kind because they don’t have the money.

One of Chávez’s signature accomplishments was reducing homelessness. But in some corners, those gains have been vanishing.

María Eugenia de las Rosas lives in a former school building turned homeless encampment in Caracas. They named the community Hope.

Beyond the cities, Venezuela’s countryside is still rich in resources, but the crisis has reached there, too.

Luis Ferreira grew up on his family’s farm. But as business faltered, his brothers left the country to find work elsewhere. Ferreira now single-handedly shoulders the burden of running the struggling dairy farm.

In the coastal town of Rio Chico, locals unable to keep up with inflation barter fresh fish for toilet paper, dish soap and other basic goods.

The once-thriving tourism in this region is long gone.

Elías Márquez once owned a successful welding company and a three-story house. But business dried up. Now he fishes every day to feed his family.

Despite enormous hardships and the grip of an ever-vigilant government, the people of Venezuela still manage to find moments of joy. And the possibility of that “beautiful Venezuela” lives on in a kiss, a dance and a jam session with friends.

Jon Gerberg

Jon Gerberg is a video journalist on the national and investigative beats. He joined The Washington Post in 2017. He's reported for the "PBS NewsHour," the New York Times, Associated Press and others from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico, across Europe and around the United States.

Michael Robinson Chavez

Michael Robinson Chávez, a staff photographer, recently won a Pulitzer Prize awarded to The Washington Post Staff for 2C: Beyond the Limit, a deep look at global climate change. In 2018 he was awarded a Robert F. Kennedy Award for coverage of problems created by the drug trade plaguing Mexico.

About this story

Video and story by Jon Gerberg. Photos by Michael Robinson Chavez. Photo editing by Chloe Coleman and MaryAnne Golon. Video editing by Reem Akkad. Text editing by Eva Rodriguez. Graphics by Tim Meko. Design and development by Madison Walls and Jake Crump. Local producing by Mariana Zuñiga and Andreina Aponte. Additional translation by Nora D. Palma.