Starting today, the minimum monthly salary in Venezuela rises to Bs. 9,648.19. To mark the occasion, El Nacional has published an article in which it describes the lives of four Venezuelans living on minimum wage.

Doraiza Rosado has been working as an intake administrator at a clinic in Las Mercedes, Caracas for the past six years. When she started her job, the minimum monthly salary was Bs. 600. This latest increase marks the 18th time since she has worked in the clinic that the minimum salary was increased.

Still, Rosado struggles to get by:

I live in a rental unit in Petare with my mom, my two brothers and my four-year-old son. We pay Bs. 2,000 per month. Most of our money goes towards food. It gets complicated when we can’t find regulated products and we have to buy things at higher prices.

Rosado said that her son’s monthly pre-school and food costs are Bs. 9,000, but that the father contributes some money to the expenses. Rosado told El Nacional that the last time she bought clothes was two months ago: a pair of pants she needed.

Shirley Vergara and her mother both make minimum wage. They have divided grocery shopping among themselves in the following way:

Every two weeks I buy fruits and vegetables, and she buys meat and chicken. Then, we switch. The food tickets are for pasta, rice, sauces, etc.

Vergara is a custodian at a communications facility in Los Corjitos, and lives with both her parents and her children in La California. She sometimes walks to work to save on transportation costs, and she can no longer afford to take her children out for pizza or hot dogs on Saturdays. Vergara said:

We can’t do that anymore. We can’t even buy the ingredients to make those things at home. There’s not enough money.

Vergara has an infant child, and buying diapers presents a dilemma. Vergara could risk lining up at a local establishment with the hopes of finding diapers at subsidized prices, but she often does not have the time. In those occassions, Vergara must buy diapers from street sellers, where they go for about six times the subsidized price. Vergara also said that her hobby of going with her 10 year-old son to the movies came to an end 8 months ago, when movie prices became too expensive for them to afford.

Ricardo Rivas lives in La Guaira with his mother and sister and commutes to Caracas for work. At Bs. 80 per day, Rivas spends Bs. 2,400 per month just on getting to and from work. He said that “even going out on a date” is difficult, as he was recently shocked to find out that a combo for two at the movies cost Bs. 1,400. Rivas said that most of his dates now take place at parks:

… or, I have to tell my girlfriend, “Let’s split the bill in half”. We can’t even be gentlemen anymore.

Rivas told El Nacional that he is skeptical that the minimum salary increase will have a tangible effect on his finances:

It’s great that it’s going up, but what does it matter if the basic nutritious basket costs Bs. 70,000? We’re just surviving.

Clemente Garcia is a 65-year-old pensioner, but he works in a bakery because his pension is not nearly enough to support him:

I spend my pension right away. It all disappears on house maintenance right away.

Garcia lives with his wife in Las Minas de Baruta, and works in Palos Grandes. He suffers from high tension and osteoporosis, which require costly medicines:

I don’t worry just about the cost: I can’t find them. What I do is go to natural stores and find similar products. Those could be more expensive.

El Nacional asked Garcia when he last bought clothes. Garcia pointed to the clothes he was wearing and said:

Look at my pants. They’re old. What does that tell you? And my shoes, too.

The minimum monthly salary was increased four times in 2015, and ten times since Maduro came to power. Since 1999, the minimum monthly salary has increased 31 times.

Nieves Talks Details

In an interview with El Nacional, Franklin Nieves provided details on the exact mechanisms through which he says his superiors forced him to fabricate evidence against Leopoldo Lopez.

Below, sections of the interview along with my translation:

What exactly was it that you considered to be the last straw that made you leave the country and speak out against the Leopoldo Lopez trial?

When Leopoldo Lopez was sentenced, I thought that judge Susana Barreiros would move away from our accusations of associating to commit a crime, public instigation, damaging property and arson. But she accepted all of those crimes. Of course, she was also being watched by SEBIN agents and by all of the security forces that were around the Palace of Justice. If she had ruled any other way, we would have all been arrested.

How did the entire Public Ministry and the entire CICPC [investigative police body] get together to commit this supposed fraud?

By forcing all of the Public Ministry’s security officers to testify that when Lopez left the protest on February 12, the attack against the Public Ministry began. But this is completely false, as the videos show: of course, the videos that we disqualified as evidence that the defense wanted to introduce. He [Lopez] made a call for calm and for people to not fall into provocations and leave peacefully. The aggression started after 4:00 PM, and Leopoldo was far away from there at that time. In fact, a SEBIN agent told me that they had infiltrated the crowd, and that they were the ones who started to throw rocks at the Public Ministry building to motivate people to do the same.


How were witnesses manipulated?

All of the Public Ministry’s security staff were interviewed in the Common Crimes Directorate before Captain Diego Verde, the Director of Transport and Security. They had to say what [we told them to say]. One of them had already narrated some events, and then sort of modified them so that not all the statements would be identical, and what mattered was: “Leopoldo incited the violence”, “It all started when Leopoldo left”. And that’s what we set up, under the instructions of Nelson Mejias and under pressure from the direct bosses of each one of the staff who made a statement.

How were the CICPC witnesses manipulated?

The same way. The CICPC witnesses were called to the 2nd National Public Attorney’s office, and to the 47th — which belongs to Juan Canelon — which began the investigation against the students. The statements were taken there, and many officers stated that they hadn’t been on duty that day, but since their names appeared on the apprehension order that was written up in the Anti-Theft Division, they had to make statements. 56 officers showed up, many of whom had not been there and others who had not arrested anyone, but they were forced to make statements that they had in fact participated, under threats by Narda Sabrina [another prosecutor in the trial] that if they didn’t there would be investigations opened against them and they would be dismissed.


Did you and Narda Sanabria at any point reflect on the crimes you were both committing? 

We always talked about the irregularities that were being committed, but remember that she is the wife of the Director General of Judicial Procedure, Jesus Eduardo Peña Ronaldo. She of all people was going to follow instructions, and she will continue to do so.


Was the Crime Unit [Unidad Criminalistica] also involved in the fraud?

No. They played their role in an objective manner. But when it was time to testify either in court or before the public, we invited them to the Public Ministry and we told them to stress that there had been a fire, and that there were accelerants and hydrocarbons. All of those instructions were given in the Public Ministry by Narda, and had been previously drawn up by Nelson Mejias.

How involved was Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz?

She had knowledge of everything that was going on.

Did she give precise instructions?

No. The instructions came from Nelson Mejias. I never spoke with Luisa about this case. But, from her computer or any in her office, she could log on to mine and see all the work that was being done.


Why have you said that the instructions to commit the fraud came from President Nicolas Maduro and from the President of the National Assembly, Diosado Cabello? Did you have direct contact with either one of them?

No, but on February 12 when they sent me to the SEBIN [headquarters] after coming back from Tachira, SEBIN Director Manuel Bernal told me that we had to get arrest warrants for Lopez, Fernando Gerbasi, Mario Ivan Carrtu and Carlos Vecchio by order of Number 1; that is to say, Nicolas Maduro, and that the President wanted them arrested that same day.

You’ve said that Cabello had a more direct role in the case, Why?

Yes, because he was the one who manipulated Lopez’s family so that he would hand himself over and in that way be taken out of the political game. He went to get him at the Plaza Jose Marti when he handed himself over, he took him to the tribunals, and he gave orders to Maria Alejandra Poleo – prosecutorial coordinator at the intermediate and trial stage – and to Maria Castro, who worked in that same office, so that they could draw up the police order alongside General of the National guard Antonio Benavides.


Was Judge Susana Barreiros aware of this fraud?

No. I don’t think so. However, she was also receiving instructions to sentence Leopoldo with whatever evidence that came from the Public Ministry.

Was she aware of the steps you were taken?

No. I don’t think so.

Who gave instructions to Susana Barreiros?

Daniel Ramirez.

Who is he?

He’s the assistant to Deyanira Nieves, who was the president of the Hall of Penal Trials at the Supreme Court [Sala de Casacion Penal del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia].

And how involved was Deyanira Nieves? Could there have been a connection between the Public Ministry, the Supreme Court and the Executive to sentence Leopoldo Lopez?

I don’t know. I don’t know of one.


Would you be willing to collaborate with Lopez’s defense to put your statements under judicial scrutiny?

No, not with Lopez’s defense. Because they would say that [Lopez’s defense] is paying me.

Some people both inside and outside the country have voiced their opposition to you receiving asylum [in the U.S.] because you’ve admitted to committing human rights abuses. How will you handle that situation?

I’m not denying my responsibility over Leopoldo Lopez’s detention and the set-up that took place. In fact, I’m facing it. Let’s see what kind of cooperation I can take on with North American authorities.

The full interview, in Spanish, can be found here.

Questions/Comments? E-mail me: invenezuelablog@gmail.com


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