‘Women of the Venezuelan Chaos,’ A Portrait of Venezuela’s Crisis

By Jesús Casado

Women of the Venezuelan Chaos, a 2017 documentary by filmmaker Margarita Cadenas, depicts the most catastrophic crisis in Venezuela’s modern history through the stories of five Venezuelan women from diverse socioeconomic and racial backgrounds.

The journeys of Kim, Maria Jose, Eva, Luisa and Olga vividly illustrate a Venezuela currently characterized by skyrocketed levels of crime, severe food and medicine shortage and complete institutional collapse. More importantly, their stories represent the overall reality of the Venezuelan people, particularly, of those most affected, the women and children.

First to appear in the film is “Kim,” a mother of two and a pediatric nurse with two jobs. Kim is seen packing large boxes in her home as she prepares to flee the country with her family. The next morning, she goes to work at one of Caracas’s hospitals. Mothers and sick children are milling about the shabby rooms and corridors. Kim is looking for medications in containers that are nearly empty because there aren’t enough antibiotics to treat all the sick children. She explains that these days, in order for hospitals to be able to treat people, patients must bring their own medical supplies (such as saline solution, bed sheets, medications, and gowns). And in a triage system that has dolorously become common practice, the sickest often go untreated entirely.

Kim’s experience showcases the crude reality of a country where by 2016, medicine shortages hovered around 86% and where, according to a 2018 World Report by Human Rights Watch, between 2015 and 2016 maternal mortality in Venezuela spiked 65%, infant mortality increased by 30%, and cases of malaria rose 76%.

Cadenas’s next subjects are “Maria Jose,” a community manager, and “Eva,” who is self-employed. Their struggles center around shortages of essential consumer products and food. Maria Jose, a light-skinned young woman, is pregnant and buys products for her baby on the black market (the Bachaquero) because she cannot find them conventionally. She knows she is significantly overpaying, but she is middle class. So at least she can afford it. Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said for Eva, a woman of color who lives in one of Caracas’s barrios or slums. Eva often stands in line outside supermarkets for hours, sometimes overnight to buy necessities. With hundreds of others doing the same thing, Eva can only hope that, when it is her turn, there are still products on the shelves.

In 2017, 87% of Venezuelans were living in poverty and 61% in extreme poverty. The country’s  economic collapse that began several years prior has led to a dramatic reduction and regulation of food production.  Perhaps worse, it’s caused staggering inflation of 12,615% per year according to the latest reports.

We are next introduced to “Luisa” and “Olga,” whose stories capture Venezuela’s horrific conditions in terms of crime, impunity, and political persecution. Luisa is a former law enforcement agent and lives with her husband and her grandson, Rosmit. Rosmit is a young leader from the political opposition block, and one morning, with no warning whatsoever, he was taken from their home and arrested under false charges. Only after becoming seriously ill over two years later was he freed. Not only is this chilling, but tragically representative of the more than 340 political prisoners who, as of 2017, have been arbitrarily jailed for criticizing and opposing Maduro’s authoritarian and corrupt regime.

Cadenas’s last subject is Olga, a mother of three. Olga’s eldest son, a teenager, was mistakenly identified as a criminal by the government’s OLP special “anti-crime” forces. And shot dead. She reported the murder, but to this day, justice has not been served.

Mothers of the Venezuelan Chaos encapsulates some of the most critical elements of Venezuela’s current economic, political and humanitarian crisis and provides an excellent overview of the nation’s disastrous reality.

Cadenas skillfully and sensitively focuses her lens on five struggling Venezuelan women, an approach that humanizes a catastrophe and enhances the viewer’s sympathy for and understanding of Venezuela’s plight.

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