Departing AP reporter looks back at Venezuela’s slide

by Hannah Dreier, AP News:

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The first thing the muscled-up men did was take my cellphone. They had stopped me on the street as I left an interview in the hometown of the late President Hugo Chavez and wrangled me into a black SUV.

Heart pounding in the back seat with the men and two women, I watched the low cinderblock homes zoom by and tried to remember the anti-kidnapping class I’d taken in preparation for moving to Venezuela. The advice had been to try to humanize yourself.

“What should we do with her?” the driver asked. The man next to me pulled his own head up by the hair and made a slitting gesture across his throat.

What might a humanizing reaction to that be?

I had thought that being a foreign reporter protected me from the growing chaos in Venezuela. But with the country unraveling so fast, I was about to learn there was no way to remain insulated.

I came to Caracas as a correspondent for The Associated Press in 2014, just in time to witness the country’s accelerating descent into a humanitarian catastrophe.

Demonstrators destroy a wall in order to have more rocks to throw at the Bolivarian National Guard during anti-government protests in Caracas, Venezuela, one year after the death of Hugo Chavez. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd,

Venezuela had been a rising nation, buoyed by the world’s largest oil reserves, but by the time I arrived, even high global oil prices couldn’t keep shortages and rapid inflation at bay.

Life in Caracas was still often marked by optimism and ambition. My friends were buying apartments and cars and making lofty plans for their careers. On weekends, we’d go to pristine Caribbean beaches and drink imported whiskey at nightclubs that stayed open until dawn. There was still so much affordable food that one of my first stories was about a growing obesity epidemic.

A girl cools off in an inflatable swimming pool on the beach in La Guaira, Venezuela. Some Venezuelans took time off for carnival despite two weeks of nation-wide opposition protests. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)

Over the course of three years, I said good-bye to most of those friends, as well as regular long-distance phone service and six international airline carriers. I got used to carrying bricks of rapidly devaluing cash in tote bags to pay for meals. We still drove to the beach, but began hurrying back early to get off the highway before bandits came out. Stoplights became purely ornamental because of the risk of carjackings.

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