Journalism is an Escape in a Devastated Venezuela

A Venezuelan journalist speaks frankly about her own personal struggle in a country whose economy has collapsed and health care system is unable to provide relief


Caption: Ana Matute finds some solace in her writing as she works on a couch in her home.27th October 2020 Photo: Gabriela Oraa

I have cancer. I have stage IV lung cancer and have never smoked in my life. I was diagnosed a year ago after a few months where I couldn’t breathe well. Despite this great difficulty, I did not stop attending my job as head of World Information and Economy at El Nacional web.

I was diagnosed thanks to the kindness of some doctors, such as the pulmonologist, who did not charge for the procedures I had to undergo. I was diagnosed thanks to contacts and friends of my health professional relatives, who got me a bed in a public hospital, in The  Domingo Luciani, because as an employee of El Nacional I have no health insurance and I cannot pay for a private clinic. The lung biopsy was processed for free because the pathologist is a friend of my sister.

Almost breathless, I witnessed the death of the print newspaper and the redesign of the newspaper website. I witnessed the closing of the newsroom as I knew it the last 13 years since we arrived at that headquarters. In total, I have been 18 years in El Nacional, almost the same as the Chavista regime in power. And even so what they pay me does not give me to take care of my health.

El Nacional is a reflection of the country, it is like a micro Venezuela. It has suffered the attacks of the regime since 2002 and has remained only with the objective of publishing the reality as Venezuelans live it. But just as the newspaper has deteriorated, so has the lives of the journalists who work there.

The lack of advertising revenue was transferred to journalists’ salaries and resulted in a considerable reduction in the number of reporters. Those of us who remained, those of us who survived from that newspaper with more than 80 printed pages, did so with the conviction that it is our contribution to the fight to recover democracy.

That is what I have told my family for years. I worked an average of 14 hours a day and was still online when I returned home. I am divorced with a daughter and also my mother lives with us who has vascular dementia. Like everyone else in the country, I earn minimum wage, but also following the example of many private companies, they pay me a bonus of $ 200 per month. This has been a measure that has made it possible to retain trusted employees. Although many leave and dedicate themselves to informal commerce.

But $ 200 is not enough for me. Much less to fight cancer. In the last year I had to appeal to donations to be able to afford my treatment. Buying the treatment in the country is impossible because of the costs. The government is supposed to distribute high-cost drugs to the population that needs them, but to depend on the official supply is to interrupt treatment, because most of the time there are none. A luxury that I cannot afford. Nobody in my conditions can.

Most of my nephews are out of the country. One of them, -also a journalist who had to ask for asylum because he was imprisoned in 2014 for his work- had the idea of ​​opening a Go Found Me to collect funds and with that money my other nephew who is in Colombia buys medicines for the chemotherapy and send it to me. I am lucky, many have helped, especially Venezuelan journalists who are all over the world. But it is not the same fate of all the sick in Venezuela.

The pandemic has brought advantages because working from home gives me more time to do extra things. My daughter, who was able to graduate as a graphic designer, has two jobs but each one pays her just $ 60 a month. The increase in prices is a daily nightmare, but we are privileged because we can buy food, although it is for the only thing that we can afford. We also received help from her father, who had to take asylum in the United States because he is also a journalist (for El Universal).

To support my mother and the medical requirements she has, I count on my brothers who are abroad and the only sister I have in the country. She is a psychiatrist and has been my unconditional support. She worked for 20 years in the public health sector but retired due to disability. She has a cervical prosthesis and in the hospital where she was in charge of postgraduate psychiatry there was no elevator and she had to go up and down the 15 floors several times a day to her office. It was very hard for her. She has the advantage of keeping a private practice which has helped her survive, although she continues to do a lot of social work treating people who cannot pay.

We both live in the same building. She is also divorced and her daughter is a doctor, she just graduated two years ago. The building is located in the southeast of Caracas, an upper-middle-class area. I was able to buy this apartment thanks to the inheritance my father left me when he died, and that has been another of my blessings, since I have a secure roof.

It is a quiet neighborhood. When I moved 15 years ago we had all the services, but not anymore. It seems incredible that it is necessary to explain this, which is so basic all over the world. We haven’t had local phone service for about a year, although I pay for it regularly. The phone company is run by the government and the lack of investment and maintenance destroyed it. They are the same who distribute the Internet. Two months ago I had to pay $ 100 to have the signal reconnected; the technicians who remain in the company do this outside of their obligations in order to have another source of income. They abuse the prices of their services but there is no alternative, otherwise we cannot work.

We have not had running water for more than 6 years. The state company, Hidrocapital, established a rationing schedule that it almost never complies with. As a result, service only comes to the building once a week to fill the general tank. Sometimes they take it from us before. In order to have water every day we ration it for half an hour a day. I store water in large containers that I use during the day for bathrooms and kitchens, like everyone else does. I always say how much study, (I have a PhD in Political Science from the Central University of Venezuela) to live in the worst possible conditions.

In Caracas the electricity service hardly fails, but of the times it has failed, I have already lost two televisions and have not been able to replace them. When the electricity goes out, we run out of cell phones and water because everything stops working.

What my family experiences is not different from what thousands of Venezuelans experience. And despite everything, I can say that I’m fine. The kindness of the people has assured me the medical attention I need and I have the resources to keep us afloat. But as a journalist I know that those responsible for the country where I grew up, studied and started my career is now a devastated place because  of the Chavista regime. And in recent years, I have not exempted the opposition ruling class from blame, which has failed to see beyond its own interests and has never been able to coordinate forceful common actions to get out of this nightmare.

To fight cancer, I have appealed to many things besides medicines, and I owe it to my sister the psychiatrist. I have received training in psychoneuroimmunology that has allowed me to identify what hurts me and I have had to recognize it to combat it. The stress caused by the lack of money, the stress caused by the situation in the country, I must learn to handle it so that it does not continue to hurt me. I admit it, I suffer with each story because I live it, but to ignore them is worse, I will not get tired of telling them.

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