And thus we found ourselves starting the ninth month of COVID-19 quarantine in Venezuela.

It’s time for Christmas, and that, coupled with a certain rigged legislative election, have prompted the Venezuelan Regime to ‘reward’ us with a month of flexible quarantine. This means that the month of December is the closest we’ll have to normalcy ever since the quarantine started back in March (within the context of what is normal in Venezuela, that is).

This ‘flexible’ month is the only respite we’ve had after a very rough year—but that won’t be the case for many. With a rampant hyperinflation, the US Dollar breaching the 1,000,000 Bolivar threshold once more after five zeroes were axed from our currency scale back in 2018, and a very rough year plagued with all sorts of woes it all points to be a very bleak Christmas, same as before, just with masks and all that.

Speaking of inflation, it had been steady over the past months, but it got pretty brutal over the past weeks. Between the regime printing more money and the Bolivar:USD exchange rate reaching new records, things rapidly became 50% more expensive, or even doubling in price so hard and fast that we didn’t know what hit us. Mind you, the minimum wage is still hovering at around $1 per month.

But in spite of it all, it is Christmas, and people will try to celebrate and enjoy the festivities as much as possible, even if the country is more miserable than ever before, and even if our traditional dishes are no longer affordable to prepare.

It would seem like COVID-19 is capable of taking a break when there’s elections down here. None of the social distancing and mask-wearing mandates that have been imposed since March applied to the regime’s political rallies and events. Now that all of that is over, and Maduro has the legislative branch in its grasp, then of course, the pandemic’s vacation is over.

In yet another example of ‘normal things that happen in a normal country such as this’, Maduro, on one of his accustomed live TV broadcasts, publicly berated people for not wearing masks, and for not exercising proper social distancing etiquette, going as far as to show pictures of citizens not wearing masks on the street.

In his fury he let loose the ‘possibility’ of placing the country under a strict 2-week lockdown come January—which for us means that he totally will do that. The other most likely scenario is that after that pre-announced two-week fierce period we’ll go back to that 7×7 bi-weekly cycle of flexible and radical weeks that we’ve had up to November—or even some modification of it.

These social distancing and pandemic measures do not apply to the regime and its higher ups, they’re the ones that are allowed to celebrate, to rejoice, to eat three tier cakes while the majority starves and entropy drifts Venezuela ever so steady towards oblivion.

Air travel is still strictly restricted to Mexico, Iran, and Turkey. Travel to Panama was briefly reopened but it has since been suspended again following a new impasse between both countries. This has 100% to do with reducing the spread of COVID-19, and totally has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that there’s barely any fuel left in the country.

All in all, the past month has just been a continuation of our new normal. Since the end of 2020 is nigh, the time is apt for looking back at the past months of quarantine.

It goes without saying that this pandemic molded our collective behavior in ways never thought possible. In the case of Venezuela, you have to factor all of the symptoms of our ongoing collapse to the lockdowns, which make them quite worse: the shortages of gasoline, the cooking gas shortages that have forced people to chop down trees, the ongoing problems with power and water, near-demolished public and private health systems, inflation, et al.

When it all started, huge lines accompanied by abject panic was the name of the game, along with sudden shortages of basic items — these are scenarios that weren’t new to us, as we’ve lived through them over the past decade, albeit for much different reasons.

Today, the panorama is completely different: the malaise of exhaustion, the apathy of adaptation, and the feeling of resignation — negative elements that have characterized life in Venezuela ever since the collapse of the so-called Socialism of the XXI Century began years ago that have been made worse after almost a year of pandemic.

Stores have remained shut for most of the year, and many will simply not be able to reopen ever again now. What’s left of the Venezuelan economy, much like the rest of the world, has adapted to this new normal of us, pivoting their offerings or changing their logistics so that they can continue to exist in the present that we live in.

Some have fare better than others, while those that have already been living through extreme poverty are even more miserable than before. The sight of a desperate young man exchanging homemade masks for food amidst a huge line to enter a supermarket is something I won’t forget for the rest of my life.

Delivery services have boomed and exploded over the past months, especially food delivery. The pandemic and ongoing gasoline shortages have opened the way for their success, ss we do not have a stable currency nor proper banking instruments like credit cards, these heavily rely on foreign cash and/or international payment processors—even cryptocurrency.

Students and young children have had their right to education heavily impaired over the past months as well. With schools all but shutdown and the absolute state of our internet infrastructure it’s hard for someone to study within these borders. Yes, it’s doable, but it’s not ideal.

It’s been a few months now, and I still rarely cross paths with my neighbors, long are the days where they’d be conversing on the hallways or at the building’s entrance. One of my neighbors got hit by COVID-19 and has thankfully recovered, while two elderly siblings that used to live here passed away from it earlier this year.

At first, I shrugged off the isolation and quasi-forced confinement that comes with the lockdowns, after all, I am a social outcast, and ever since we moved to Caracas in 1999 I have lived most of my life this way—but I would be lying if I didn’t say that at some point it began to hit me, and boy does it hit you hard. I don’t really have someone to talk with in person. It’s been over 9 months since I’ve gone to church, not because I don’t want to, but because my local church has remained closed.

My brother, who is under my care given his mental condition, went from panicking over wearing masks and simply standing outside our apartment, to shrugging the fear off and accompanying me on my grocery runs at times.

I would’ve loved for him to be able to celebrate his 25th birthday somewhere, alas, the circumstances only allowed me to get him a pizza and a cake that we shared with our younger cousins.

Come think of it, neither of us have been able to properly move around Caracas for a while, as our mother’s vehicle has had some issues, so he’s been even more confined and isolated than me, especially when he doesn’t really talk to anyone either.

The uncertainty of the future and all the changes that this pandemic has wrought upon is a collective anguish that we all definitely have—made worse by the hopelessness and uncertainty that many share here with regards to the Nation’s future. Maduro’s regime finally has full control of all branches of power, and things might start to get heated once more on the 5th of January, when his brand new National Assembly is sworn in.

I honestly can’t wait till this is all over, I’ve already lost precious time to the lockdowns, my passport being the biggest casualty, as it’s now all but useless, unable to renew it right now as the relevant offices remain closed and aren’t thus accepting new renewal/extension applications.

All I can do is make the best of the situation and keep fighting, yeah, I get a bit obsessive with the passage of time and being stranded here, but what else can I do right now. Perhaps I should start focusing on my health and well-being for once, I keep saying I will but I never do.

I hope that you all continue to remain safe, and that you get to spend a wonderful Christmas and New Years with your family and loved ones, that much you’ve earned after a very rough year.

Until the next one.