Things That Matter

Giant Costco Products Are Popping Up On Shelves Across Venezuela And Many Are Left Wondering How

The relationship between the United States and Venezuela is perhaps the most confrontational it has ever been, as the Trump and Maduro administration often trade jabs on social media and through diplomatic channels. The United States is set on decimating the economy of the country by way of economic and trade sanctions, while the government led by Nicolás Maduro has definitely not made things easier for its citizens.

Measures of austerity and the fact that many foreign companies are fleeing the country has led to daily financial struggle and lack of even the most basic products for Venezuelans, many of whom have decided to flee to the United States, Australia and Europe if they belong to the elite, or to neighbouring Colombia as migrants if they have to survive as refugees. However, if Latin Americans set themselves apart for anything, it  is the creative ways in which we survive and find opportunities that few would spot.

An increasing influx of US products are flooding Venezuelan shelves.

Credit: Manaure Quintero / Reuters

But how is this possible if trade between the countries is practically at a standstill? Well, people have taken matters on their own hands. Venezuelan businessmen have established a distribution network of basic products such as non perishing food and toiletries bought in bulk at discount stores in Florida such as Costco. These products are then sent to Venezuela on a door to door delivery service. Once in Venezuela they are put on the shelves of bodega style shops called bodegones.

Reuters reports on how this informal economy works: “The products move in bulk via shipping companies with bases in south Florida who have this year enjoyed a 100% exemption of import duties and waiver of some paperwork at the Venezuelan end, the sources added.”

Because the formal commercial relationships between Venezuela and the US are stalled, this type of activity is possible and provides what Reuters calls an unlikely valve that relieves some pressure for Maduro’s government, which has led to an unprecedented lack of basic products such as toilet paper. 

Some of the shops are even named after the original United States stores.

Credit: Manaure Quintero / Reuters

This shop located in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, is named after Walmart, and we are sure that the headquarters in the United States are either unaware or don’t really care. Costco is not the only shop in which buyers in the United States acquire goods to send to Venezuela (for a fee, of course). There are services through which Venezuelas can mail goods to United States addresses from shops like Target. This is a type of informal economy that has boomed due to the scarcity of local products.

However, let’s keep in mind that the social gap is huge, perhaps insurmountable at this point, and that these products are sold at hefty prices that few can afford. As Reuters reports: “Though the goods in the corner-shops are out of reach for most bolivar-earning Venezuelans, a well-heeled elite with dollars makes for a viable business in indulgence products.”

Hector Mambe, owner of this Mini Walmart, told Reuters: “Everything our customers want from the United Sates, we’ve managed to offer here!”

The response of US companies? Deaf silence. As Reuters informs us: “Costco declined to comment, while Walmart did not respond to a request. Venezuela’s Information Ministry, tax authority and state port agency also did not respond to requests for comment.” Business seems to be booming right?

And many of these shops are dollar-only.

Credit: Manaure Quintero / Reuters

As the Bolivar depreciated, Maduro lifted the ban on dollar transactions. Just like happened in socialist Cuba before with tourist-only shops, there are establishments in Venezuela that only trade in US dollars, which is counter intuitive to the anti-imperialist rhetoric of the post-Chavez Venezuela. Other Global South economies have relied in the US dollar in the past, such as Cambodia, where the booming tourist industry trades almost exclusively in the foreign currency. 

And this practice is out in the open, it has ceased to be secretive, and people are criticizing it.

Timothy Aeppel, a journalist for Reuters, stresses the irony of not being to buy medicine in the country, but cake mix is now available if you have the cash. One of the many contradictions of the Maduro regime. Even though the government still has some support from fellow socialist nations in South America and elsewhere, even the most fierce defenders of the Venezuela Chavista sometimes find it hard to justify the economic decisions that have led the South American nation to a generalized state of anxiety and desperation.

While others think that this only serves the elites.

Yes, there are more products available now due to this strange availability of US brands, but is this another way of just perpetuating the class differentials between those who support Maduro and those who oppose him?

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Joe Biden Has Outlined a Robust Plan to Rebuild the Economy Devastated By COVID-19

Things That Matter

Joe Biden Has Outlined a Robust Plan to Rebuild the Economy Devastated By COVID-19

The stats are in. Latinos are worried about their livelihoods under the present economy. Since COVID-19 shut down the economy in March, Latinos are facing an uncertain future. 

Take, for example, Vanessa Quiles, a 21-year-old recent graduate who was planning on entering the architecture field after graduating from Otis College of Art and Design.

Now, she’s not sure what she’s going to do. “Many places have stopped hiring, either taken down job applications that were posted or I’ve heard that a lot of people are getting laid off from smaller firms that may not have a lot of projects coming in,” she told NBC News. “I’m trying to remain hopeful.”

Photo: David L. Ryan via Getty Images

The evidence backs this up. On September 4th, the August Jobs Report showed that the unemployment rate is at 8.4. Additionally, 28 million people have filed for unemployment. What were once considered temporary furloughs have now morphed into permanent layoffs.

And Latinos are being hit harder by the economic uncertainty of the pandemic more than any other ethnic group. 

According to The Pew Research Center, 59% percent of Latinos claim that they live in households that have experienced job losses directly related COVID-19. Compared those numbers to 43% of the non-Hispanic population. 

But these grim statistics represent more than just faceless numbers–they are people fighting to get by everyday, scraping by on unemployment checks and dwindled savings. And they feel that the Trump administration has let them down.

Like Denver resident Isabella Prado, who is frustrated by the Trump administration’s lack of foresight when it came to financially taking care of Americans during the pandemic. 

“There’s no help,” the 25-year-old Latina told Mitú. “I saw other countries’ stimulus packages were, first of all, monthly, not like, ‘Here’s a thousand dollars, make it last you for four months.’ Even if it wasn’t enough to obviously pay bills [in America], at least you’d have some sort of monthly income. Like, we don’t even have that.”

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 economic shutdown in March, Trump has come under fire for the disorganized way he has dealt with the economic fallout that the pandemic has wreaked on millions of Americans. “It’s the same way [Trump] is dealing with global warming,” continued Prado. “He’s acting like it’s not there. He’s in denial about it.”

Joe Biden, however, recently outlined a plan to re-open the economy, a plan which includes expediting aid to small businesses, enforcing strict oversight on big corporations, providing direct cash relief to struggling families, and funding the infrastructure to provide wide-ranging COVID-19 testing capabilities so the economy can be prepared to open up again. 

This isn’t the first time that Biden has shown his leadership on the economic front.

He notably spearheaded the Recovery Act of 2009 that was responsible for creating 2 million jobs and successfully stimulated the economy out of the Great Recession.

Biden’s aids were effusive in their praise of his handling of the Recovery Act. “He held meetings with the Cabinet as a whole, the various agencies that are part of this, every other week to try to make sure we were moving quickly,” said his former Chief-of-Staff, Ron Klain. 

In other words, Joe Biden has a proven track record of taking care of the economy. And with pandemic hitting the wallets of Latinos especially hard, we need economic recovery more than ever. 

According to a poll conducted by the LA Times, only 42% of Latinos in California reported having the option to work from home, meaning they are essential workers and on the front lines of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. That is compared with 61% of white Californians who are able to work from home. And Latinos, like Prado, feel like they are being taken for granted.

“There’s a lot of minorities that are on the front lines in the hospitals, that are cleaning up after all the sick people,” Prado told Mitú. “They are putting themselves at risk just as much as nurses are. They don’t even get a shout-out, they don’t get anything.” 

That’s why it is our responsibility to vote in the upcoming election. The time to create a voting plan–whether it’s early voting, mail-in voting, or in-person voting the day-of–is now. The future of our country is on the ballot. And, we cannot let nuestras familias down. Go to IWillVote.com or VoyaVotar.com and text TODOS to 30330 today to learn what choices you have to vote in your community and get information on where and when to vote.

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Mexican Filmmaker Has Won Leoncino d’Oro Award At Venice Film Festival For This Must See Movie

Entertainment

Mexican Filmmaker Has Won Leoncino d’Oro Award At Venice Film Festival For This Must See Movie

Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images

Even though most of us are still under some sort of quarantine or at least practicing social distancing, much of the world (outside of the U.S. at least) has started to return to some sort of ‘new normal.’

Perhaps one of the best signs of this new normal is that Hollywood and much of the film industry has largely started back up and they’re hosting major film festivals all across the world – albeit with fewer people and a much more laid back atmosphere. We’re not seeing the red carpet events we typically used to see.

However, that hasn’t damped the overall spirit of the events – particularly at this week’s Venice Film Festival where a Mexican filmmaker took home a coveted award and is in the running for the festival’s top honor.

Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco has taken home one of the Venice Film Festival’s top awards.

Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco has won the Leoncino d’Oro Award at the Venice Film Festival for Nuevo Orden, a film depicting a dystopian version of Mexico in the not-so-distant future. 

The honor is one of several collateral awards at the festival and was presented by the Youth Jury, composed of 28 film-lovers between 18 and 25 from each of the countries in the European Union. The film was also in contention for the prestigious Golden Lion grand prize, but lost to Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland.

Since it’s debut last week, Nuevo Orden has received universally positive reviews from critics.

“Audiences might conceivably be divided on the vicious gut-punch of Franco’s approach, but as a call for more equitable distribution of wealth and power, it’s terrifyingly riveting,” the Hollywood Reporter writes. 

“At its heart, it argues that social inequality is presently so great that violence is inevitable. It’s set in Mexico, but it could be anywhere,” says Cineuropa. 

The film was screened Thursday night and drew a standing ovation from the audience and critics And has many fans around the world eagerly awaiting the chance to watch the film.

His film, Nuevo Orden, is a dystopian look at Mexico’s inequalities and paints a very stark picture of the country’s future.

Nuevo Orden, which stars Diego Boneta (of Netflix’s Luis Miguel fame), Naian González Norvind, Mónica del Carmen and Dario Yazbek Bernal, tells a tale of inequalities and political and social conflicts as the upper class in Mexico is replaced by a militaristic regime. It delves into racism, classism, poverty and wealth in ways that are uncomfortably reflective of the current unrest in several parts of the world, critics say.

To be frank, the film is extremely graphic and at times sounds difficult to watch. Unflinching cinematography depicts shocking and brutal scenes of assaults, rapes, executions, torture, blackmail and corruption.

The film opens with an opulent party for the wedding of an upper-class couple from Mexico City, which is interrupted when a legion of desperate people massacre the guests, marking the beginning of an insurrection in the streets that ends in a violent military coup that plunges the country into fascism.

“It’s a dystopian movie to say, ‘Let’s not get there,’” Franco, 41, explained.

Franco is no stranger to the awards circuit and has several award-winning films under his belt.

Credit: Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images

Michel Franco is no stranger to the awards stage. New Order, as the film is called in English, is his sixth feature film as director. Previous efforts have also won him prizes on the international film festival circuit, including a best screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival for the 2015 film Chronic starring Tim Roth, and a Cannes Jury Prize for April’s Daughter in 2017

Meanwhile, Cholé Zhao’s Nomadland took home the festival’s top prize over the weekend.

It seems oddly fitting in a year of social distancing and remote working that a drama about a lone woman wandering the American West has won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and that the director appeared only by video link-up to receive it. Chloé Zhao’s superbly nuanced Nomadland was picked by a Cate Blanchett-led jury from an 18-strong competition at a slimmed-down edition of the event, which has widely been regarded a success (Covid-19 test results pending). 

It is the fourth year in a row that a US-made film has taken the top prize, following Joker last year, Roma (a US-Mexico production) in 2018 and The Shape of Water in 2017. Zhao, who was born in China but works in the US, is the first female director of a Golden Lion-winning film since Sofia Coppola took the prize in 2010 with Somewhere.

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