Some of the highest inflation in history, US sanctions and a bloody civil war is causing global companies to abruptly cease business in Venezuela — but they aren’t compensating fired workers with physical money anymore.
Due to record inflation, money in Venezuela has been rendered completely worthless and one glaring example came earlier this week when tyre giant Goodyear announced it would no longer be able to produce rubber or tyres in the crisis-wracked country.
As hundreds of Goodyear employees showed up at the gated factory, ready to work, they were offered a severance package that other countries would be taken to court over.
The US-based company said it would be giving its employees 10 tyres as part of their severance package — an item that’s become incredibly valuable on the Venezuelan black market.
Due to US sanctions, the crippled country is facing a chronic shortage on all goods including everything from food to toilet paper. Economic conditions are worse than they were during the US Great Depression.
In a statement, Goodyear said its “goal had been to maintain its operations, but economic conditions and US sanctions have made this impossible”.
Goodyear became the latest in a long line of global companies that have pulled out of Venezuela.
Kellogg, Kimberley Clark and a number of airlines previously announced operating in Venezuela was no longer viable around four years after the country was thrown into a dire economic crisis.
Immediately after Goodyear announced its closure, Venezuela’s government said it would reactivate the company’s assembly line in an attempt to preserve some of the 1160 jobs the tyre company created.
Goodyear workers however aren’t holding their breath. The socialist government has made similar pledges following other plant closures in the past only to see its efforts fall short.
‘THEY WON’T BEAT US’
Goodyear’s exit from Venezuela comes the same week the country’s last nationally circulated, anti-government newspaper announced it would stop publishing its print edition amid unrelenting government pressure and paper shortages.
El Nacional’s final edition will run Friday after 75 years in print. It will become an exclusively online publication.
Upon learning of the changes to come, editors and reporters in the Caracas newsroom said they were undaunted, ready to press ahead and continue bringing critical news to readers.
“They won’t beat us. We’re not defeated,” general manager Jorge Makriniotis said — who recalled growing up with the paper in his family’s home.
“It’s important to note that.”
El Nacional is known for its harsh criticism of the government of Venezuela, a once-wealthy oil nation that has been plunged into economic turmoil under two decades of socialist rule.
Both the late President Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, have had strained relations with the media and accused journalists of contributing to anti-government plots and publishing fake news.
El Nacional joins more than a dozen local newspapers that in recent years have stopped circulating due to the lack of imported paper and the economic crisis striking media companies across the country.
“We’ve endured longer than the others,” Miguel Otero, El Nacional’s president and CEO, told the Spanish newspaper ABC. “But in the end we could not persist.”
Venezuelan journalists work under the threat of jail or crushing legal action, driving several abroad fearing for their personal safety.
A pro-government constitutional assembly created last year has passed a law decreeing up to 20 years in prison for publishing material deemed hateful.
Journalists working at online news publications often complain of what they call government censorship done by blocking web searches through internet providers stopping readers from seeing their stories.
Since August, El Nacional had cut back from printing daily to just five days a week. The newspaper does not release its circulation numbers, but editors say their print readers have dramatically shrunk in the last several years.
El Nacional recently exhausted its foreign currency reserves to buy paper on the international market.
Managers said in a letter sent to employees and published on the El Nacional website that they were finally forced to stop printing and turn to online only.
The 50 journalists who work for the print edition now join the 35 already working on the digital edition, and no one will lose their job, said the paper’s editor, Patricia Spadaro.
It was unclear what would happen to the 80 press workers.
Pressure on El Nacional and its executives had mounted over the last 15 years, Otero said, citing an onslaught of tax reviews, advertising restrictions and lawsuits.
He fled the country several years ago to escape threats of prosecution by authorities.
Powerful socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello sued El Nacional charging defamation of character and claimed he won it and another civil case he filed against La Patilla, a popular news web site.
Veteran crime reporter Rosibel Gonzalez covers the violent streets of Caracas, which is reputed to be one of the world’s most dangerous cities.
She said moving to being a digital reporter doesn’t deter her.
“We’re not leaving. We’re staying right here,” she said. “Rosibel Gonzalez will continue writing in the news — in print and now in digital.”