Why Venezuela’s Problem is All of Our Problem
There was a rustling under the single bed in-front of me, just inches from my feet. I assumed it was another cockroach, which would have been bad enough but at least there was the possibility of smacking it dead with my feet or a nearby slipper. Having seen a few around the hotel I was staying in with the Trinidad and Tobago National Under 20 Women’s Football Team, I had already succumbed to the truth that our talents in sport as women attracted more disease-carrying insects than it had fans or funds. Just the night before we had looked out of our 17th floor windows to the street below at the prostitutes waiting on their next client to pick them up. The rustling wasn’t a cockroach, it was a rat. I ran screaming out of the room and hardly slept the rest of our time there in fear that a rat or cockroach would scratch its way across my face. The memory of this sits in my mind, the prostitutes, rats and cockroaches the only moving pictures I can remember vividly, the feeling of disgust and discomfort the most real emotion I remember to this day. That was over 10 years ago now, yet it carries so much significance as both a metaphor and a depiction of the stark reality that was going on belie the people of that country within the following decade. The country I was in was Venezuela.
I’ve been hearing about the Venezuelan crisis since it started but sat mostly at the sidelines, or not really even inside the ballpark, utterly confused as to why every day it seemed to be getting worse and how one man named Maduro could possible hold a whole country hostage. Hearing and watching Venezuela in growing crisis has felt like sitting on a park bench two metres away from an impoverished child being beaten by a drunken adult and not doing anything at all. Venezuela is a direct neighbour of my home country Trinidad so the analogy rings really true for me. And as the months have passed and the beating continues with more fervour, I have been growing more and more guilty at my ignorance of the situation. I’ve spent some time, hardly enough but as much as I could, trying to understand the situation there. Here is an explanation of the situation in Venezuela from someone who just tried to sift through all the subjectivity and politics and get to the crux of the matter, for the sake of the millions of Venezuelans suffering. Please forgive me if I make errors and please comment to expound on what I say, correct me (nicely) or share your first-hand experience.
My investigation into what is going on in Venezuela started when I asked a few Venezuelans living in London what they knew of it and what their family was experiencing. To my surprise and confusion, they didn’t start crying or gushing about the ghastly abuses of human rights happening to their friends and family. Actually they mostly seemed to have very little close connections to people in the country anymore as all their friends and family had left. I don’t know if it was cognitive dissonance, denial or what. Their calmness seemed so contradictory to what I was reading in the news.
Perhaps they really didn’t know the extent of what was happening because of the mass exodus of people out of Venezuela, which for a long time consisted of mostly middle and upper class folks. Essentially, the ones who could afford it ran away and left the economically crippled behind to experience the brunt of the political Armageddon. Today even the poor are leaving, filling up towns in Columbia and Peru in ways hard to sustain by those local social systems. Whereas before Venezuela was a place for Columbians to escape to, it is now the reverse. And as the medical establishment falls apart in Venezuela, the migration is often one of do or die, as, for instance, people with HIV scramble to get the medication they can no longer afford in their own country. The collapse of the medical establishment coupled with mass migration threatens to make now poorly-controlled diseases, such as malaria and Zika, epidemics in South America and the Caribbean.
But how could it have ever gotten so bad? Why would a man who is starving his own people and who so blatantly blocks aid packages from crossing the border, be able to remain in power even for a second more? Of course the easy answer is that he has the powerful, forceful backing of the armed forces in Venezuela, but the question goes deeper — why does ANYONE, starting with those in powerful places in the Venezuelan army, support him?
To understand this I had to understand a bit more about what his predecessor Chávez did in Venezuela. My understanding is that he had some really strong moments. He distributed more of Venezuela’s wealth from natural resources to the poor and led social reforms that actually decreased unemployment and improved the lives of Venezuela’s most needy. At one point he apparently was wizened to the fact that this social and welfare system depended too much on funds from oil, which would ultimately make their provision for the poorest as volatile as the oil prices. He tried to diversify the economy, which would have solved a lot of today’s problems, but it seems he fell back onto his laurels, puffed up his oil money cushion and once again allowed the country to become dangerously dependent on it. What’s more he started to borrow ravenously during the times when the cycle of oil prices was in its valleys, so much so that the international banks red flagged it and started to curb their lending to Venezuela. When Chavez died of cancer, he seemed to have left behind a country that suffers from the same sort of disease, a growing tumour of debt, instability, economic crisis, a collapsing social system, and a caucus of people who would continue to fly the flag of Chavism because of the blinding memory of the days when it seemed and it was too good to be true. The cancer was created from within and has been killing its citizens slowly. Enter Maduro and you have a man whose ego and foolishness has pushed him to be a politician carcinogen, waving his wand to manifest any form of destruction and fear-mongering that might keep him in power. Meanwhile there are no policies in the pipeline set to address the crevasses breaking through all of Venezuelan society.
Then we’re tempted to ask why America doesn’t help, and we even allow ourselves to use the words Trump and help in the same sentence. But at the thought of what Maduro threatens will be another Vietnam War, we step back and put our hands up. The Vietnam War was largely deemed a failure. We neither want another war, nor a loss of the colossal number of lives taken during that war. So stand back America. Definitely stand back once Trump is at the helm. Don’t force your heavy hand, unless it’s to give aid without any strings attached.
But Maduro will continue to try to stop that aid from entering the country and any exertion if the constitution will be usurped by him and his people and any rising opposition can only be strengthened and kept existing long enough with the support of powers like the US. Despite all the help the opposition failed to rise and Maduro continues to give speeches and have key support.
And that’s where I think the problem lies…
Yes, much of the socialist ethos comes from a beautiful place of helping the poor and making society more fair and equal, but what’s the point of pushing a socialist agenda when all that is left is a ballooned version of it filled with toxic gas? Socialism in Venezuela at one point may have looked exciting and probably answered the prayers of people in ways they haven’t experienced before but it’s not doing that anymore. It’s causing destruction. For anyone who is holding on to the hope of a fair world where there aren’t those who are poor and suffering unequivocally, it’s time we realise that Maduro will never be able to take you there. It’s time for all of us to stop clinging to political ideologies and backing them fiercely with the full power of our ego even as we watch the house we built burn to the ground because of the short fuse of political rigidity.
Venezuela’s problem is a problem with politics. It’s the same reason the Labour Party is falling apart. The same reason Theresa May can’t deliver on Brexit. Because Jeremy Corbyn, despite his charisma and heart, has chosen to back a political ideology rather than to care for and carry the most needy in our society. He cares more about how left he can be than whether people’s lives are actually being helped. Theresa May’s party can’t get it together either to decide on something that will take this nation forward because they are too busy propping up their own political coliseums and protecting those that help them build it!
Venezuela’s problem is all of our problem! Because we TOO QUICKLY forget what’s most important, we forget WHO is most important; the people. People. Lives. The poor. Caring for those in need. Making sure that each person has what they need to thrive in society.
But go ahead. Go ahead and pursue your political agenda Maduro and all who in their own way are mini-Maduros. You wouldn’t be the first one to do so and you wouldn’t be the last one. I know there’s not much I can do for the people of Venezuela but at least I can vow to always remember the mission: care for others no matter who they are.
Venezuela, I pray for you. I pray that you will be renewed, without more bloodshed or heartache. May the next government to rise up in your country meet your needs in a radical way. May all your wounds be dressed and cared for and healed. May that time come soon for you.