Venezuela has been an ideal country. During the 20th century we welcomed hundreds of thousands of immigrants. We did not close our doors because we had an abundance mentality: in Venezuela there is enough for everyone. And Venezuelans did not emigrate because where better than here?
Today we are a people on the run. As of December, emigration since Chávez came to power is estimated at more than five million people.
"Venezuela is going through the worst crisis in the last 150 years of its history. After the Federal War, this Chavista era has brought a lot of evils to the country, and has done very, very deep damage to the people, especially to the poorest", says Cardinal Jorge Urosa, Archbishop Emeritus of Caracas.
"Paradoxically and sadly, those whom Chávez said he was going to help, have been the ones who have suffered the most. The humble people are increasingly poorer and misery has taken over a good part of the population", he adds.
A brief review of these years requires a bit of history. Since 2002, Chavismo has been openly socialist. But it did not cease to be a tropical socialism: a copy of Cuba and a great umbrella for corruption, incompetence and cronyism.
Venezuela is basically an oil country. From nationalization in 1973 until the arrival of Chavez in 1999, the national oil company PDVSA had achieved a high degree of efficiency to become the third largest oil company in the world. In 2002, the industry went on strike against the Chávez government. In response, 23,000 skilled workers were laid off: more than 65 % of managers, engineers and technicians. PDVSA became the umbrella for President Chávez's occurrences. Iván Freites, secretary of the Unitary Federation of Oil Workers of Venezuela (FUTPV), points out that from 2007 to 2018 the oil company included in its payroll some 45,000 members of the government party, political operators who receive a salary for attending the marches and rallies called by the Executive.
Before the fall of crude oil prices in 2014, the government had already destroyed PDVSA. Production has fallen from 3.5 million barrels/day in 1999, when Chávez arrived, to less than the current 800,000. Additionally, the lack of maintenance and investment has ruined the industry's infrastructure.
"In 2013, the way of running the oil business failed definitively. We live on rents until 2017, when the public administration goes into default. The State goes bankrupt. Economic sanctions are not the cause of the current debacle. They simply worsen the crisis generated by the government", says Ángel Alvarado, deputy of the National Assembly, economist, member of the Permanent Commission of Finance and Economic Development. The government has managed to bankrupt one of the best oil companies in the world. It has killed the goose that lays the golden eggs.
The current crisis
The bankruptcy of the national oil company brought with it the deterioration of all public welfare. As for public health, old diseases already eradicated such as malaria, hemorrhagic dengue, Chagas disease and measles have reappeared; between 2017 and 2019, 5,000 patients have died due to lack of dialysis. The Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela estimates that eight out of ten medicines are not available in the country; the FAO states that 3.7 million Venezuelans, 12 % of the population, suffer from malnutrition, while Caritas reveals 35 % of chronic malnutrition in children under 5 years of age.
Last July, Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, visited Venezuela and found a very bleak economic outlook: "The economy is going through what could be the most acute hyperinflationary episode the region has ever experienced, affecting the purchasing power of basic foodstuffs, medicines and other essential goods. As of today, the minimum wage is equivalent to US$2 per month, compared to US$7 in June. Thus, a family needs to earn the equivalent of 41 monthly minimum wages to be able to cover the basic food basket.".
As for human rights, the government's recurrent means of maintaining its hold on power are the often ruthless repression of protests, imprisonment and persecution of opponents. In 2019, there are 478 political prisoners in the country, reports Victim Monitor, platform of digital media journalists in the country.
The report of former Chilean President Bachelet referred to this: "My Office has continued to document cases of possible extrajudicial executions committed by members of the Special Action Forces of the National Police [...]. Last July alone, the non-governmental organization Monitor de Víctimas identified 57 new cases of alleged executions committed by members of the FAES in Caracas." There are numerous cases of physical and psychological abuse, particularly of military personnel. Detainees do not have access to medical attention or to their families. Many do not resist the violence and die at the hands of their captors, as in the recent cases of councilman Fernando Albán and army captain Acosta Arévalo.
The social influence of hate
The Venezuelan poet Andrés Eloy Blanco, now deceased, has reflected the feelings of the people when he stated that he would accept to suffer all the hardships of the past. "miserias y quebrantos". except that of having a child "lonely at heart". I think that the worst evil that Chavismo could cause us is to embitter Venezuelans, to lock them up in their misery.
Chavismo does not cease to inoculate the rancid hatred, petty resentment that fills them. After twenty years, it is not known how deep the poison has reached the hearts of Venezuelans. "I believe that the Venezuelan people have become bitter, people are sad and worried, subsistence is very complicated. We live the cultural paradox whereby society is transformed by the negative environment, by the anomie in which we are immersed, and it molds the behavior of Venezuelans. However, there is no lack of manifestations very typical of our culture, such as spontaneous joy or taking the tragedy in which we live as a joke", says sociologist Adriana Loreto.
At 29 years of age, Loreto has worked for the police in managing crime hotspots in the largest favela in the Americas, in the Petare municipality of Caracas, and has conducted sociological research in one of the country's roughest prisons. The sociologist points out that Chávez had in his hands the power to heal the social injustices that existed in a basically egalitarian country. But he used his charismatic leadership to manipulate the social references of the common Venezuelan. The current state of affairs poses two inescapable questions: Is there hope of recovering that open, optimistic, hardworking Venezuela we knew? And upon leaving this regime, will blood flow as in the fall of similar regimes?
Adriana Loreto is optimistic. She considers that young Venezuelans have a much greater social conscience than the last two generations. "Despite the government's efforts to depress us, to establish a disastrous political and socio-economic practice, there are many people who reject these false values and want to continue betting on Venezuela. With respect to the country's recovery, I believe that we will not go through revenge and bill-passing", concludes Loreto. "People are not willing to do that, discounting that in some street protest emotions dominate rationality. But so far we have not had an opposition leader who wants to bring us to a bloody end. Venezuelans are peaceful, democratic and do not consider revenge as a value.".
The difficult cure for "facism
In 2006 I visited the south of Lake Maracaibo, one of the most fertile areas of the country. During those years, the socialist revolution distributed money to the people through the so-called missions. The landowners told me that it was impossible to hire pieceworkers to harvest the abundant harvest. They did not need to work. Chavez gave them everything. It was only necessary to register and go to receive the money on a weekly basis.
In 2010, Chávez promised the so-called Food Sovereignty. Meanwhile, he was expropriating the most efficient haciendas to hand them over to the people, that is to say, for the pillage and progressive destruction of the productive apparatus. The farms that were not expropriated were suffocated to death, because the State aspires to be the only one that gives bread to the people. This "facism" was permeating in very broad sectors of the people. It is the right to have the State give me everything. Electoral populism, designed and maintained for years.
Ruth Capriles, PhD in Political Science, professor and researcher at the Catholic University of Caracas, argues that we must go head-on against the "facism" that claims for itself a misunderstood solidarity: "If solidarity means being accomplices in shamelessness, no. I don't believe that solidarity is the way forward. I believe that the opposite is the most important thing: to create strong individuals, who do not need pity, compassion, and the solidarity of others to move forward. Obviously, solidarity is a very important human feeling that individually is very valuable, but at the collective level, I do not think that this is where we have to work, but quite the opposite. We have to put each one in front of his responsibility and remind him: 'you are alone in this world and you have to solve, it is you who builds your fortune and on you depends the daily food, and it is on you that depends the food of your children'. I would work more that way, honestly."assures Capriles.
It is a demanding but unavoidable approach. Despite the difficulties, Ruth Capriles is optimistic: "Perhaps the most wonderful thing, what keeps repeating itself during these twenty years, is the willingness of countless, very many people, who are serving the other and serving the country. They defend Venezuela and our values, and continue to do so in spite of all the difficulties we face. There are hundreds of civil society organizations that are upholding Venezuela's values. And as long as our values are maintained, there is a possibility of rescue".