A long time ago, I wanted to live in Venezuela, fly airplanes and immerse myself into the land, the people, and the culture. I’d heard so many good things about the country and I had worked with Venezuelan pilots in the 70s who had shining stories about their homeland. Today. Right now, Venezuela is in economic and cultural and political tatters. Hard to believe that not too many years ago it was a budding, hopeful democracy, economically well off (lots of oil), and integrating itself into the global sphere of economics and politics. Using the name of Simon Bolívar (the George Washington of Latin America), Hugo Chávez maneuvered himself into the presidency by promising great things for Venezuela…like the old days of Bolívar. When his campaign of co-opting government and state institutions began, Venezuela was in the money with lots of revenue from their massive oil reserves. Initially, he seemed to follow along with the current, middle-of-the-road Latin American diplomatic and economic practices and policies. But not too long after his inauguration in February 1999, things began to change.
Chávez began to clear out the old by declaring the press and the government legislators moribund and promising a new “Magna Carta” for Venezuela. He nationalized foreign companies, created a social program emphasizing support and inclusion of the military, and set out to redo the Venezuelan constitution. Elections were held and Chávez supporters won all but a few seats and the new constitution that was enacted allowed the legislature to do away with government institutions. Military members became the primary presidential advisors. Chávez died and Maduro was “elected” as the successor. Opposition leaders were murdered, the press was suppressed, reporters purged. Petroleum prices plummeted. More money was printed to pay for all the things that the socialized government had promised but no oil was there to back up the currency. Inflation is now over 1,000% per year. The intelligentsia fled the country. Skilled workers left. Labor forces are fleeing now. Surrounding countries are socially and economically strained because of the influx of immigrants escaping starvation and violence.
Apparently violence is an every day, nay, every hour occurrence in most parts of the nation. People have to be violent to get by…to survive. Free speech is gone. The free press is gone.The opposition has been either killed or driven into hiding. Food is scarce, people are starving…except the military. But there’s still hope, some Venezuelans are standing strong. I don’t understand how their own people, their own soldiers can machine gun down their neighbors in the streets. But then I remember Kent State, and, that wasn’t even about starvation.
So in summary, we have a Venezuelan leader and his successor who were going to make Venezuela the shining star of Latin America, with promises of greatness for the people. But instead, they attacked the press, nationalized foreign businesses nominally to protect the interests of Venezuelan businesses and jobs, appointed conservative military supporters to the inner circle, declared the existing system “moribund” requiring change that only the “leader” could articulate. Who wins…only Maduro, his friends and family, and the military. Who loses…mostly the people of Venezuela but also its neighbors and Latin America as a whole. The world as a whole. Venezuela has stepped some 50-60 years back to a time when dictators were the norm in South America. When I look at the pictures that get past the censors and the violence, I see the culture, the country, and the people wasting away. But, I think there’s hope.