Life and Death Crisis in Venezuela: It’s Personal

By RAFAEL MORILLO | Apr 10, 2019

I often get the question from friends and family here on LBI, “How are things in Venezuela?”

It’s one of the hardest questions to answer without sounding a bit unhinged, knowing that someone who has not lived it just can’t imagine it.

People judge and evaluate situations within the framework of what they know, what is familiar to them, their values and principles. They hold a predefined set of parameters through which they try to understand all situations.

This is why understanding Venezuela can be so difficult and seem almost surreal. In Venezuela it’s topsy-turvy day, every day. By design!

As I write these lines, the city where I was born and lived for most of my life, along with the whole state and over 80 percent of the country, has been without electricity for over 160 hours. This is the fifth time in less than three weeks! Through the month of March they had 18 days without power and just 13 with limited short power allocations at unannounced times, resulting in total chaos.

Of course, this means they are also without water as it can’t be pumped and without gasoline as gas stations cannot work. Not even hospitals are functioning with any semblance of normalcy because they have no fuel for their emergency generators (in the few cases that have them, very few). Surgeons operate on emergency cases using the light from their cell phones. I’m not making this up. Food is rotting up and down the food supply chain. Businesses are closed, and there is no official word of a plan to face this situation.

You would think the government would be deeply concerned about this. Quite the opposite is true. It so happens that this works right along with the government agenda: keeping the people humiliated, looking for the basic needs such as water, food, medicines. People under such conditions feel broken, powerless, discouraged and helpless, just as the government wants them.

More than 3.5 million people have fled the country over the last five years, leaving family and everything they had behind. Many walk for weeks to neighboring countries, looking for a way to survive. Living in Venezuela is no longer viable.

My own experience can perhaps give you an idea of the situation.

My family lived in what was a nice upper middle class neighborhood where we bought a house some 40-plus years ago. It was a gated community in an affluent area. During our time there, our car was stolen eight times, five at gunpoint. My wife was shot at to scare her into giving a thief the keys to her car right in our garage while my daughter inside did not know what was going on. One Friday afternoon I walked into our travel agency in the middle of its being held up by five armed thugs. They took my car as an escape vehicle. In our two-block community there was a murder during a home robbery.

I consider myself lucky because nothing really bad happened to any of us. It’s the Venezuelan mentality. You’re lucky if no one close to you has been murdered.

After 20 years of socialism, our house is now worth less than 10 percent of its original value.

To understand all this you need to realize that Venezuela is not run by a government, nor controlled by state of law. Hugo Chavez used the immense oil revenue to destroy all semblance of a normal country. Working together with his mentor, Fidel Castro, they designed and executed a well-planned path to create a haven for cultivating the Cuban communist ideas. Their main business is illegal trade in drugs, gold and now coltan. The military is fully complicit in this organized crime, and all nonconforming members are quickly purged.

Maduro is a convenient puppet. He was selected as successor by Chavez and Castro because he was Cuban trained and easily controlled by the military. He keeps up the appearance of a government while they all become rich. Filthy rich! One of Chavez’ daughters alone, who lives comfortably in New York City, is said to be worth over $5 billion. Chavez’ mother also lives very comfortably in Florida. A member of the government received over $3 billion in one case and $1.2 billion in another as commissions from oil-related purchases. The fortunes of the small group of top officials are way beyond what you can imagine.

Recently there was a huge international effort to procure and send Venezuela needed humanitarian help, including food and medicine. Maduro’s army did not let this aid into the country, blocking the border with Colombia and burning the first two trucks that attempted to deliver the aid. People are dying of hunger and diseases. Malnutrition is decimating the little ones. But the aid was burned. Maduro continues to be led by Cuban intelligence, blaming all the country’s problems on “el imperio” (the U.S.).

Cuba has been receiving free petroleum from Venezuela since Chavez’ time. China and Russia have loaned large sums to the country, or invested under deals often illegally approved. They know that if a democratic state of law is reinstated they are not likely to see a full return on those loans or approval of their agreements.

One of the least understood facts of our recent situation is the existence of Juan Guido as acting president. Many news reports continue to refer to Guido as “self-proclaimed.” Not so. Guido, as president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, the only democratically elected body in the nation, was named interim president in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution, which Chavez rewrote. As the congressional elections were won by opposition parties, Maduro declared himself elected president when his term ended, with a sham election. Most major powers refused to recognize the legitimacy of that election. The assembly declared the presidency vacant and named Guido to the presidency until elections can be held.

It’s not easy to understand, I know. Those of us here in the U.S. and around the world struggle to comprehend as we wait for news from family members living through the darkness and violence, and scour the internet and news shows for bits of information. As formal news channels are severely controlled in Venezuela, we live on Facebook, WhatsApp and Messenger, trying to see what is happening. Our close friends are now in Spain, France, Canada, Mexico and all over the U.S. They have to travel to even more international destinations to visit their children and grandchildren.

Venezuelans never left home before. We come from a culture where families stayed close. We had Sunday lunch every week at my mother’s house with extended family. Social life was intimately tied to close friends, who became extended family. We accepted immigrants with open arms, but never really wanted to leave.

Now each of us who had to leave faces the future far from all that is familiar, among people who, although they try to understand, can’t really. Who can?

Rafael Morillo lives in Barnegat Light and is the artisan baker at MKT Eatery in Surf City.





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