Chamblee Community Reflects on Unrest in Venezuela

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Chamblee Community Reflects on Unrest in Venezuela

Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.

Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.

Photo by Reuters.

Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.

Photo by Reuters.

Photo by Reuters.

Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.

Hope Williams, Staff writer

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In an increasingly modern society, the demand for oil has skyrocketed. For countries that sit upon oil reserves, this has the potential to bring economic prosperity and an increasingly well-off workforce. However, for Venezuela, a country that sits on enormous oil reserves, this has not been the case.

Where did it all go wrong? This story is both complex and tragic.

“The political, social, and economic situation in Venezuela is very serious at the present time,” said Chamblee Charter High School Spanish teacher Coromoto Rodriguez.

Rodriguez has a unique perspective on the situation, especially given the fact that several members of her family live in Venezuela, where Rodriguez used to live.

It is hard to fully understand what the current social unrest stands for without looking back. Rodriguez points to one clear cause of today’s tragic situation, a left-leaning government that started with the former president, Hugo Chavez, elected in 1999.

“He started to change our democratic government into a communist government,” said Rodriguez. “He expropriated factories, companies, shopping malls and land from their owners. The companies that were expropriated went to bankprut[cy]. The jobs in the petroleum companies and mining were occupied by inexperienced people with connections with the ruling party.”

Rodriguez believes there was a fundamental flaw in Chavez’s attempt at socialism.

“It’s a model that doesn’t work,” said Rodriguez. “People need to be able to be accountable for their work and really work for what they are going to earn.”

Initially, though, most of the Venezuelan population was supportive of Chavez’s promises.

“People were very happy when Chavez was starting to be a candidate [and] when he was a candidate because the democracy wasn’t going very well and the economic situation wasn’t good at that time, but now, things are much worse,” said Rodriguez. “Twenty years have passed and the country is in a really desperate situation.”

The recent wave of protests began due to suspected election fraud. The current president, Nicolás Maduro, came to power after Chavez died in 2013.

“The government went totally corrupt,” said Rodriguez. “They don’t want to leave the power and they keep on rigging the elections. So the last election was rigged, and Maduro was going to take the power again, be sworn in again, on January the fifth, and he did so, and then people started to protest.”

There is now a growing opposition movement.

“At this moment there is an interim president Juan Guiadó, who was the President of the National Assembly or Congress, who started on January 23 of this year in a parallel government to Nicolás Maduro who does not want to go ‘peacefully,’” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez believes that in reality, the opposition should have the right to govern.

“We have the hope that now, that the world has understood our problem …  It [the Maduro regime] is supported by the corrupt military who have been involved in drug trafficking.”

But how does this political battle impact the average Venezuelan family?

For starters, almost 75% of Venezuelans surveyed by the Human Rights Commission reported having felt hungry due to lack of food in recent time.

“A section of the population is feeding from trash,” said Rodriguez. “Medical services have collapsed, and sanitary conditions are the worst ever … relatives abroad help them by sending money and or food.”

The economy has made it hard for people to buy necessary goods.

“Inflation is extremely high, the currency has been devalued to incredibly low levels, and the minimum salary is around $7 per month, when a family to live decently would need around $400 monthly,” said Rodriguez.

Chamblee economics teacher Carolyn Fraser points out the problems with growing inflation.

“They [the government] started just printing more money, which is always what the government wants to do when they find themselves in this kind of trouble,” said Fraser. “So then we have skyrocketing inflation, which makes the purchasing power of their currency to any other currency just tank, which exacerbates the problem when buying imports for somebody because your currency is not worth anything.”

The issues Venezuela has been facing may be partially caused by Chavez’s decision for nationalization.

“Venezuela, they were a member in the OPEC [Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] and so their economy was running on oil money,” said Fraser. “Well, it was huge wealth inequality, and so Hugo Chavez, a decade ago ro so, nationalized the oil producing companies and took the private property away from them and made it a national production.”

There were numerous consequences of the nationalization.

“When he [Chavez] did, of course, that sets up conflict with the United States in the trade with Venezuela, whether or not we want to embargo them or you know, do some kind of barrier, which we did,” said Fraser. “Now, Venezuela has to import a lot their everyday necessities, because they don’t produce it themselves.”

One example of the lacking necessities is medical supplies.

“Sometimes people are going to have surgery and they tell them please, bring bleach so that we can clean the operating theater,” said Rodriguez. “People pray that they don’t get sick because if they get sick, they could die.”

Rodriguez has seen a personal side to these horrendous conditions.

“It has impacted my family where relatives work as engineer[s], teachers, college professors or retired sisters and friends, and they do not have enough nutritious food there,” said Rodriguez. “Many of them have their cars without parts, like batteries, tires, oil change. Some younger nephews have emigrated to Chile, Peru. Emigrating to the USA is very difficult since the American Embassy is not granting visas.”

Rodriguez and her family living abroad have done their best to help those still living in Venezuela.

“First I sent them groceries, but nowadays, I send them some money,” said Rodriguez. “It’s not much money that I send, but it’s a little money here and there.”

On a larger scale, there has been international support for the opposition government lead by Guiadó.

“The United States has been helping and we appreciate that very much and we need it,” said Rodriguez. “Also Columbia, Brazil, the European Union are helping and they have been trying to send food and humanitarian help to Venezuela. But last time, when they tried to enter the humanitarian help, which was February 23, the government and the military, they did not allow the food to enter through the frontiers and they caused the burning of two truck that had medicine and food.”

Maduro has been able to hold onto his power due to support from several groups.

“Cuba, Russia, China, Turkey, and North Korea are backing Maduro and the international community does not want to oust the government using violence,” said Rodriguez.

Additionally, the military has played a large role in Maduro’s power.

“The military, who, because they are very corrupt, they don’t want to abandon power because they know they will have to face international justice, including justice from the US, because they have involved in the drug trafficking towards the United States.”

If Guiadó were to come to power, there are several things the Venezuela population would like to see.

“He’s going to try to do some healing in the country and we want, first Maduro leaving power … that’s number one. Stop the illegal occupancy of the government,” said Rodriguez. “Number two is a transition government. The president is Juan Guiadó at this time, and then free elections. Clean, honest elections.”

But political improvements will not solve everything.

“As soon as the situation improves, they are going to allow help and the help that we need, from what I’ve read and heard in the news, is going to be sustained because the country is in very bad condition,” said Rodriguez. “We may need at least one year. We will have to plant again, we’ll have to be able to provide some food.”

Fraser agrees that the fallout will be severe.

“You cannot run an economy with your politics in upheaval,” said Fraser. “You just can’t. I know the urge when income inequality gets really bad, the urge is to nationalize, especially when you’re not the US, because US oil companies did take a lot of money out of Venezuela. We need to, as the United States, and the leaders, supposedly of the free world, we need to give governments permission to protect their infant industries against competition from lower cost provides.”

Venezuela, according to Fraser, must focus on protecting it’s infant industries, similar to that which South Korea and Japan did in the 20th century.

“If you don’t have that opportunity, there’s no way that an economy can get to a competitive level against United States, Europe, and anybody else that’s coming in,” said Fraser. “America always likes to tout free trade when it’s other people blocking our stuff, but how do they [foreign countries] come up that learning curve? How do they come up economically?”

For now, Rodriguez will try to remain optimistic, despite the clear economic and political challenges she knows her country is facing.

“We have the hope and will that the opposition will succeed and Venezuela will become prosperous and democratic again,” said Rodriguez, “We rely on the strength and smart of our people, on the natural wealth that we have- oil, mining, soil- and also on God’s help.”

However, the pain is still very real.

“It is sad to talk about our native country like this but it is hurtful to see my people leaving in very harsh conditions and having a terrible life, where we used to live happier,” and Rodriguez.

Every day is another being lived in inhumane conditions.

“We don’t know when but they [the Maduro regime] will have to go,” said Rodriguez. “The sooner the better because Venezuela, the people there, need to continue their lives in a good manner. Over there, that’s not life. That’s not life.”