Venezuela’s economic struggles affect Columbia


George Frey

[dropcap style=”light” size=”4″]V[/dropcap]enezuela. The nation’s 30 million people have been on an economic roller coaster ride for nearly the past two decades, now though, the people and economy of Venezuela have hit complete rock bottom. Many are without food, water, medicines, and other things most Americans would take for granted.
Like a scene from an apocalypse movie, hundreds of poor and weary Venezuelans wait outside grocery stores, only to go inside and find next to nothing on the once filled shelves of old supermarkets, an almost unthinkable situation here in America.
“Leaving the country is only a far-fetched dream since leaving would mean selling my car and home to buy a plane ticket, going with nothing but luck,” Venezuelan teenager Zabdielis Porras said. “You’d start from zero, leaving behind university degrees, your family, everything. Sometimes it’s very difficult and sad.” 
However, the ultimate question many ask is, just how did the former richest country in Latin America, end up like this? It all goes back 18 years ago to February of 1999, when Hugo Chavez was put into power as the country’s leader. Chavez was essentially a charismatic dictator who managed to get the nation’s mostly oil-based economy to reach new heights. However, the trouble is that Chavez rigged the economy to essentially collapse when oil prices fell, and when he died in 2013, and a new president [Nicolas Maduro] took over, they did. 
Irene Serrano, a Venezuelan immigrant living here in Columbia, came from the country’s capital of Caracas in 2010.
“I have lived in the U.S. for seven years. He [Maduro] was chosen in 2013,” Serrano said in her somewhat broken English. “Every time I come back, the situation is getting more and more critical. Food is very hard to find because Chavez confiscated all productive farms and lands without giving compensation to the owners. It was robbery. The Venezuelan government is like a criminal cartel. Because in the military hierarchy, all of them are involved with drug trafficking. Many relatives of the first lady, are involved in drugs.”
Strangely, but perhaps not surprisingly, many Venezuelans feel incredibly disappointed in how the American media has been covering the issue.
[quote]“They should pay more attention to it,” said Serrano, who sat next to her husband who served as an interpreter for the interview. “This country is too concerned about the Middle East, but we are both in the Americas. The vice president of Venezuela, his parents are close to Hezbollah and Islamic terrorist groups, and it’s very well known that Chavez also had powerful ties with Colombian guerrillas, as well.”[/quote] When Chavez was in power, the government used to subsidize medicines, or typically were given medicines from Cuba, however today, medicine, like food is hard to come by, if one can even get any.
“There are no medicines there,” Serrano said plainly as if routine, and for the people of her home country, it was.
Medicine has either become too expensive or flat out are no longer available in the first place. Not only are medicines a rarity, but so is clean drinkable water. Today Venezuelans barely have access to water due to a drought caused by climate change. The water they are able to rarely get their hands on, however, is often murky, brown, and polluted beyond what is acceptable for human consumption. And while the loss of water may be a major issue, this has also lead to the loss of electricity. Much of the country is powered by gigantic dams, which produce electricity. Because of the lack of water, the dams fail and millions of Venezuelans are now, without power. They live their daily lives dehydrated, yearning for only a sip of water as they walk through their dimly lit lives, with few prospects. 
“They cut off water and electricity supplies from time to time,” said Luis Oropeza, a teenager living in the providence of Cojedes. “In my apartment building, they’ve come to rob four apartments just this year. One time I was out sitting with my friends and a bunch of robbers came to assault us. Luckily, none of us had expensive items.”
Such events are not uncommon in the country, even in smaller cities, such as the one Oropeza lives in.
“Sometimes there’s nothing to eat,” he said. “Sometimes I can’t have a bath or go out, and sometimes I don’t even have a way to go to school, and all this gives me an incredible amount of anxiety.”
Of course, with the conditions being hellish, hundreds have taken to the streets in protest of Maduro. However, many of these protests have gotten extraordinarily violent. From just April to August of this year alone, 120 protesters have been murdered. Some were shot by police; others have died in bomb explosions, or even some, like Jairo Ramírez, a 47-year-old from Caracas, were electrocuted to death.The reason, Ramírez tried to loot a bakery in order to obtain food.
Sadness, of course, has been a popular theme on the Latin music scene this past summer. One of the most popular songs has been “Me Rehúso,” by Venezuelan music artist Danny Ocean. The song title translates to, “I Refuse,” which really does sum up the theme quite well. The song is the story of a man leaving Caracas and immigrating to Miami, (now one of the most popular Venezuelan migration destinations) and having to leave his girlfriend behind. Eventually, in the song, a year after he left, his girlfriend was sent flowers on Valentine’s Day with a card which read: “Me Rehuso.” Another lyric in the song says in Spanish, “I refuse to give you one last kiss, so save it for later.” This has become a massive hit in Spanish-Speaking countries and is currently one of the top twenty songs on the Latin Billboard Charts. 
Perhaps because the people of Venezuela find it relatable, because they miss their relatives abroad, or their relatives back home. It’s more than just miles separating the people of Venezuela from the world, however. Hopefully however, because Venezuelans have been taking to the streets and having to give up so much to live, they will get what they deserve in the future. A better government, a better leader, and a better life.
“Governments pass by, but the countries and their people stay. Eras and periods in the life of a country in which it seems like the country was determined in a way, but it isn’t like that. Venezuela is an abundant, rich, gorgeous country with a huge capacity of cheerfulness that’s always been there, and is still there.” – Isabel Allende, Chilean author.
Additional reporting by Carlos Hernanz, a Spaniard living in Madrid, who was able to retrieve and translate testimonials of Venezuelans living in the country.