Venezuelan citizens scrounge for food and medecine while prices soar. We speak to two émigrées and an expert about the formerly prosperous oil exporter.
By Claire Ji
In the grips of the worst economic recession in the Western hemisphere, Venezuela has spiraled into a full-blown crisis. Inflation has made the most basic goods and services impossible to afford.
Passionate about the Spanish language and Latin America, reporter Megha Thomas decided to look into the state of affairs in Venezuela. She reached out to two young Venezuelan woman to ask how the crisis developed over the years.
Stephanie Alex left Venezuela and won asylum in the United States. She made the decision not to return to Venezuela for university because censorship laws would limit her ability to pursue a career in journalism. Stephanie recently graduated with a journalism degree from The American University of Paris.
Valentina Salazar had a similar experience. Her parents urged Valentina and their youngest son to go abroad after repeated kidnapping threats and even attempts. She is now living and working in Spain. Her parents remain in Venezuela and are trying to maintain their local clinic.
But is there a light at the end of the tunnel for Venezuela, and what can the world do to respond? Megha turned to former Reuters Latin America editor Bernd Debusmann for his opinion on what short-term and long-term solutions are available.
Welcome to The Kids Are Alright, the podcast that explores big, global issues from a young and fresh perspective.
I’m Nolwazi Mjwara. Originally from South Africa, I moved to Paris, France three years ago to pursue a master’s degree. I’m a news enthusiast and have always been interested in what young people think and are doing to address some of the things I read about in the news.
Before we begin, here’s a message from my colleague Megha Thomas, who helped me produce this podcast.
Megha Thomas: Hey there! Thanks for tuning in to today’s episode. The Kids Are Alright was produced by a team of students and aspiring journalists interested in learning more about some of the biggest issues facing the global community. From social media fame to the Venezuelan crisis to climate change, we’ve reached out to young people and experienced professionals alike in order to provide you with different perspectives on hot topics.
We hope you enjoy it! Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @kidsalrightnews or on Instagram @kidsarealrightnews.
A baby born in war-torn Syria today has a better chance of survival than a new-born in Venezuela. This observation comes from the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro.
Venezuela is in the midst of an unprecedented economic and political crisis marked by severe food and medicine shortages, high crime rates, hyperinflation and an increasingly authoritarian executive.
Our reporter on this episode is Megha Thomas. Here she is to tell us more.
Megha Thomas: Hi Everyone. My name is Megha Thomas, and I am 16 years old. I grew up learning Spanish and grew to love Latina culture as I went through high school. The Venezuelan crisis really stood out to me when we discussed it in my classes. From inflation and corruption, a refugee and humanitarian crisis was born. I spoke with two former residents of Venezuela, Valentina Salazar and Stephanie Alex, to get here their take on how Venezuela has deteriorated in recent years.
Valentina Salazar: Hi, so I’m Valentina Salazar. I was born and raised in Venezuela. I left home when I was around 15/16, and I’ve been outside for eight years now. And every year I’ve been going back home and just seeing how the crisis has been increasing.
Stephanie Alex: Hello. My name is Stephanie Alex. I’m 24 years old. I’m from Maracaibo, Venezuela, and I just graduated from the American University of Paris. I lived in Venezuela until I was 14 and then moved to the United States and then after moved to Paris.
Megha Thomas: So how did you end up leaving Venezuela?
Valentina Salazar: I got a student’s visa to go to America to finish my high school. I left due to security reasons. I was having a lot of kidnap threats and attempts, so my parents decided that it was best for me to just go abroad.
Stephanie Alex: So I traveled to the United States by plane. My family and I moved there, like I said, when I was 14, and we were granted our asylum very quickly because of the political situation that was happening.
Megha Thomas: So in what major ways has it changed since you were a child and living there?
Valentina Salazar: Well, I left and I finished my last two years of high school in New York, going back home every year, and you could see that the crisis was getting worse at the time. For instance, you would see with inflation, inflation has been the one thing within this cycle that just has kept on increasing, so things you could do or could afford in the past, you couldn’t afford anymore. And also with fast crime and kidnapping. And something that has actually happened in the more recent years, since the last three times I was there, is hunger. You see people trying to go into the trashcans to eat food, to find anything to feed themselves and their families. So I think that’s like the one thing that has become more impressive to me as well every time I’ve gone back.
Megha Thomas: Here’s Stephanie again.
Stephanie Alex: Growing up in Venezuela was beauty and madness. While I was there, I really enjoyed the softness of the people and the colorful traditions. But then I also saw how chaotic political agendas divided families and friends, including my own family. And I also witnessed the lack of basic resources, such as medicines and staple foods.
Megha Thomas: Valentina, your parents run a private clinic in Venezuela. How difficult has it been for them to secure supplies and medicine?
Valentina Salazar: Nowadays none of the pharmacies have any medicines. My dad himself, he’s insulin-dependent, and he can’t find insulin for himself — even him, you know, being the owner of the clinic and having the pharmacies. It’s not even that he cannot afford it, it’s that there’s none. So, for instance, I myself have to buy insulin in bulk and send it to him. And that being said, when you send things through mail or post, you are always going through the risk that the government is going take it once it arrives to Venezuela.
Megha Thomas: Goods are not the only thing that are in short supply though. Public services like education have also seriously deteriorated in quality. Stephanie, could you tell us a little more about how the educational system has been affected by the economic crisis and political atmosphere?
Stephanie Alex: When it comes to higher-level education – university – I never had a chance to attend a Venezuelan university, but I have friends and family members who are currently enrolling in Venezuelan universities, and most of the time they tell me that they feel very frustrated because of the lack of resources the universities can offer to them, because there’s not enough professors or they didn’t have enough electricity every day of the week so they cannot learn. Can you imagine if they were, like, learning how to do surgery and then there’s no electricity? Obviously they cannot go to class.
Megha Thomas: So in the recent months, Maduro has been re-elected, and obviously there have been some responses to that in the international community. So how do you think this re-election will affect the ongoing crisis, and how do you think the youth and population in Venezuela and around the world will react to this?
Stephanie Alex: I think that the most important part about spreading awareness is shedding light to the darkness that Maduro’s government has tried to preserve, and by that I mean that we need to continue the conversation. Every time, or every other time, I meet someone that are not very informed about the situation, they cannot even fathom the fact that Venezuela is in such a bad state.
Megha Thomas: Here’s Valentina again.
Valentina Salazar: The international community has realized how, or the extent of how much of the fraud was, as the numbers were completely faked and the information was just so obviously not correct and illegitimate. So right now, over 14 countries in Latin America and the U.S. and Canada also don’t recognize elections.
Right now, the violence is so present that people are afraid of losing their lives just by taking on the streets, and not only that, the government has also been known for imprisoning people and actually torturing them. That – a majority of them actually being underage. So because of that, people are not taking on the streets, and I think this is something that, when the Venezuelans that are within Venezuela are being deprived of their voices, that’s something that right now, as outsiders and Venezuelans on the outside, we have to, you know, speak out for them.
Nolwazi Mjwara: Next, we turned to Bernd Debusmann, who worked for Reuters in Latin America.
Megha Thomas: So, Valentina is one of the young women that I’ve interviewed, and she mentioned that her parents run a small clinic in Venezuela, but as of now, they are lacking medical supplies and necessary materials to effectively treat their patients who are coming to their clinic. So Mr. Debusmann, would you mind going into details on what kind of crisis the health industry is undergoing in Venezuela right now and what are the roots of this crisis?
Bernd Debusmann: What happened to Venezuela is, you know there used to be a saying, saying that there are no good presidents or bad presidents in Venezuela, there are only presidents with high oil prices and low oil prices. But now they have no, basically they have no money to import anything, and the only thing that Venezuela actually produces — or 96 percent of it — is oil, and there is no revenue from oil, so there’s no money for imports, so there are no medicines.
Megha Thomas: Do you think the reception from the international community on this — several countries did respond to the re-election of Maduro — so how do you think this will affect the crisis at hand? Do you think that international action will be committed and will be taken against the crisis now that Maduro is entering another term of his presidency?
Bernd Debusmann: No, I think other than, other than pointing out that these were extremely flawed elections, I think nothing — and complaining about, you know, Maduro’s socialism — I think nothing much will happen because an economic boycott would hurt, you know, the majority of Venezuelans more than the government, which has been the case for most boycotts. So, no, I think nothing nothing much will happen. If there is a change, it will have to come from inside.
Megha Thomas: Censorship has been a big thing that the Maduro administration has imposed on the public, and the other young woman that I was interviewing, Stephanie, she left the Venezuelan community in order to pursue a career in journalism because she wasn’t able to do so with the censorship in the country. So how has censorship affected the population, and is it solely against anti-Maduro groups or is it also against the access to information internationally or from outside sources, outside of Venezuela?
Bernd Debusmann: You know, they have passed rather drastic laws on free expressions on the internet, where you are supposed to portray a picture of harmony and peace, and you can be, you can be prosecuted for “expressions of hate.” But when they try to, other than threatening, they haven’t been able to do anything to the internet. The problem, of course, is not all that many people have access to the internet in Venezuela, not all that many Venezuelans can afford an iPhone or another means of communicating with the world.
Megha Thomas: Do you think there is a light at the end of the tunnel anywhere in the near future, or would it be more of a gradual recuperation?
Bernd Debusmann: No, actually I don’t. I see no end at the light of this tunnel at all. It’s kind of a sad thing to say, but you know Venezuela is high up on top of my — the list of problems that I can’t see being solved in the near future or even in the long future. No, it is getting from bad to worse.
What will help, of course, is, you know, if there’s more reporting and more concern, there are more people doing exactly what you are doing because it’s not, at least in the United States, Venezuela is not much of a story, it’s not reported very regularly, and so, you know, the world at large is not all that well informed or concerned. So in fact, what you are doing is one way to sort of awaken people to the crisis that’s going on there.
Megha Thomas: The beauty of Venezuela seen in childhood experiences of Valentina and Stephanie has sadly degenerated. Education has stagnated, and medical supplies are nowhere to be seen. Violence has broken out, and all these factors contribute to the sad reality that Venezuela is not on the road to improvement anytime in the near future. Hopefully with greater awareness about the issue, it will be put back on the international agenda.
Thanks for listening to Victims of Venezuela.
Nolwazi Mjwara: You’ve been listening to an episode of The Kids Are Alright. It was a production from Podium.me and News-Decoder. Tell us what you thought of this episode by tweeting us @kidsalrightnews.
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