Venezuela: Breakdown and Collapse…
The Venezuelan crisis is global in nature and so, it has placed everyone in ‘survival mode’. The crisis penetrates every aspect of collective and individual life. In this crisis, two groups have become clearly identifiable: those who represent the State and all its power (a minority of the ‘nouveau riche’), and those who are systematically oppressed (an impoverished majority) by the actions of a Government who protects its privileges without measuring the costs of their impact.
Day after day, resources become scarcer. The majority of people now have very few possibilities within the existing economic, legal and psychological structures to cope. Each passing day brings increased hunger, street crime, shortages of money, corruption, a lack of ‘living wage’ employment and deplorable health conditions.
A country unplugged…
Everyday activities have become virtually impossible due to the elimination of much of the public transit system, poor road conditions, arbitrary governmental price controls and an uncontrollable hyperinflation. Realities, such as the almost non-existent public transit inside and outside of all cities, have dramatically increased absenteeism rates at work and school. Additionally, there is an increased risk for all cross-country road trips due to the presence of gangs who intercept functioning transportation routes. These criminals are stealing from and even murdering unprotected travellers.
Air travel has the same difficulties. With respect to domestic travel, booking flights has become almost impossible because of the decreased number of routes available. Worn-out and inoperative aircrafts also contribute to the broken system where corruption and illegal activity are unavoidable when purchasing flight tickets. The deterioration of airport infrastructure is another reality. In terms of international flights, the world’s major airlines have not received payments due them from the Venezuelan Government. In response, those airlines have stopped direct flights into and out of the country. This has greatly increased the cost of tickets and decreased flight availability. Travelers are also vulnerable to extortion and robbery committed by custom security forces in search of illegal payments.
An ill country…
In Venezuela, illnesses that were eradicated for more than forty years are now reappearing as result of the lack of medication, vaccines and terrible health care policies. Malaria, diphtheria, yellow fever, measles, chicken pox and even polio, are almost at epidemic rates today. The public health system, governed by the State, collapsed many years ago. This system cannot offer patients basic supplies such as syringes for injection, alcohol, or gauze for routine care. Most medicines are not available even in hospitals and relatives who care for their loved ones must provide food for them while they are ill and admitted into the hospital system. It is important to remember that the destruction of the health care system began with the imposition of a parallel system, the so-called ‘social missions’.
The drama is even greater for those who suffer from chronic diseases such as cancer, HIV, AIDS, diabetes, etc. These individuals are not only fighting death, but also a government who accuses them of lying and manipulating the system because of their conditions in order to generate political destabilization. The arrogance of those wielding power victimizes these Venezuelans, as well as those living with organ transplants and sick children, twice: they do not receive what they need in order to get better and they are questioned at every turn when they try to get even the basic care. All of them have an increased vulnerability with these current conditions.
A hungry country…
The quality and quantity of food consumed by Venezuelans are both below all WHO standards. This is due to the breakdown in the production apparatus, primarily because of policies that support the expropriation of businesses and the fact that the Government and their close collaborators are the sole managers of all importations. Malnutrition rates have increased greatly as have cases of death by starvation, fainting in public or workplaces, as well as school absenteeism of children and young people, all whom have nothing to eat. These are clear examples of this seriousness of the Venezuelan reality.
A country in need…
It is urgent, vital and pressing, that the Government immediately allows for food and medicine to enter into the country. The process for this happening still needs to be determined since the current State does not believe that humanitarian aid is required; they deny the existence of the crisis. The problem must first be named in order for the help to be granted. It is critical that this initiative be done now in order to alleviate the devastating effects of hunger and poor health. It may not be enough, or a permanent solution, but it is a first step that cannot be skipped.
A committed country…
The points raised in this reflection are not intended to, nor could ever provide, a detailed description of the complexities that are currently being lived in Venezuela. This brief overview, first and foremost, is an attempt to portray some of the realities that marked our lives as Venezuelans today. And as Jesuits, we are not willing to be mere spectators of this crisis.
The Society of Jesus in Venezuela is keeping focused on humanising our horizon, searching for shared meaning, and discerning what we ‘feel’ is the will of God for our lives. We do this along side of many people who share our common mission and who expect us to provide words of encouragement and actions that indicate a closeness of community. For us, it is clear that God does not want us to live in conditions with hunger, isolation, unproductivity and poor health. Thus, in various projects and apostolates, we continue to deepen and strengthen the idea of a communal body, a group that wants to help others, one that is humble enough to let others be their companions.
We are aids in helping the public find its voice and advocate for change. We never stop communicating hope through our daily work. Because we trust in Jesus, we believe it is possible to overcome this horrible situation. Inspired by this, we never cease to propose alternatives so that all Venezuelans may have life in abundance, as Jesus, who became one of us, promised to those who believe in Him.
Photos courtesy of Javier Contreras, SJ
English translation by Eduardo Soto Parra, S.J.