I just returned from my third trip to Venezuela in the past six months. On this most recent trip, I had the pleasure of visiting the parish of San Agustin del Sur in Caracas, Venezuela. San Agustin is well-marked by the red cable cars (the MetroCable) which President Chavez had built in 2010 to connect this poor parish with the center city. San Agustin is also world-renowned for its music, especially its Salsa. And indeed, the community has been working hard to use music, and music training, as a means of fighting youth violence in the parish.
What I witnessed in San Agustin was a vibrant community which was certainly not well-off by first world standards, but which seemed peaceful, content and resolute. I also did not see the starving people which I was told I would see in Venezuela. Instead, I saw fruit and vegetable stands lining the streets, a fully-stocked bread shop, and I witnessed the distribution of the government-subsidized food staples (e.g., rice, flour, milk, canned tuna) to those in need. This subsidized food program, organized through Local Provision and Production Committees (CLAPs), reaches around 6 million people in Venezuela.
This is the side of Venezuela rarely reported in the U.S. media which, like vultures circling over their next meal, appear eager to witness what is being promised as Venezuela’s imminent collapse.
Of course, the fact that I did not see hungry people does not mean that there are none. I’m sure that there are many hungry people in Venezuela -- just as there are hungry people in the U.S. where 41 million people live in poverty and struggle to put food on the table. If one wishes to read more on this, check out the recent article in The Guardian story entitled, “A Journey Through the Land of Extreme Poverty: welcome to America.” As this article notes, the UN expert on Deprivation, Philip Alston, wants to know why the U.S., the richest country on earth, has 41 million poor people (that is more than the entire population of Venezuela which has around 31 million people). This is a very good question. That Venezuela -- a developing country which has been devastated by a Saudi-imposed drop in oil prices as well as a few rounds of U.S. economic sanctions -- has issues combating hunger should be much less news-worthy, and yet news outlets cannot seem to get enough one-sided stories about deprivation in Venezuela.
Therefore, it was quite refreshing to hear the recent statement of Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, on Venezuela following his recent, thorough look into the realities of that country (and Ecuador as well).
Thus, de Zayas blames the media for intentionally trying to exaggerate the problems in Venezuela while ignoring the government’s efforts to address them. As he states:
There is a worrying media campaign to force observers into a preconceived view, e.g., that there is a ‘humanitarian crisis’ in Venezuela. We should be wary of hyperbole and exaggeration, bearing in mind that ‘humanitarian crisis’ is a terminus technicus and could be misused as a pretext for military intervention and regime change.
Of course, there should be free flow of food and medicines into Venezuela in order to alleviate the current scarcity of food and medicines. But such help should be truly humanitarian and should not have ulterior political purposes. . . .
The situation in Venezuela definitely does not reach the threshold of humanitarian crisis, even though there is suffering caused by internal and external reasons. Any observer will recognize that there is scarcity in sectors, malnutrition, insecurity, anguish. When in Venezuela I inquired from many stakeholders about the reasons and I also learned of the measures taken by the government to address these problems . . . .
Mr. de Zayas applauded, for example, the Venezuelan government’s “program of building low-cost housing [which] has proven a good thing and has saved millions of persons from poverty and homelessness.” This building continues, I might add, even now during this quite difficult economic period in Venezuela. In addition, the reduction of extreme poverty, which the Chavista revolution has been known for, has also continued during the crisis.
Meanwhile, de Zayas noted that there are forces both inside and outside Venezuela (while he does not name these forces, he is clearly referring to sectors of the Venezuelan opposition as well as the U.S. and Colombian governments) which have intentionally worked to help create and exacerbate the difficulties in Venezuela through the “widespread sabotage of public property, arson against public buildings, hospitals and other institutions, destruction of electricity and telephone lines, etc.” as well as “hording, black market activities, induced inflation, and contraband in food and medicines.” Two specific examples of such attempts to increase misery in Venezuela is Colombia’s refusal to sell malaria medicine to Venezuela and the firm Euroclear’s blocking of “$450 million earmarked primarily for the purchase of drugs and food abroad.” Again, one rarely hears of this side of the story in the mainstream U.S. press.
The other reality about Venezuela barely portrayed by the mainstream press is the incredible resiliency of the Venezuelan people. What I have been most struck by in my travels to Venezuela is not the lack of things Venezuelans possess, but their abundance of joy and human solidarity. Indeed, as I told the airline agent at the ticket desk who was grilling me about my travel to Venezuela, it is my sense that, “in the U.S., we have everything, but at the same time nothing; while in Venezuela, you have nothing, but at the same time everything.” The woman, who was Venezuelan herself, then stopped her questioning, paused, and said, “yes, Venezuelans have a certain spirituality about them, don’t they?” I answered in the affirmative, and she then took my hand and said, “I hope we meet again.” This is the Venezuela I know.