Op-Ed: But have you ever talked to a Venezuelan, Claude?

TO THE EDITOR: 

Venezuela has fallen victim to a fascist government stemming from rampant nepotism and misinterpreted, cherry-picked ideas of socialism. 

Claude Wilson’s Sept. 12 column is, at best, a misguided and ethnocentric oversimplification of the economic, political, social and cultural problems that have been steeping in Venezuela for over 20 years, even before the rise of Chavismo. I know this because I grew up there.

Venezuela hit the natural resource lottery: its flora, fauna and climate are incredibly diverse, and on top of that, it also happens to have the largest oil reserves in the world. But oil-rich countries are at high risk of “exceptionally poor governance and high corruption,” as Terry Karl wrote in 2007, and Venezuela couldn’t escape that curse. 

Its economic dependence on oil paired fatally well with the late Hugo Chávez’s half-assed socialism and proclivity for hiring his unqualified buddies to run the country. The proof is in Nicolás Maduro, his handpicked successor, a former bus driver without a high school diploma.

Chávez’s government placed restrictions on the oil industry that, combined with the low market value of the Bolívar and falling oil prices, led to a strong decline in oil production and revenue. His government muzzled the free press, expropriated countless businesses and imposed poorly calculated import tariffs and price controls. 

These government trade regulations led most major companies to leave Venezuela, including Mondelez in 2016, GM in April of this year, and almost every major airline. Regulated prices for grocery staples led to extreme shortages and a thriving black market where basic items like flour, toilet paper and cooking oil are sold at outrageous prices.

Seventy percent of Venezuelans lost almost 20 pounds in 2016. Many parents skip meals so their children can eat, and many infants die from inadequate medical care and lack of hygiene in barren hospitals. The current minimum wage hovers at approximately $12.53 a month, with inflation at around 740 percent. 

The average Venezuelan has nothing left to do but protest, and the death toll from ongoing protests in 2017 exceeds 100, with over 15,000 injured. 

Even years ago, as a middle schooler, I brought permission slips home for my parents to sign so I could go out to protest with my class. 

Today, one of my childhood best friends, Federica Dávila, is part of a group of students providing volunteer medical care on the streets.

I’m no expert, but in the experience of my friends, my family and myself, there is nothing socialist or democratic about the state of our country. 

If you value expertise over experience, you can look to Ricardo Hausmann, a former minister of planning in Venezuela and economics professor at Harvard, who recently spoke to the Financial Times about the Venezuelan crisis. 

Most Venezuelans who have left the country (we’re the number one seekers of political asylum in the U.S.) tend to feel a responsibility to let the rest of the world know what has happened and continues to happen in Venezuela. 

There’s a thriving community of us in North Carolina; I find it difficult to believe that you haven’t had the chance to meet one of us, Claude. If you’d like to sit down with us over arepas, we can really break it down for you.

Patty Matos

Junior

Public Relations, Social and Economic Justice and Latinx Studies

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