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From time to time I post something which gets people really mad at me. Today, I am doing “one of those” –a post which will anger all those who support the values of Bolivarian Socialism, of Chavismo and of the anti-colonial, anti-US liberation struggle of the people of Latin America. Before you get personally mad at me and before you conclude that I am a CIA agent, please consider this : I still support the values of Bolivarian Socialism, of Chavismo and of the anti-colonial, anti-US liberation struggle of the people of Latin America ! But is that a valid reason to make me deaf or blind ? Shall I prefer my comfortable ideological leanings to reality, to facts on the ground ?
To those who will say that Catire is making up horror stories and that I am gullible, let me reply this : a very close and good friend of mine, a Left-leaning anarchist, has lived through all the Chavez years in Venezuela and we have been corresponding for all these years. From an enthusiastic Chavista I have seen him turn into a disgusted and disillusioned Chavismo-hater. We often had heated debates, even angry ones (I was defending Chavez the best I could), but he never changed his mind. In fact, totally disgusted, he emigrated to Canada. So, while I cannot vouch for every fact and interpretation given below by Catire, I can confirm that 90 % of what he says I have heard from my trusted friend (who, by the way, still is rabidly anti-US & anti-capitalist).
Finally, and just as I have done in past controversial reports, I am hereby offering anyone willing to do so the opportunity for a written rebuttal. While I am presenting a testimony which I have reasons to believe is absolutely credible, I am not really “taking sides”, and I therefore am inviting anybody to present both a rebuttal and a different analysis of what is happening in Venezuela.
Also, please consider that my “mission” here is not to defend this or that party, personality or movement. Nor is it to please anybody or to maximize somebody’s comfort zone. What I have tried hard to create is a community which counter-acts propaganda (any propaganda) and which promotes a free and intelligent exchange of views on many topics, including controversial ones. I think that Catire’s testimony deserves to be heard and discussed by all of us.
To those inevitable monosynaptic boneheads who will chose to call me –or Catire– names instead of addressing the issues raised by this testimony I would just say this : please take a look at this blog’s “principles page” and understand that I will never sacrifice the truth for the same of any ideology or ideological position : not of the Left, not of the Right. While I am fully aware of the dangers of the USA re-asserting its colonial domination over Venezuela, I refuse to enter the “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” kind of logic or, for that matter, its derivative version “the enemy of my enemy must be right”. There is a lot of strong evidence that Chavez, Maduro and their supporters committed grievous mistakes in the management of Venezuela. If that is something you cannot cope with, then this blog is not for you.
While it is with great sadness that I share with you the contents of Catire’s testimony, I want to express my sincere gratitude to him for agreeing to write it upon my request.
PS : for whatever it is worth, I personally disagree with Catire that “Socialism” is to blame for what he describes. Having seen what capitalism has done to many Latin American countries with my own eyes, I am convinced that “Socialism” has little, if anything, to do with what he describes. I would also add that the internal pro-US 5th column inside the USA never lost it’s influence. As for Uncle Sam, he never stopped using all his power to try to weaken, subvert and impoverish Venezuela. But there is only that much that all these elements can explain and I am not willing to pretend like the local authorities did not make the situation even worse.
How socialism has affected me
First, let me clarify that I am an average citizen –working class, born in the 1970s when my country Venezuela was called “Little Arabia”, for the flow of money at that time came through oil. Unfortunately this has changed in the last 15 years.
My family are people who work for a living and sacrifice what little they have to achieve home ownership (acquired in those years before the socialists came to power) and even though today we are employed professionals, there is no possibility of getting credit to purchase property.
I was 23 when Chavez arrived in power and already had an independent life and a degree in marketing. I worked, was independent in almost all my needs, had credit cards and I was able to buy vehicle –a 1998 Opel Corsa. In those days if you had a good job you could go to a credit agency and would have credit or cash in 72 hours maximum. After choosing the model, colour, equipment and going through a short administrative formality you could enjoy your vehicle.
To remember that a guy like me with a salary as an editor at a TV channel (I’m a publicist) could have the “luxury” to have new car is now ridiculous. In 1998 the cost of the car was about the same as my yearly salary, with bonuses in December. I cannot dream of buying a car now, because the prices are exorbitant and the currency devaluations of recent years have ended our purchasing power.
There is no market for new vehicles except trucks and a couple of brands that still survive the onslaught of socialism (Toyota which has plant in Venezuela and make lucrative contracts with the government and Ford also has a plant which has crippled its operations on several occasions due to the crisis). Other brands only exist to sell spare parts (what few are available).
Equally, it is almost impossible to travel abroad, one because of the price, two because the Venezuelan government owes foreign airlines at least US$4 billion (here I leave a link to a Venezuelan newspaper to understand this situation regarding air tickets in Venezuela. Sorry if you don’t read Spanish).
Previously, for example in the 1980s when the bolivar was 4.30 per dollar, a trip with my family to the US was no problems. We changed money in the private banking system or in casas de cambio in the street here or in the US. It is very difficult to exchange our bolivars for dollars today because the government controls everything. It is now practically impossible to travel abroad because of cost controls and the raging inflation of the bolivar. Officially the rate is only 12.5 Bs per dollar, but it is impossible for normal people to get that rate. The best we can do is change in the black market at around 700 Bs per dollar.
When I was a teenager in my residential neighbourhood in Caracas, I and my friends could walk at least 30 minutes at night to a party of friends without any problems or insecurity.
Since the time Chavez allowed impunity for the masses, armed groups of civilians that claim to protect areas roam the streets of the barrios. They spy and use fear to impose social control. He also allowed masses of opportunists and criminals to invade land, abandoned houses and buildings in the name of “revolution”. Housing estates like mine became more dangerous and difficult to walk after 8:00 pm, because after that time the criminals operate with almost complete impunity. Police do little due to various deficiencies and political problems and have basically become inoperative.
For example before Chavez was elected, if you were urinating in the street, drinking alcohol in public or playing loud music to name a few misdemeanors, the former Metropolitan Police (eliminated by the Chavez government) came to call and you were taken to a headquarters where could be detained up to 72 hours, and if you continued to offend sentences were increasing. Now none of that works, if I have a problem with a neighbor for something similar or bad business in any way with the neighbor it can very easily end in blood, since there is now no institution to provide public peace.
Something that contributed to the rise in crime in the big cities of Venezuela was the massive imports of Chinese motorcycles at very low cost. This facilitated criminals living in the slums of Caracas to ride a motorcycle into the city and in 10 minutes they were robbing or murdering down town and then quickly back to their neighbourhood undetected. Impunity is also the queen of insecurity. In every 100 murders just 7 are punished, the other 93 are unsolved, unpunished and are just stored in a police file.
When I was younger in Venezuela an average person like me could go to eat with his family in restaurants every weekend of the month, now you get that “luxury” once a month if you are lucky. To put it in context, the salary of my work is triple the minimum wage of 7400 Bs. My income today is 22000 Bs and I cover only the basic food basket as meat, poultry, spaghetti, milk and general necessities. Previously I would go to the market and buy groceries for a month, and would pay for the services, condominium fees, telephone, electricity, water, sometimes I could also buy brand name shoes, quality clothing and some luxury items. Today in Venezuela it is difficult to find a place where for example you can buy several kilos of wheat flour or milk even if you can afford it.
Before Socialism there was never any shortage of goods, we never had to stand in queues to buy food, let alone that you are now rationed to only two litres of cooking oil for example, or only 4 cans of tuna. Things like that every day make life more difficult.
In my case I survive this because I’m first working with a private foreign client who pays me US$ 100 a month for assistance in my field of work. With this changed in the black market I have nearly 70000 Bs but added to my salary that allows me to live better than 70 % of the population. If I only had the salary of my work I could buy only food to survive, no personal care products, or other “luxuries”. For example I have to wait three months to buy a simple shampoo, I have 2 in my house and if I do not get another before they run out I’ll be in trouble to wash my hair. It is the same with razors for the face. If I had only my salary, perhaps I could only pay utilities and could not afford a school for my child or health insurance which are exorbitant prices to the average population. Also with my salary I can not go on weekends to the beach, mountain or anywhere because it is just too expensive.
Something that has struck me personally is the fact that almost every month in recent years, another of my friends or family will go to live abroad, and I fear that many of them will never return. I feel that every day our social circle becomes smaller. At almost every meeting of friends, the topic of conversation is where would you go, something unthinkable 15 years ago.
Venezuela was never a country of emigration –on the contrary, it is a melting pot where people were always coming to work. Today we see whole families are broken, children, brothers, cousins, friends all leave. My sister has left, she went to Panama, a country that gave her the opportunity earn some dollars. Here in Caracas there are almost no decent employment opportunities, no security in businesses or housing, and no opportunity for vehicle purchase or vacations for the family. It is estimated that over 2 million Venezuelans have left the country. I have at least a hundred family members, friends and acquaintances who are gone, just 15 days ago the last of my childhood friends went to Chile and we see today there are large communities of Venezuelans in the US, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Argentina, Spain, Peru, England, Costa Rica, Canada, Caribbean islands, etc.
This is something that mentally scars you, just another of the things that you inevitably see wrapped in political problems, which never occurred in our lives before. Only since Chavez came to power in 1992 have these problems eventuated and political divisions among the population were never so marked before either. Members of the political parties Adeco (AD) and COPEI (COPEI), or MAS (MAS) never had any violent confrontation before Chavez began the division of rich vs. poor, adecos vs left. We saw the same high government headed by Chavez begin a political apartheid and a “hunt” for anyone who was not of the socialist-communist thought group.
Suddenly the problems started becoming more serious every day to a point where neighbours, family and friends began conflicting. Every day, political discussions were creating verbal clashes and fights –creating divisions in all social strata. I saw families quarrelling, parents and children going weeks without speaking, feuding friends and even spouses who divorced for political positions. On the street I got to see and attend anti-government marches as the situation became increasingly difficult, riots, clashes where injuries to both sides resulted in death, wounded people, prisoners.
Ordinary citizens who never thought to live by politics have become violent. I have seen looting and fights in markets for food. I had to run away and hide from the police on several occasions just to protest peacefully and it is why many demonstrations ended in violence as each day the government tries harder to prohibit the rights of citizen protest. I know people who are in prison even today for issuing opinions on Twitter. I was threatened for the same reason by civilian agents doing espionage operations on behalf of the government. A person working for the government knew one of my best friends and I was warned prior to the intimidation. I had to throw my phone into a river and change my twitter account, take some vacation days so as to not go to work because I was being followed everywhere. I did not know or think that this could happen to me or my family. I had to alert my circle of family and friends and make an escape plan for emergencies in case the situation got out of hand. It was only because the person that called to alert me deleted me from the “watch lists” of the government that this situation was diffused for me.
The political police operated from situation rooms operated by the national telephone (Cantv) and from the state oil company (PDVSA) which handle calls for the SEBIN (political police in Venezuela), Collectivos (civil arm of the revolution) and they were also advised by the Cuban Secret Police (G2). Still, I cannot talk about certain things like government policies by phone or send messages to certain family members. In my case have a family member who is in the army and this makes things even more delicate. If I want to talk to him personally it must be very low profile so no one hears because in the country there are thousands of “cooperating patriots” who are nothing but spies. They are led by political authorities and report to police or military. Any time the government wants, they can raise a case against any citizen and the courts are illegal and arbitrary. There have even been cases of illegal kidnapping where people are taken and placed in the custody of the state police (SEBIN) or Directorate of Military Intelligence (DIM) without any due process in the courts.
Unfortunately, in Venezuela the law does not matter, because the executive is king in this false democracy.
Also, I was placed on the Tascon lists. These were lists proposed by a Chavista deputy against people who had not signed for Chavez in the referendum of 2003. In that poll, people had to sign the referendum, give their name in full and their ID, thus exposing their intention to sign against the government. I was sacked from my job along with 65 other people including a pregnant woman. Across the country lists were applied in ministries, public bodies and even state banks where, after the referendum, thousands were denied credit. This was all handled through websites and in all public bodies they were looking for names on the list. If you were found to be one of the signatories against Chavez, immediately you were fired.
Also I saw hundreds of marches where public employees were (and still are) forced to march in favour of the government under threat of being thrown out of their jobs. They have compulsory attendance lists, in order to facilitate the coercion, abuse and threats which have become part of Venezuelan daily life because in a country without investment and employment, with little work you end up doing without.
I saw the death, political disease and all the mystery that surrounded the Chavez and Maduro governments which have caused our national disaster.
I could continue for many more pages, but it would be too long to read. What we experienced in recent years (16 to be exact) has been painful, dangerous, sad and traumatic. I’ve seen our people lose freedoms and things that were previously so normal that today we remember jokingly in a phrase that translates to “When we were happy and did not know”. It refers to everything that we did or bought or had and is now impossible to achieve or lost, perhaps forever. The people of Venezuela have lived many things that maybe you there in the world do not understand, we have raised up time and again against the oppression of Chavez and now Maduro (Remembering the uprising that occurred during months from February 12, 2014) and each time have been severely repressed. We have every day lower social and economic freedoms, less political rights.
Fortunately, I feel that the government is on the ropes in terms of popularity. I think the coming election on December 6 there is a light at the end of the tunnel because if we can change the parliament of the National Assembly to the opposition, we can see the beginning of slow changes.
We know all of the pitfalls and risks we have ahead of us, but the country is sick of Chavismo-Madurismo, and as my gray hairs begin to appear I know that if there is not a political-economic change in Venezuela very soon, political violence will certainly return to the streets.
Now I have a young child and I want to make a better country. Now I know how important it is to have a proper democracy because of what we lost.
With the dawn we will see.