Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Yesterday I sat on a street corner in Cuenca, Ecuador and talked with Cesar from Maracaibo, Venezuela.
He was sitting with his 5 year old daughter. His wife had gone to the hospital with their son as he had developed a fever. They had walked 18 days across Colombia and halfway through Ecuador. They left their home, car (no fuel or money) and the friends who had not yet fled. Cesar’s family were solidly middle class, but food shortages worry them so much they decided to leave. Their daughter had stopped growing.
*I think this particular tragedy touches me more deeply than most because it is the one crisis that could actually happen to any of us. Unless you have land and the ability to produce food, the utter collapse of the economic system renders all one’s good choices; saving, investing, working, etc irrelevant.
I try to imagine walking weeks away from home to sit on a street corner begging for scraps, simply because populism and corruption has ruined my economy. Meeting so many Venezuelans in this situation brings this possibility to life.
Below is the article I wrote in February – I had hope the regime would have collapsed by the beginning of March. It has not ….
The ongoing tragedy of events unfolding in Venezuela is desperate. The populist regime is failing at almost every level – and it should fail. Ideally peacefully and quickly.
The country’s slide into economic ruin has lead to massive medicine shortages and over three million people fleeing to neighbouring countries. So is this the failure of socialism, or something else more sinister?
Here we need to uncouple a few mantras that have emerged in the populist western media. Venezuela is to (democratic) socialism as conservatism is to Saudi Arabia. There is just no moral equivalency between advocating for universal healthcare and the Maduro regime.
Once again on Facebook someone commented on a post; “if you like socialism so much, go live in Venezuela!” This was stupid the first time and it remains stupid. Certainly, elements of the populist media have branded anything the least bit ‘social’ as Venezuela.
From my slightly left of centre progressive perspective, healthcare, the environment, education, poverty, infrastructure and access to opportunity are reasonable goals that can be achieved through good governance and wealth distribution.
This philosophical perspective is far less sexy than slogan chanting and blame, but it does require real math, balancing wealth creation with (free-market) innovation and finding a reasonable balance of taxation. We can even explore public versus private ownership, retirement support, affirmative action and gender distribution.
Venezuela – a chronically unequal society since the colonial period – responded to this inequality through nationalization of its massive oil reserves, slogan chanting and a shunning of the private sector. Yes, this may be socialist, yet the OPEC country continues to sell its oil on the world market while supporting a regime that now barely pretends to defend the rights of its hungry citizens.
This populist extremism has been the plague of Latin America for generations. Through the 1970’s, brutal right wing populist military governments enjoyed corrupt power while trying to beat their populations into ‘order.’ Overall this failed.
Argentina is still shaking from their 1970s dirty war followed by Kirchner’s populist pseudo-leftist nationalism.
Chile has done much better, but Pinochet’s dictatorship killed thousands. Where Chile has been more successful is through fighting corruption (draining the swamp so to speak). Overall the police in Chile and Costa Rica are indisputably the least corrupt in Latin America. Guess which countries are doing the best?
The far-left extremism in Colombia resulted in thousands of deaths and kidnappings. There is no excuse for this, but it is worth noting, those movements emerged from right-wing conservative corruption, then drug lords (Pablo Escobar) and violent paramilitaries.
Setting aside the collapse of Venezuela and the recent uprisings in Nicaragua – and perhaps now the twit in Brazil – the region is doing remarkably well. Left-wing revolution and Catholic fascism is gradually being replaced with conversations about public investment, gender equality, education reform, environmental stewardship and indigenous rights.
Latin America in general and the Andes region specifically may be my personal favourite place earth. There is so much I love about those cultures and the magnificent environment. I look forward to those countries taking their rightful place as leaders for our global future.
Venezuela is going through a terrible time.
3 million people have left – and despite some of the typical nationalist grumblings, most people in neighbouring countries understand these refugees and want to help. I particularly want to highlight Colombia in this respect. The two countries are sister republics and Colombians remember fleeing to Venezuela during their years of suffering.
I have one Chilean friend who has told me for 10 years how Chile ‘can’t absorb any more people,’ yet magically Chile’s economy continues to expand and gradually people are mixing and enjoying their new diversity.
Democratic conversations are complicated. Economics are complicated. When I am sharing my concerns or hope about local government on my region, the response just simply shouldn’t be; “go live in Venezuela you communist!”
Equally, let’s stop suggesting refugees are criminals. The Venezuelans leaving are looking for work – and even food and medicine.
Those leaving Honduras are long-term victims of generally right-wing corruption. Remember the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s. These people were terrorized by foreign-financed right-wing paramilitaries during the cold war.
Rios Montt in Guatemala was an American-supported christian dictator in the early 1980s who may have killed over 50 000 people. That is the recent reality (and we can go back much further) in Central America.
None of this happens in isolation and it is complicated.
So let’s be clear. I dislike populism – it is dangerous and the extremes are vast. At the most extreme Fascists (including Hitler and Mussolini) are populists. Chavez certainly was a populist, Correa of Ecuador (who houses the weird Wikileaks guy in their embassy), Kirchner in Argentina spouted populist rhetoric, the new Italian and ongoing Hungarian governments have hard-right populist leanings, ‘Make America Great Again’ reeks of populism and ‘Socialist-Christian’ Ortega in Nicaragua is enjoying his family’s great wealth while the population struggles to survive.
In our modern democracy, there are good conversations to have regarding appropriate taxation, rules, trade deals, etc. This is nuanced and meaningful. Venezuela is not nuanced and almost all countries in the region have now called for Maduro to step down – or at least for real elections.
It is high time we understand the term we seem to yell at each other.
N.B. In this post and occasionally elsewhere we use ‘stock photos’ (e.g from pxhere.com), these have either been put available for use under the CC 1.0 creative commons license or available for editorial (news not commercial) use. Although we believe that tourism is important and can often bring so much to countries, there are times when it is not safe or appropriate and this is what we mean by travelling the right way. So on occasion we use photos we have not taken but we always check they are licence and copyright free. Any questions please contact us!
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