Immense corruption forces thousands of citizens to flee their country
Venezuela, a country in the north of South-America, located between Colombia and Brazil with a population of more than 32 million people, is being held hostage by their own government. Already more than 10% of Venezuelan citizens fled their home country to live a better life. In the past, Venezuela hosted thousands of refugees from the region and other parts of the world. Now the number of people from Venezuela compelled to leave their homes continues to increase. There has already been a 4000% increase in the number of Venezuelans seeking refugee status worldwide since 2014. Things are not getting better. On the contrary, life in Venezuela is becoming more and more unbearable day by day. I met with a Venezuelan family in Wetteren, Belgium, that fled their country, eager to work and start a better life here in Europe. Parents Horacio and Mathilde (48) and their sons David (19) and Andrés (14) explain to me how the political strings are attached to each other.
© Janne Schellingen
Horacio: I think maybe 5 or 6 years ago, the situation in Venezuela started getting worse and worse every day. Especially the last 3 years things got unbearable. We had a normal life and we were able to buy the things we needed. But the last few years have been very difficult. The first years, okay, it was difficult but maybe you can find something in different places, but day after day the inflation started to rise more and more.
According to the IMF, the inflation in Venezuela is expected to rise this year with 13.000%.
I had a job in administrations and Mathilde is a psychologist. We both have university degrees. After some time our income wasn’t enough anymore to buy the basic things that a family needs: food, medicines, clothes. Then we realised it was time to think, because if we ignored the situation, our family would suffer a lot and end up in a very bad situation.
I have a special condition, I am diabetic. In my country there are no medicines, you can’t find alcohol or cotton for a wound. It’s very hard. I have to use insulin but it’s extremely hard to get and it’s very expensive.
Millions of Venezuelan people have already fled the country. There is an enormous shortage of food and medicines.
In Venezuela, a lot of children live on the streets. Mathilde and I were volunteers helping the children in need, even though we didn’t have much either. We were part of an organisation that always did everything in their power to help. We love to help people. The organisation sent a blackboard to the streets and we started teaching the children. We were teaching them about how to prevent drugs, the dangers of sex without contraceptives, which are also very hard to get here. We also taught them bout illness and how to take control of angriness. How to read, how to write, how to speak… We always tried to mix these lessons into games so it was attractive for the children to learn. The project is called ‘streetwise’.
“The money is one of the situations but the real situation is that it’s very dangerous to live in Venezuela.” – Horacio
David: Once me and my family were walking on the streets and we went to a Subway to get some sandwiches. All of a sudden a man with a big gun came in and told everyone to give him your money and cell phone. We had to because otherwise you can be killed, you don’t want to take the risk. Events like this happen often in Venezuela. These gangsters can make a lot of money by stealing smartphones and selling them. Maybe they are trying to survive too. Everyone is scared.
The political situation
Horacio: We have a very typical political situation. The situation started 20 years ago with Chávez. He started a new way of politics in our country. Now, 20 years later, we know that this is not politics, it’s populism. He said that he will make everything better for the people and that he would provide everyone with social security and health. He said that everyone would have the possibility to buy a house or a car and that education would be free for everybody, but that was a big lie.
“He called it the socialism of the 21st century” – David
David: For us, this is the kind of real socialism, here in Belgium. Almost everyone has the same opportunities. Chávez and Maduro (current president of Venezuela) say that if you have this kind of life, you are not a socialist country, you are an empire.
“For them, Belgium, the United States, European Union, all these rich countries compared to normal countries are an empire.” – David
Horacio: When Mathilde and I were as young as our children are now, Venezuela was a wealthy country. Everything was going well, but then politicians started to corrupt. Venezuela is still a rich country because we have the biggest oil reserve in the world, but the normal citizens don’t receive any kind of benefits from it. We have friends in our country that have been engineers and doctors for more than 10 years and they are still struggling to buy food for themselves.
Mathilde: In the beginning of Chávez’ reign, he offered a lot of social guarantees for the poor and it was very good. But then after a while, it started to turn more into a communist dictatorship. The democratic system in Venezuela was starting to disappear step by step.
David: The things that a government normally has to deal with, they don’t do. Instead of taking care of the people, they take companies to make money for their own pockets. We only have one food store left that is private, the rest is owned by the government. When these companies get taken by the government, they go bankrupt most of the time, because they don’t have the experience to manage the company as well as the original private manager.
Mathilde: I worked in one of the most important state companies for more than 10 years. In the province that we used to live in, you can find a lot of minerals and diamonds and this company was managing all these resources. I worked as a psychologist in the health care centre of the company and I started receiving treats from my boss because of my political position.
They started to put a lot of pressure onto me. They changed my agenda day by day and took away my office. They allowed me to only work for four hours instead of eight, which made it more difficult for me to financially support my family because my income got halved. I tried to ignore everything and keep fighting, but I had to resign after some time. My mental and emotional health is more valuable than the things I can do. It is like this in almost every governmental industry in our country.
If you don’t share the same political way of thinking, you get fired in the best case. In the worst case, you can go to jail. There are already a lot of doctors, teachers, politicians and especially journalists in jail. There is no freedom of speech.
“We had to flee the country because our names are on a list” – Mathilde
The main reason why we had to flee the country is because our names are on list of the government because Horacio and I voted against Chávez in the elections. Normally your voice is anonymous and kept secret, but not in Venezuela. If you are on that list, the government watches you and they try to take everything away from you, like my job. That is why there are almost no protestations in Venezuela. Because if you participate in these events, the government sends their military to kill citizens. They also take capture people to put in prison and take pictures of everyone to put in the database of the list.
Horacio: If you vote against Chávez, the government knows everything about you. Your name, address, where I voted, where I live, what my job is, how much money I have in my bank account, where my children study,…
Corruption makes the people poor
Horacio: The current political ideology say that they try to spend a big budget for the people and for social activities, but it’s big lie. All this money and all this budget is stolen. The governor, ministers and even the president put the money from the corruption in accounts located in countries like Monaco and Luxemburg. Everyone knows that they have millions of euros in these accounts because it got exposed.
Almost all this money in our country is from oil and petroleum business. It is supposed to be invested in maintaining social assistance as well as all the technical needs of the country like electricity, gas, petroleum,… That is why we are experiencing black-outs throughout the whole country. It is because we don’t have maintenance in the electricity. Sometimes the lights go out and you don’t know when the electricity will work again. For us it is mind-blowing to see Brussels light up for 24 hours constantly.
David: It happens often but the government doesn’t care about it. It has become a habit. The only care about their own wealth and money. But for the people, it is really important.
Freedom of speech
Horacio: We cannot do anything about it to change it. Here in Europe, people gather in the streets and raise their voice when they are not happy about their governments decisions. In Venezuela, if you say that there is a problem in the maintenance of the electricity and the energy system, the government says that you are against them and you can go to jail. Two months ago, one of the engineers said that it’s not sabotage that the government says that is causing these black-outs, but because there is no maintenance in the transmission lines. Three days after his statement, he appears dead. And nobody knows how. It’s something you can’t prove whether it’s the government or not, but it’s something that is happening every day in our country when somebody says something. That cannot be a coincidence.
Elections of 2019
On the 21th of May, it was officially declared that Maduro won the elections again with 5.8 million votes, in contrary to his challenger Henri Falcon who lost with only 1.8 million votes. A big notable gap. Falcon announced shortly before the results were announced that he does not corroborate the elections. “For us this was not an election”, he said, as he demands new elections.
Among other things, he said that members of the ruling socialist party carried out identity checks in the neighbourhood of polling stations using “12.711 red points” and promised voters rewards if they voted for Maduro. That represents 87.6% of the 1.400 electoral offices. In addition, several Falcon supporters were prevented from entering polling stations. The opposition candidate also condemned the fact that many polling stations remained open longer than planned.
The elections were boycotted by the main opposition parties, who joined in the coalition “Table of Democratic Unity” (MUD). According to them, participation would legitimize the illegal elections. There was also a lot of criticism of the polls from abroad. Fourteen South American countries, the European Union and the United States have condemned the elections as undemocratic.
The election result is a “farce,” responded American Vice President Mike Pence. The US is threatening with “rapid economic and diplomatic measures” against the country. “As long as the Maduro regime has not put Venezuela back on the trail of democracy through free elections, the international community will isolate the government.” President Donald Trump signed a decree with additional sanctions against the regime. They will limit the possibilities for the government to get fresh money, it is said.
Text: Brent Geenen