Good background: https://smarthernews.com/19-03-12-venezuela/
Maria Victoria Cowley recently graduated from the University of Texas. The daughter of an American dad and Venezuelan mom, Victoria interviewed her family members about their life in Venezuela. They provide a unique perspective, a window to the past, about a country many talk about but few have visited. Here’s the transcript of her conversation with her family : her 83-year-old Grandma, her aunts (Kati, Edilia and Zaira), and her mother, Zuly.
Q: What is your opinion on the suspension of all commercial and cargo flights to Venezuela?
A: [Katiuska]: It’s nothing we aren’t used to or unprepared for. Direct flights to and from Venezuela have been scarce for months in attempts of keeping people in the country. People wanting to travel to Venezuela nowadays have to make their trip longer. They’ll have layovers in different countries like Panama or Curaçao, then continue on to Venezuela from there. Not necessarily convenient but it works.
Q: How was life in Venezuela pre-Chavez?
A: [Edilia]: It was a free Venezuela. It was paradise. It was a time when all Venezuelans felt like they were on top of the world because of the economic prosperity in the country. It was uncommon for people to travel regularly; parents would send kids to study abroad and learn English. Tourism was booming. American loved to travel to Venezuela.
[Zaira]: It was very stable. Nothing like it is now. Not even close. We had everything accessible to us—different foods, imported goods, basic necessities. Everyone worked, and had stable jobs. Yes, there were still social classes in place, but even the humblest of people, had food on their table. Just like in any country, there was crime and insecurity, but now people are afraid to go outside.
Q: How is life post-Chavez (in Maduro’s current regime)?
A: [Zaira]: Last time I went to Venezuela in 2015, I wanted to cry, because grocery stores were near empty. Shelves were lined of vinegar and almost nothing else. For basic foods like rice, eggs and milk, people had to stand in long lines, which sometimes resulted in arguments and even then some would leave empty handed.
Last time I checked, the minimum wage was $6 a month. Who can live off that? A single egg is costing about $1.25. Families aren’t sustainable anymore. People have one meal a day if they’re lucky, and what they have is not very nutritious. Kids are dying of starvation. Sick people are dying from lack of medicine. There are power outages every day.
[Katiuska]: It’s complete misery. Even for those who have the means to buy food and basic necessities like soap and toilet paper, it’s a nightmare, because there’s a shortage of these items. That’s why people are fleeing to nearby countries like Colombia.
Q: Did you vote for Chavez? If so, do you have any regrets?
A: [Katiuska]: Absolutely not! I was at university at the time and people who knew even just a little bit about politics knew not to vote for Chavez, because they knew he was an extremist. Before he launched his presidency, with a completely new political party by the way, he tried to overpower then President Carlos Andres Perez in a coup d’etat. People sensed that he was dangerous for the country.
[Zuleika]: Chavez used a strategy of change, because even though Venezuela was prosperous and democratic prior to Chavez, there was still corruption and poverty. President Perez was accused of embezzling millions of bolivars, and things like that are what bothered the people. Those are the things Chavez promised he would eliminate. He fooled the people. But Rafel Caldera, Chavez’s predecessor, was a great leader. He established Venezuela’s democracy and made the country, one of the most stable in all of Latin America. Chavez said he would continue Caldera’s leadership, while enhancing it. He painted a picture of perfection, trying to make better what was already good. We were wrong.
[Zaira]: Of course I regret it! Everyone was saying Chavez was the man to vote for, and I believed them. I fell into the hype, and didn’t pay attention to the warning signs. When people voted for Chavez, it was because he promised things he did not keep. As soon as he was in office, he changed Venezuela’s constitution. He changed the term from 5 years to 8 years, for example. Not even a week into his presidency, people realized their mistake. When he saw that he no longer had the support he initially had, he started turning against the people. He started buying the people and stealing votes. To gain votes, he would give out bags of food just to keep people content. That’s still what’s going on with Maduro now. Bribery.
Q: Fondest memory of Venezuela?
A: [Edilia]: Orinoco Mining Company was hiring Venezuelans who had even just a little bit of English fluency. I was newly married with your grandfather, and he was in search of a job, so we packed our things and moved to Puerto Ordaz. The 1950’s was when the United States began extracting iron from cities like Puerto Ordaz. The relationship between Americans and Venezuelans was peaceful, friendly. American ships would bring in toys and Christmas trees from the United States that the Americans would share with the workers. It was a happy time.
Q: Opinions on Juan Guaidó?
A: [Zaira]: I think he’s doing a good job. I think he’s a very intelligent man and that he’s doing what he can. We can’t give up and be pessimistic. I personally think he’s our hope man.
[Zuleika]: People also need to realize he can’t do this alone. He needs support.
[Edilia]: He’s very bold, and I think fortune favors the bold. But I don’t think he will be elected our formal president once this is over, he’s too young.
[Zaira]: He might be young, but he’s very prepared. He’s capable enough to fight for the people, and not only that but he’s show he has the grit and mental strength to do so. Most people would be scared of something so challenging.
Q: What would you want American citizens to know about Venezuela?
A: [Katiuska]: Too many things. Venezuela has a lot of professional and intelligent people, and it is a country that has, or had, so much to give. Venezuela has so much money, we could easily be a first-world country. But unfortunately, due to poor administration, we are sub-developed.
[Zaira]: It’s a very beautiful country. I wish people would admire it more. We have the Angel Falls, the Caroni River, beaches, mountains, rainforests. There’s a lot of diversity in Venezuela. And now no matter what state you’re from, we’re all united by the current state of events. We’ve easily regressed 20 years. We were once the richest country in Latin American, and now look at us. We’ve fallen into ruin.
[Zuleika]: Venezuela could easily pay off their debt to other countries, but the money is all being robbed by the administration. We are such a wealthy country, and yet there is no food, some days there is no currency in circulation. It’s quite ironic.
[Edilia]: People in power are funneling the money out of Venezuela and into their foreign bank accounts. Meanwhile, Venezuelan people are dying. There is a complete disregard for human life. And now people are afraid to protest or take action because they will be killed.
Venezuela has everything. We have iron, aluminum, gold, diamonds, uranium. Not to mention petroleum, and pure petroleum at that. So many things that other countries are hungry for.
[Zaira]: Don’t forget the most beautiful women! Venezuela holds the most titles for Miss Universe. But yes, Cuba, Russia and China are taking advantage of the country. Most military fighting for Maduro isn’t even Venezuelan, they’re from Cuba.
I also think it’s important for people to know that Venezuelans are being humiliated everywhere they go. They run away to places like Peru and Ecuador and end up getting belittled. It’s quite sad that Venezuelans aren’t getting the selfless help they deserve.
Q: What is the biggest difference between life in the United States and life in Venezuela?
A: [Katiuska]: Life in Venezuela isn’t so routine. People work, but there isn’t so much emphasis put on work like there is here. People in Venezuela, in my opinion, are closer with their families. We don’t have to call ahead of time to visit friends or family, we just stop by and we’re usually invited inside to eat or have something as simple as a coffee.
[Angelica]: As a teenager, it’s weird spending time in both places, because in the United States I can hang out with friends and go to the movie theatre without a second thought. But in Venezuela, as soon as it gets dark, the streets are empty, because people are afraid to be outside. It’s also interesting to put things like serving sizes into perspective. Here, you can refill your cup two, three times if you want, and in Venezuela, they serve your drink for you with mostly ice so they don’t waste too much of whatever your drinking.
[Zaira]: It’s very different, but you know what? I like life here in the United States. I think you learn to value things a lot more. I bless this country every day, just like I bless Venezuela, but I admire how much more smoothly things are run here. You are expected to abide by the law, and you aren’t fearful that you’re under a dictatorship. The United States is very charitable and respectful. There’s a lot of good people here, and I think there are plenty of opportunities. No matter your economic background you are given the chance to succeed if you want. Sometimes people in Venezuela and other Latin American countries can’t do that, sometimes only upper class people have those opportunities.
Q: What future do you see for Venezuela?
A: [Zaira]: We have faith that democracy will be reinstated. I personally haven’t lost faith that Venezuela will get better in the name