Today we welcome back our friend Jose, who wrote the awesome article about Christmas in Venezuela. It was so well-received that I invited him back to do a recurring series. In this piece, he begins telling us the story about how his country started the slide into a slow-motion collapse. Jose is a heck of a storyteller and he leaves us hanging at the end, but don’t worry, Part 2 is coming soon! ~ Daisy
My Story of the Collapse of Venezuela
I believe it is the moment of an introduction for our readers to know how everything began. Venezuela is a wonderful country, with lots of peculiarities and attractions.
I love my country, and most of the people, even in these harsh times portraits wonderful qualities as a society that few countries in the world have.
This was once a beautiful land, relatively sparsely populated where food was plentiful, money was never scarce, and jobs were plentiful. The weather was very sunny, the days a little hot and people used to recline in their chairs in front of the door of their house and watch the neighbors go on arriving from a day’s work, and they greeted with courtesy. The neighborhoods were mostly safe. There was practically no monster known as inflation, bank loans were easily available and people often traveled to other countries without much concern for things like exchange controls, access to foreign currency, among other things.
There was no Internet, there were no so-called experimental drugs in the streets, access to a decent life was more or less possible if one had discipline and well, and in general, life was good. The cars used huge carburetors (some still use them), the fuel was abundant, and at the best prices on the planet, its inhabitants crossed the territory of almost one million km2 enjoying beautiful beaches, lonely plains, lush jungles and even the odd snow peak. The climate is optimal to live all year round with shorts, fresh clothes, and sandals.
It was very strange to hear of any deportation, and thousands of foreigners over the years came on vacation, and they stayed forever. Our beautiful women attract the attention of the whole world (and still do) and an endless line of ships left our ports, carrying their valuable black cargo to return loaded with that green paper that is accepted all over the world.
The country had an educational system of a very acceptable level. University education was free in most cases, and although the system required qualifications above the average for access to it, the demand was very high as the need for qualified professionals was such that, coming from a humble background, anyone with the ability, the desire to do it and enough enthusiasm could become a graduate and have a decent life, improving their socio-economic status and reaping the fruits of their effort and their work.
But not everything would be honey over flakes.
So much wealth of economic resources, and the inherent flaws of the lack of a solid, strong legal system, were unable to safeguard the public patrimony. With the lack of committed officials, with enough values and ethical and moral principles, It would lead to levels of corruption rarely seen in the world, with exceptions in some African republics. The main companies in the country adopted as a policy to place most of their financial resources in foreign banks. Investments in infrastructure were becoming smaller and smaller, and as the population grew and demanded services, this lack of investment became more palpable. The social policies that until then had been sufficient, with the corrupt elite that began to seize the country in those years were reduced to its minimum expression. These were the years of the second government period executed by populist (deceased) leader Carlos Andres Perez. His government was characterized by some of the biggest and darkest corrupted business of the decade. Getting in debt with the FMI was the straw that broke the camel´s back.
The fraudulent business in the government was: construction of schools, hospitals, highways, and roads, among a myriad of works that remained unfinished, without the population expressing disapproval. The political elite leaders were driving around luxury cars, escorted by heavily armed bodyguards, behaving like great lords. Most of them were soldiers who were linked at the time to the movement that gave the coup years ago. Crime grew steadily but was kept at bay by a police force that also fulfilled the role of containing “subversive” elements: people sympathetic to the concepts of the left.
Friends of the country supplied practically all industrialization needs, but technology transfer was a totally non-existent concept: the domination scheme was always maintained, and the few national companies that were able to carry out a true technological independence saw their functions paralyzed by government controls that would end up suffocating a large number of them. Despite the fact that, within the Latin American context, the professionals were among the most qualified and trained, the low wages meant that many of these professionals emigrated continuously, in a so-called brain drain that has been much more pronounced in recent years.
But let’s go slowly.
This situation led to a severe deterioration of socio-economic conditions, gradually but unswervingly creating the necessary pressure for citizens to slowly acquire the necessary awareness that a radical change was essential if they wanted improvements in their quality of life. A country with vast, enormous resources, but with inhabitants that increasingly felt the impact of inflation, a shortage that nobody could explain, and knowing this reality, seeing their political class isolated from the realities that the bulk of the population was suffering.
The whole thing was reaching a point of very high dissatisfaction. Student demonstrations, street disorders began to become more common. Corruption scandals came to light, but the guilty were seldom apprehended or put to rights. Most of the time they left fleeing to some country to enjoy the stolen riches.
This the people saw him repeat so much that he filled his already exhausted patience. On the date of February 27, 1989, after the announcement of economic measures (requested by the IMF for access to international financing) by the then President of the Republic, Carlos Andrez Perez, including an exacerbated increase in the price of gasoline, an wave of extremely violent protests, a violence like never before seen in the country, not even in the turbulent era of the guerrillas of the 60s and early 70s. The security forces were overwhelmed: poorly equipped and worse prepared to face disorders of this nature, the Government of that time had to resort. The looting was generalized in the largest cities in the country, causing terror in older citizens both nationalized and native, who paralyzed by surprise, never thought that such a situation could occur in a country so absurdly rich and prosperous.
It was not a coup attempt. It was a situation of widespread discontent, a call for attention to the Latin American style, in protest of the excesses publicly committed by the corrupt elite class of politicians who had been in power for more than 40 years through a pact known in the country as the Fixed Point Pact. Among the infinity of anecdotes that swarm among Venezuelans is known one in which an alcoholic, good-for-nothing president called Jaime Lusinchi (recently deceased in the Miami streets, like a vagabond) sent a Hercules C-130 from a military base on the island La Orchila, to the mainland … in search of ONE chest of ice to cool the president´s whiskey.
Tell me about it…
It is said that this situation was planned by the left, but in the absence of a more detailed investigation, for the moment it is difficult to confirm this theory.
What I saw personally
I would like to tell you about my experience as a young man, in the town where I lived with my parents at the time.
The day the riots began, we began to see on TV what was happening in the big cities. At the beginning, I did not understand very well what it was about, but my parents told me that the economic situation had reached an extreme where people could not take it anymore, so they took to the streets, in the first instance to protest against the package of economic measures imposed by the IMF.
The protests, perhaps moderately organized from the beginning by some factions, evolved rapidly during the course of the day, becoming looting that began in the largest cities, and quickly spread throughout the country. But let’s not get ahead …
I was in school, in high school. The teachers, around 9 am, led by the director of the institute, were classroom by classroom, from the lower grades to the older ones, evacuating us all and giving the order to go directly to our homes. Of course, what we did was divide into groups, with each group going where it seemed best. Since I had friends in my old school, I thought it would be interesting to go there and spend some time hanging around with them. As teenagers, after all, our group went there, going through what was a commercial area, and we were surprised and even had a bit of fun to see that there was no vehicle traffic, so that we were soon walking through the center of the street, without realizing that a student demonstration had come out to protest before us, and we were following it without realizing it.
In Venezuela the uniform is used until finishing secondary school, so for the eyes of the authorities, we were part of the demonstration. When we walked, we were surprised to see many people on the streets: housewives, young men and women who would normally be working, including adults and the elderly. Some of them told us not to follow, and to go home. Suddenly, we saw in front of the boys of the school we were going to, who came in the opposite direction to us, in a huge group and mixed with people of all kinds: young, elders, ladies, grown-up angry men…
(To be continued…)