A Venezuelan’s Warning
I received this letter today from a Venezuelan exile I met in Spain this week, doing publicity for Vivir Sin Mentiras, the Spanish-language version of Live Not By Lies. She gives me permission to post it:
When I got here I felt the way Jonas Mekas explains in his film about his memories from his own exile: he got to New York and saw people sitting in the park, or drinking coffee, and all he could think was “we’re being killed over there” and people were just sitting there peacefully minding their own business. That’s great to me, the fact that people can live like that, because it usually means they’re not in a totalitarian dictatorship. I get that now, the fact that people don’t want to hear about these things. It’s not something you can relate to or even assimilate.In Spain they do pay somewhat attention because of Podemos [the Communist Party, in the coalition government — RD]. But at some point the “Venezuelan warning” became old, worn out. People didn’t even want to know about it, it made them uncomfortable, they would get annoyed. I stopped trying to tell people about this, you can’t talk to someone who doesn’t want to listen. I get it now, it’s very annoying. I used to get very angry, I still do but not so frequently, because well-educated people I’ve met, that I would consider not to be leftists, would say in extreme pride It Can’t Happen Here (I finally understood that education has nothing to do with it). I used to tell people that they should be saving up to get their kids out of the country if necessary, not right now, but to have it in the background as a future option just in case, and that I don’t want them to have their kids resent them because they didn’t realize that something needed to be done then, that they weren’t paying enough attention to the signs and then it’s too late, they’re stuck in a totalitarian regime.I didn’t tell you this, but I was born here in Spain, and my parents returned to Venezuela when I was a child. That’s why we fled here, me and my husband. We used to work together at Penguin Random House in Caracas, he’s Venezuelan too. He is a very good editor, so good that he was the only employee from PRH Venezuela who was relocated to PRH Colombia when it got shut down. I left with him to go to Bogota for two years (at that time it wasn’t quite an “exile”, because it is so close to home and the company would fly me or him out to see our families) and we came back to Venezuela when the president died.We saw everything fall apart VERY quickly. By this I don’t mean things were good before that; they were not. But it all degenerated even more. No water. No food. No electricity. No medical assistance, pills, anything like that. People would die from not being able to find antibiotics except on the black market, and people can’t afford that. It’s a constant state of fear. It is not easy to comprehend, I know. One time I was at a drug store and a man came in and asked for something, some pill, the lady from the pharmacy told him they’ve been out of those since she could remember, and the man lost it and yelled out “what is this, do these people (meaning the government) want all of us to die?!” Yes, I thought. That’s exactly what they want.“Look”, I say to people here to explain what goes on over there, “what do you do when you get up in the morning? Do you go to the bathroom and brush your teeth?” Well, imagine there’s no toothpaste (I found out just after leaving the country to come here that they had started to sell toothpaste not by the tube, but by the amount that your toothbrush can fit, because it was so scarce and whole tubes were so expensive). When you turn the water on, there’s no water coming out. So you start saving up water when it comes; everyone over there knows this: you get as many containers as you can and you fill them up (the water used to come out brown in color, so you would have to boil it if you had a gas-powered kitchen, if you had an electric one, you’re pretty much screwed). Of course, you tried to take a bath using the water in the container, but soap was scarce too. And shampoo. Doing your laundry or the dishes became a matter of saving as much water and soap as you could. And I’m talking about the lucky ones that get the water at least once a week, some people go without any water for fifteen days or a month, or more. Living like this of course leads to many health problems (it is very hot all year long, and mosquitoes are a very serious plague; malaria is back, for example), not to mention the hygienic problems. When people got really bad colds, and the equivalent of Tylenol, or any other over the counter medicine for fever wasn’t anywhere to be found, the government announced on TV that people should grow their own “fever-dropping herbs” like moringa and others at home. They said it with a smile on their faces, like it was a breakthrough, proudly, like saying “you don’t need big capitalist pharmaceutical companies”.So, let’s say you’ve done all this and you have to leave for work. Ok, there’s a shortage of gasoline. You don’t have any in your car (for those who own a car) and the lines to get it are a day (or several days) long. So you take the subway (at least in Caracas, the only city with a subway) because most bus drivers don’t have gasoline either. Well, if you’re lucky enough to get there when the electricity is working, you have to be SO aware of everything going on around you, it is very, very dangerous to live in Caracas. The percentage of impunity is 99%. I’ve seen people get murdered (and I lived in a “good” neighborhood). My friend told me about a co-worker who was on a bus when armed robbers got on and one of them raped a girl on the floor of the bus while the other ones pointed their guns at the rest after taking everything they had with them. Even when inflation made it impossible for anyone to carry around large amounts of money on them, there were these gangs that got on the bus with a POS terminal and made everyone put their credit cards in it, they emptied the accounts at gunpoint. These situations are very common. Going to the police to report any of this is a laughing matter (seriously, policemen will laugh in your face; they’re as scared as a regular citizen, these gangs rob them, beat them, take away their guns…). Neighbors have had to organize themselves through WhatsApp groups to alert each other if robbers or the State police are coming, and they’ve figured out all these barbaric ways to defend themselves, like having a pot full of hot oil or water to drop on them if they try to enter people’s homes. I know this is horrible but I understand it and I would defend myself and my loved ones too. We took what we saved up from being in Colombia and decided to come here, because here we wouldn’t be illegal citizens and it would be easier to open up a bank account, get a job, a place to rent. Many of our friends and family fled anywhere else they could: Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Miami, Colombia, Ecuador. I haven’t seen any of them since, or my own mother for that matter. I’m not trying to be a victim, I am very lucky. I’m not that poor girl from North Korea on the news. If you read this you’ll see https://www.abc.es/internacional/abci-pista-alma-venezuela-sobrevive-colombia-202104232336_reportaje.html what Venezuelans who flee on foot to Colombia are going through. They live literally on a pile of garbage. And they say they’re better off like that than back in our country.So this is how it works: the government (meaning the State, the Executive, the judges, the Socialist Party, it’s all the same) came up with this law that forbids you from having other currencies besides the local one. You could go to prison for this. Of course, there’s the black market, and everybody knows about it and sells and buys American dollars. But as a private company, let’s say one that makes shoes, for instance, you can’t get the dollars yourself to pay for the piece that broke off the machine you use to glue the shoes together (for example) because that piece is imported, so you have to ask the government for the money by filling out a form that says you need whatever amount for this, and they will pay the seller abroad for you instead of giving you the dollars. Then the company pays the equivalent in local currency to the government. This means that companies never actually have foreign money, all of it is in the State’s hands, which of course is a perfect gateway to steal from everybody. They control who can import things (they can refuse to approve the money for you), they control how much money to approve, they control what things can be imported. So let’s say companies import 10% of what they used to, and sell things much more expensively than before, and so scarcity begins. The companies who refuse to do this, and manage to get their things elsewhere or whatever, get an intervention from the State and usually get shut down, bought, or “expropriated”, a euphemism for stolen, of course. I have a family member who used to be a pig farmer, and was kidnapped for almost a year. They wanted money in exchange for letting him be.And because things are scarce, the government says something like (as Lenin and as every socialist after him said) “we need to intervene. Fascists hoarders are to blame for the scarcity, they don’t want poor people to be able to buy things”. They tell the military to take control of the distribution on companies and supermarkets and stores. And so lines are hours long, just to see if you can buy a single milk carton. Sometimes, like in Ukraine and East Germany and so on, people stood there even when the store was closed, “because you don’t know if or when they’re getting something new”. You would see the stores that sell bread with signs that said “NO BREAD” and a huge line outside. People just waiting to see if the store would get bread out sometime during the day. And you had to be there first, because if bread did come, it would be a little amount of bread, so the last in line would probably go home empty-handed.In here, the ones who are most concerned talk about the tragedy “approaching”, I tell them no, it is already happening, they’re here, and they are patient (as you know, evil is very patient) and they will destroy everything if given the chance to do so. And I’m scared, again. It’s not like I didn’t know Spain was socialist before we came here, I just wanted out, I lived in constant fear for my husband’s life, my mother’s, my friends’. And here I hit the switch and the light turns on (if I’ve paid for it of course, like anywhere else), and I go out and there’s plenty of food for me to buy, so anything is better than being back there. But I know the signs are there, I am very aware of them all the time.Anyway, this email is already very long. I will stop now. Thank you again for listening, reading, and for saying the things you said because people might listen now that it is you saying them. God bless you.
We have been warned. We are being warned.