A Postcard from the Heartland of Venezuela’s Revolution
Español Much has been said about Venezuela recently, most of it negative. Specifically, horror stories abound about the scarcity and misery resulting from the disastrous policies pursued by the Chavista government and its so-called revolution. However, these accounts tend to focus on the metropolitan center and, in particular, on the capital of Caracas.
The quality of life for the average Venezuelan has decreased dramatically over the past few years. However, those who live in Caracas and its environs should consider themselves relatively well-off compared to the rest of the country.
One example of their comparative privilege is the gasoline shortage that gripped Venezuela in November. While cities and towns countrywide faced long lines at the pump, life in the capital went on unaffected.
Despite the repression and shortages that residents of the capital face daily, Caracas at least benefits from being the base of government elites, who won’t permit themselves to live in too much squalor. The interior of the country, on the other hand, enjoys no such luck.
Small Town, Big Hell
Many would think that living in the countryside, far from the turmoil of Caracas, would guarantee you greater security and peace. But that couldn’t be farther from the reality. In Venezuela we have a popular saying: small town, big hell. It’s something that applies now more than ever.
In many Venezuelan towns, armed confrontations between criminal gangs right outside your front door are considered normal.
The latest civilian safety index compiled by Gallup concludes that Venezuela is the world’s most dangerous country. In the case of small towns, danger is everywhere. Everyone knows who the criminals are on their block, and how many people their neighbors have killed. Yet nobody dares to complain because thugs are linked to the local police and have friends within the judicial system.
In Valle de la Pascua, a small town in the central state of Guárico, not even the main streets can be considered safe.
In this town, and many others like it, armed confrontations between criminal gangs right outside your front door are considered normal. The rule is to be home by six in the afternoon and don’t venture out until the next day. Here, being the victim of a crime at night is considered “your fault,” simply for having been outside when it happened.
In the country as in the capital, the Venezuelan state has absolved itself of responsibilities such as ensuring citizens’ safety. However, it has proven very effective in other pursuits, such as generating fear and mistrust of the government itself.
Rapidly Heading South
Goods become even scarcer the further you venture from the capital, with the most basic products being the most expensive and difficult to find. While supermarkets struggle on in big cities, towns host only small, poorly equipped stores. These sometimes refuse to sell goods to anybody but friends of the owner. Those who have relatives in the cities constantly await shipments of supplies that are nonexistent in the countryside.
The same applies to medicine and medical treatments. Hospitals in the country are in bad shape, and are barely prepared to treat certain diseases. Civilians must care for themselves or make the trek to Caracas to receive adequate medical treatment. Private clinics are an option, but are prohibitively expensive for the average Venezuelan.
As usual, the state has failed in its attempt to aid the middle class through social programs such as Mercal, the Venezuelan Food Producer and Distributor (PVDAL), and Integral Diagnostic Centers (CDI). It has squandered resources on needless programs which undermine the productive capacity of the market and direct support where its least needed.
Dependent on Distant Paternalism
Unfortunately, there is little chance of change around the corner. Paradoxically, it is precisely these remote and marginalized areas of the country that provide a key power base for Venezuela’s governmental elite. The forcible closure of private educational establishments means that many are forced to go through public schools, where students are often exposed to Chavista indoctrination.
The state has also secured its hold over the provinces by expropriating herds, farms and private companies, such as agricultural vendor Agroisleña, now renamed Agropatria. When nothing remains of the agriculture industry and private employment, citizens living in the countryside are left with no option other than government jobs, which demand political loyalty to the Maduro regime.
Citizens thus fall for the false paternalism of the Venezuelan state, and consider the government the good guy in the daily horror story of their lives. They don’t realize that the government is responsible for scarcity, the failure of public services and rampant crime. The humble origins of former president Chávez also help to endear the regime to rural people, who have only been exploited by his regime and its successors.
Venezuela — from the capital to the countryside — has fallen ill with a massive case of Stockholm Syndrome. The victims are the Venezuelan people, who fail to see that the socialism they revere has only betrayed them.
Translated by Peter Sacco. Edited by Laurie Blair.