By Maryann Vazquez

Working aboard a cruise ship during the 1990’s gave me an opportunity to visit Venezuela on a weekly basis; it was one of the ports on our itinerary. We docked about a 30-minute drive from Caracas or if you took public transportation, about 90 minutes on a rickety bus. The resorts and beach fronts were gorgeous. Caracas could have been any beach resort, any city not all that different from parts of Chicago or a major metropolitan area. I loved the people I became acquainted with during that time, most of whom I believe were middle-class. Now I see what is happening in Venezuela and wonder what has become of those people.

The overall income disparities were clear, as shanties lined the mountain sides and rural areas, while high end neighborhoods had homes surrounded by high walls that were gated with barred windows and doors, and on occasion even an armed guard at the entrance to a home or business. At the time I thought they must feel the need to protect themselves from the poor. It was a stable Democracy with more middle-class citizens than any other South American country, yet the gap between rich and poor? It was huge! It was also quite disturbing to see as a visitor and someone who was working with businesses in Venezuela. This foreign land became more and more familiar and beloved.

The history of Venezuela and its political left and right swings are far too much to examine for this newsletter. Only looking at what has occurred over the past several years, we realize somewhere along the line this country stopped being a democracy and became an authoritarian regime.

In 2013 Nicolas Maduro replaced Hugo Chavez who had died, and he won election by just 1.6 percent.  Maduro began consolidating his power as the country began to suffer economically because of the decline in oil prices worldwide.  The opposition party became critical of Maduro decisions and he had those who disagreed with him arrested.  He detained journalists that reported negatively, shut down news websites and began attempting to control the narrative. The government rapidly started becoming more authoritarian. The Venezuelan Supreme Court was filled with Maduro supporters who began removing powers from the National Assembly, their version of Congress.  Juan Guaido was the opposition candidate, the leader of the of the National Assembly who opposed Maduro in the 2018 election. The election results of 2018 are questioned–was it truly a fair and free election? It was wrought with voter intimidation and accusations of voter fraud. Since then there has been a division amongst world leaders as to who is the rightful leader. Chaos, crisis and possible US intervention, what should we make of it all? I will not draw any conclusions.

Observing the recent uprisings, I have wondered what happened to this country, how did it get to this point? How did things get so far along that it has become a humanitarian crisis in a modernized country? How did the people of Venezuela spiral into a situation where the basics of food and water are not affordable? People are going hungry, and in some cases dying, due to the situation. Hospitals lack resources, medications and antibiotics.

How did it come to this? Was it out of their control? Or were they buried in their cell phones? Were they obsessed with the latest and most popular Telenovelas? Or just enjoying a glass of wine on a lovely plaza? Were they overwhelmed with work? I don’t know.

As I watched William Barr release the Mueller Report and lie to the American public, I could not help but think of Venezuela and wonder if we as a country are allowing the same situation to unfold in our beloved land. Will we allow it to happen here? Can it happen here?