By Víctor de Currea-Lugo *
This article starts bad and ends worse. This title already warns those who say that Venezuelans do not lie, because they say what, according to our agenda, we want to hear. And it will annoy many Venezuelans who will insist that they never exaggerate, that this is an exaggeration.
I start with some moments lived in Caracas to explain my affirmation. The first was a tweet that I posted in March of this year in which I argued three things: the immensity of inflation, the relative scarcity and the absence of famine. In less than 24 hours he had received more than 4,000 insults.
Inflation was not only immense at that time, but it has been increasing dramatically. The shortage was and remains relative: there are some products that remain in the market and others that are almost nonexistent. I say this after visiting several stores and supermarkets in different cities of Venezuela. I know that there is not the variety of products from before and that prices are sky high, but those two things are not shortages. I put up pictures just taken by me and on social networks and they said they were photos taken in Spain. Nothing to do about it.
Yes, there is a shortage of medicines that reaches 85%, but that requires a more complex explanation that goes from smuggling to Colombia to the restrictions of the United States to sales to Venezuela, through the inability to develop its own industry in almost two decades and for the deals of the businessmen who receive the dollars to import medicines and every time they import less for the same price.
And such a famine does not exist. After saying it, I even spoke with FAO officials (an organization that would be far from being Castro-Chavista) and confirmed the decrease in calories per inhabitant, the average weight loss in the population, but also confirmed that there was no technical data about generalized malnutrition and much less about hunger. But the exaggerated response was not so much against me per se, but the natural behavior of the average Venezuelan.
In the lines to buy food, I heard people who said they had been waiting for several hours when they actually had arrived about fifteen minutes ago. I heard Chavistas insisting that everything was the work of Yankee imperialism, that they had not made any mistakes, that all the opposition is on the payroll of the CIA and, as a woman in Lara told me, “Chávez’s only mistake was to love us too much ”
A friend stopped to pick me up and sent me a text message at 8.49 in the morning saying “I arrived” and at 8.50 am he sent another one that said “I’ve been waiting for an hour”. The conversations in the Metro, in the lines of the banks, at the tables of the restaurants, are an inexhaustible source of similar things. In downtown Caracas, I heard a Venezuelan explaining to another that all the products of all the supermarkets in Cúcuta were Venezuelan. And in a discussion on Twitter, one person from San Antonio (main border access point with Colombia) argued that thousands of Venezuelans left every day (which is true) but that none returned (which is a solemn lie).
On the other hand, also from a Venezuelan, I heard that in Venezuela everything was fine before 1999 and that the country plummeted from the same day of the arrival of Chávez to power. That there is a genocide in progress and that the famine is undeniable.
A Venezuelan immigrant in Colombia, for example, told me that the medical school created by Chávez produced healers in only two years. So being in Caracas, I went to the medical school, I asked to see the curriculum that was six years old, I compared it with the medicine curriculum I studied in Colombia and I did not find any major differences. Likewise, I asked to enter a class last year where, in front of everyone, I asked some students about their medical skills and I did not find anything different from what a Colombian doctor would do. But to access that truth, I had to go a long way to backtrack that immigrant who, protected by his Venezuelan status, could say things that nobody doubted.
In an international flight, I shared a row with a Venezuelan businessman who, to summarize, argued that the three million homes given by the State were not accompanied by the writing of the case, but were more or less lent by the State. Again, I had to find out to see that the ownership of such houses is recognized to the people who receive them. Another long process to backtrack a Venezuelan.
But exaggeration or lying is not only in the hands of the opposition. In a maternity hospital, they explained to me the increase in maternal mortality due to the low availability of oxytocin. But great surprise when they explain to me that the medicine was in the customs, not of India, but of Maiquetía (main air custom), waiting for weeks a paper to arrive in order to send the drug to a hospital that is less than one hour away and putting at risk the health of the women by blame for the bureaucracy, not Yankee imperialism.
To say that all those who have left Venezuela are traitors or that they do it without necessity, not only insults the intelligence, but also ignores the complex drama that is behind the migratory phenomena. The same goes for those who believe that pain in the face of migration is, then, a call for military intervention by the United States. There is also a constant inability to accept own mistakes and the successes of the political opponent.
Months later at a conference in Caracas, a professor asked me about my opinion on Venezuela, although the subject of my talk was about peacebuilding in Colombia. I was forced to answer and I began by reminding them of Chavez’s phrase, when in a television program he claimed to have seen a 40-meter alligator, which is obviously an exaggeration. One of the assistants corrected him and Chávez, says the urban legend, corrected saying that, well, 25 meters it was. I told the public that, after being in Venezuela for another month, I had understood that in that story, Chávez was not a liar or exaggerated, but just a Venezuelan.
Also, in my debates with both sides, I find a constant: when they are about to lose an argument they open the window to another topic, leaving the previous one without concluding; they are experts at deflecting debates, but lousy at accepting defeat. The use of words such as: never, ever, always, everything and nothing abounds.
We Colombians are not left behind, we talk about an invasion of foreigners [referring to Venezuelan migration], that bring serious diseases that we do not have here, that all [Venezuelans] are thieves or whores, etc. For example, the rumor circulated that Maduro had closed the mental hospitals and brought all the sick people in buses and left them in Cúcuta. The only way to verify that was interviewing the director of the Mental Hospital of Cúcuta, who denied all this.
That does not mean that everything is a lie. The economic crisis is real, hyperinflation is real, the lines to buy food are real, the migration to Colombia and other countries is real, the economic blockade that prevents Venezuela from obtaining food and medicines is real, the plans to intervene militarily are real, the fracture of petty opposition is real, and the bureaucracy and official corruption are real.
The problem of Venezuelan exaggeration is that it does not discriminate at the social or academic level. On these exaggerated bases, the country is governed and the opposition do their work, alternatives are analyzed and solutions are proposed, etc. Immigrants, on the other hand, exaggerate at least because of two things: because they are Venezuelans and, for a thing that is totally human and present in all migratory phenomena: they want to emphasize their state of necessity in order to justify an eventual help. And the problem of many is that, although the Venezuelan crisis is real, they want to present it as the most serious in the world and some even propose military action, while they are silent in front of Syria, Yemen, Central American immigrants or the assassination of social leaders in Colombia. .
As if that were not enough, on the Colombian side, the Colombian ambassador to the United States, Francisco Santos, maintained that the ELN is a paramilitary group of the Maduro government. And the Venezuelan Javier Tarazona, said that in Venezuela there were 50,000 ELN guerrillas; If that were true, they would have many more in Colombia and they would have taken power already. And those are the kind of sources that they use in many places to explain what happens Venezuela.
The truth is that, as I noticed at the beginning, this is an article called to failure. Some will say that it is exaggerated; no, the exaggerated ones are the Venezuelans from their reality and the Colombians from their xenophobia.
PD: in the distribution of responsibilities over the current Venezuelan crisis, we must leave a special place for speculators, who contribute to hoarding and inflation.
* M.D. from the National University of Colombia, Master in Latin American Studies from the University of Salamanca and PhD from the Complutense University of Madrid. Author of more than a dozen books. Independent journalist, collaborator of the Colombian newspaper El Espectador (2011-2017).