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Open Letter To Venezuela – We Live In A Dictatorship!

 

Students take part in a protest against Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas February 16, 2014. A Venezuelan opposition leader wanted by police in connection with deadly street protests said on Sunday he would march with his supporters in Caracas on Tuesday, and that he was ready to face arrest if necessary. REUTERS/Jorge Silva (VENEZUELA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)
Students take part in a protest against Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas February 16, 2014. A Venezuelan opposition leader wanted by police in connection with deadly street protests said on Sunday he would march with his supporters in Caracas on Tuesday, and that he was ready to face arrest if necessary. REUTERS/Jorge Silva (VENEZUELA – Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

Written by Valentina Morillo

It’s very common that countries in Latin America don’t get enough coverage on what’s going on, one of those countries is Venezuela. As a person who lives there (soon to leave the country to seek better opportunities) I wanted to let you know how many countries live in very poor situations and have no idea how to get out of there since we don’t get enough coverage or enough importance from international countries.

We live in a dictatorship, you would believe that’s strange considering our political system is socialist, being one of the few countries with that system. Each country determines which president they want, except for us. Our power of choice have been taken away from us, we are falling deeper into a dark hole that would only end in misery and we are running out of resources. For those who don’t know Venezuela is a country located in South America, we are the first country to produce oil, being the first country of the world with the largest oil reserves (298.3 Billion Barrels) and a huge diversity of natural resources (You might know about the Angel Falls or The Amazon), also energetics and minerals (such as aluminum, gold, bauxite, iron for naming a few) and we are blessed with every single ecosystem. But we lack freedom.

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Hugo Chavez

When I was a kid, Chavez became president – I was too young to understand the big change our country was facing – he came to power when he created a coup against the presidency in 1992 taking states out of his power with the help of the national army. This chaos caused a lot of deaths.  It resulted in another person winning the presidency against Hugo Chavez in 1993, while Chavez went to jail due it’s results. But it wasn’t over, while he was in jail he slowly gained popularity and after two years he was released and launched his presidency campaign again. In December 1998, Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela, a big mistake we are still paying for even after more than 15 years, a mistake that I wasn’t aware of but is destroying my life and the life of so many young people.

Venezuela has become a very poor country –even though it’s the first country in the world to produce oil.  USA and China were their first costumer. Venezuela is full of corruption, pain, insecurity, fear, death, without freedom (he shut down our international channel in 2007, and didn’t allow media coverage at all, the news channels in our country never talk about the situations we are facing, it’s like they want to hide the obvious, in fact, reporters get punished for saying the truth). He torn families apart, he torn the country apart since he himself make it very necessary to divide the country in half between those who support him and those who didn’t. He started a war between our country that is only dividing us and making us hate each other. He ensured that those who don’t share the same political views of his government won’t be able to have a successful future but those who swear respect to a government who kills and shames will.

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Chavez destroyed our economy because he became the center of the power, he destroyed our production since he himself hated private companies. During the course of his presidency he managed to appropriate at least 80% of private industries in our country that eventually had to close due to bad management. In Venezuela the food we eat (if we eat, since we don’t have food in our country anymore) is from other countries, we do not produce food on our own, or medicines or anything. We do not possess a fair presidency, our laws and our constitution (the biggest book in our country, the only that shows you every single right and duty we own) has been shattered, we don’t have the security because we are certain we won’t get a fair choice. Chavez manipulated the constitution in ways he could have better access and power to commit wrong and malicious actions. He destroyed our infrastructure, never built the schools he was supposed to, hid himself into a ‘democratic and socialist’ policy to build its own followers.

He grabbed the money made for us and used it for his own personal gain. We have nothing, our minimum salary isn’t enough for basic necessities, and you can’t even afford a decent meal at a restaurant without at least losing your whole salary, to buy a house or a car you need to work for 20 years. We are getting poorer, not even people with money can afford a decent life. You would think, ¿why did we keep voting for him? Chavez was re-elected again in 2006, but you are missing the bigger picture that some books and the media don’t show you. He knew we were sick, he knew people wouldn’t agree with him, he knew he was losing popularity. So, he threaten and played with the communities.

Venezuelan riot police arrest opposition students taking part in an anti-government protest in Caracas on May 8, 2014. Venezuelan authorities demolished four protest camps and detained 243 people early Thursday, striking at the remaining bastions of a months-long and at times deadly anti-government protest movement. AFP PHOTO/JUAN BARRETO (Photo credit should read JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images)
Venezuelan riot police arrest opposition students taking part in an anti-government protest in Caracas on May 8, 2014. Venezuelan authorities demolished four protest camps and detained 243 people early Thursday, striking at the remaining bastions of a months-long and at times deadly anti-government protest movement. AFP PHOTO/JUAN BARRETO (Photo credit should read JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images)

In 2006 my friend’s father was fired from his job (a company of the government) because he refused to vote for him.  Chavez promised food, houses and money to those families affected by poverty so they could vote for him –he created a sick and dependent loyalty primarily by the sectors with less opportunities. When a president refuses to let the power go, you know it’s a dictatorship. When a president has to threat, force, and use their power to conceal the citizen’s voice it’s a dictatorship. And most of the population has lived in fear for so long, trying to make a living while the situation in our country has gotten worse. Families are  forced to say goodbye, my family included. Children learn at a very young age to plan for a career that guaranties a life outside of our country –because we don’t have a future, we feel powerless.

In 2011, Chavez announced he was sick. He had cancer. Soon in 2013 the country and the world found out he died (rumors said he died in Cuba and the government conceal the information). Venezuela was happy -don’t get me wrong I wasn’t happy because I wanted someone to die, I was happy because we could finally turn our life around, be better. Oh, I was so wrong. In 2013 it was announced that Nicolas Maduro was the president of the country (an uneducated man), until the new elections. The person running against Maduro was Henrique Capriles (the leader of the opposition party; a lawyer with economic and political knowledge that previously had positions such as governor, mayor and worked for many public companies). He was arrested by Chavez on 2002 because he feared his leadership, giving him freedom on 2006.

Nicolas Maduro
Nicolas Maduro

Capriles had an even bigger support than Chavez had when he started –including myself- I remember our county during that time, there was hope, light, smiles, families were happy because we might get there, we could be free again. But there was also fear of losing your job and dealing with those repercussions (or punishments) of voting against Maduro. We were right. On April of 2013, Maduro was announced the new president of Venezuela with apparently 50,61% votes while Capriles lost with 49,12%; but we knew it wasn’t true. The day they announced the winner I was broken, I felt lost, I felt confused. Capriles refused to sign the papers because he knew just like us that we have won and they took that away from us. Because it’s been happening before, the government threats people to vote for them, they play with the necessities. It was chaos. During the elections there were at least 3,000 irregularities on voting centers (such as black outs, the machines didn’t work, the army showed up trying to cause violence, some papers were “lost”), we called for a recount of votes but they didn’t gave us that (countries like United States, France and Spain told us to ‘respect’ the votes, votes that didn’t belong to us). Nicolas Maduro happen to be our new fake president. What happens in 2014 still continues to shape our history.

An opposition demonstrator holds a Venezuelan flag in front of a burning barricade in Caracas, Feb. 15.
An opposition demonstrator holds a Venezuelan flag in front of a burning barricade in Caracas, Feb. 15.

We were tired, we were upset, we were sad because we knew we had no future if we continue like this, so we decided to protest against this new presidency that came to power without the support. The results might shock you: 43 deaths, 873 wounded, 3,123 arrested and 3,400 in jail. ¿What was the crime? Protest against a dictatorship government. A right that is stated on our constitution. ¿Who killed those people? The national army and the police department and the government. Most of those deaths and arrests are people from 16 to 25 years old, the deaths were caused by gun shots and bird shots. Weapons that we didn’t own.

In fact there are disturbing videos recorded by citizens that shows you how the police and army beat people who were protesting. ¿Who was blamed for the deaths? Leopoldo Lopez. He is another man of the opposition party, he is highly respected in our country (many people compare his current situation to Mandela). He is a politician, economist, activist, sociologist (obtaining his title at The University of Ohio, and then in public politics at Harvard) and a mayor (two times in a row), he is popular and very well known.The ‘Los Angeles Times’ featured him in 2002 (which brought Chavez attention). He worked against Chavez’ government and in 2006 he wanted to be a mayor of the capital but Chavez sanctioned him and disabling him until 2014 (reason he couldn’t run for the presidency). There’s a video of Leopoldo on 2014 calling for a peaceful protest, the government used this video as a ‘proof’ and condemned him for the deaths on February 2014 during the protests. They gave him two choices, leave the country or is arrested permanently. According to his wife, Lilian, he choose his country first and gave himself off, even thought he was innocent. He left them take him, his last words were “The country will free me.”

In 2015 ,he was pronounced guilty of the charges (of inciting anti-government protests that caused deaths), the Venezuelan (in)’justice’ didn’t allow any video to be shown at its trial. He was sentenced to 13 years, 9 months, seven days and 12 hours in jail. But we know he is innocent. He didn’t call for violence in the streets. Leopoldo is probably one of the most peaceful people I’ve ever seen.  Ever since his arrest the ONU, European Union and the Organization of Human Rights have condemn this arrest because it was motivated by political issues.

On October of 2015 one of the judges that condemned Leopoldo, Franklin Nieves left the country to seek for political protection and update a video on YouTube saying he was forced to sign against Lopez. He said: “I decided to leave the country because of the pressure from the national executive and my superiors to continue to defend the false evidence that was used to convict citizen Lopez.” The ONU did nothing, the government did nothing. The media did nothing. No one talked about this. A month later a young guy, Marco Coelle,only 19 (during his arrest he was 17 years old),who was arrested during the protest, also left the country and sought  political protection and  said he was physically and emotionally tortured in jail by the police department. He remembers how they tortured him one day to sing papers against Leopoldo saying he was forced by him to protest, he didn’t sign. He remembers how he thought in that moment that he’ll be killed. He ran away to Florida when his trial was going to happen because he knew he’ll be in jail forever as a punishment. Leopoldo’s wife, Lilian Tintori, condemned sexual abuse and children’s abuse during one of her visits to Leopoldo on jail with their kids and Leopoldo’s mother. The army forced them to get naked and mocked in front of the kids.  ¿Where was the organization of human rights or the ONU? Nowhere. ¿Is this enough to proof we like in a dictatorship? And like this it happens to any woman, man or kids that visits the hundreds of political prisoners, there’s not human rights in our country.

I thought Chavez was the devil, but Maduro is killing us. It’s been 3 years since his presidency and we are dying. We do not have food, if we want food we have to get in long lines and sometimes it’s not enough for everyone. If you want a product you have to pay a really high price (sometimes the amount of money you gain in one salary). Our inflation is at 720% this year, the biggest inflation in the world. We have no medicines or medical supplies. My grandfather died two years ago, and the clinic didn’t have clean bed sheets we had to bring some of our own, including sanitary products. My dad suffers from high pressure and we can’t find his pills,if we do it will cost a fortune, I thank God every day that my dad can afford it because I can’t imagine people who can’t.

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Venezuela is the second country with the most homicides, I get out of my house scared to death, and my constant though is ‘I hope my dad gets home safe’. At my university just last semester there were 5 robberies. I don’t bring my iPhone with me, I’m scared. I also don’t get out of my house past 9. We are currently suffering an energetic crisis (even when we produce our own energy – hydroelectric power).

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Last month it was announced that each state of the country had to stay without power for 4 hours every day “to save energy”. Today I didn’t have power from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Don’t even get me started on the water crisis, so many small towns in our country don’t have water.

On 2015, we voted for a new National Assembly, here in Venezuela you have to vote for each candidate for a state on both parties (opposition and the government),  90% of the winners were the opposition. Since then, the government rejected the majority of the laws they are trying to activate to help our country, including the amnesty law and the donation of medical supplies. That’s why I’m writing this because this past April 27thwas the first step to sign a revocatory to over throw Nicolas Maduro.

The opposition party ran by Henrique Capriles asked the Electoral Department (CNE) the official payrolls to vote against him (given to them 3 months after the petition). The first step were 2.500 signs, the second step were 196.000 sings (which represents 1% of each state), we got more than 1,500,000 signatures (this just proves how desperate we are), we need 30 days to validate those signs and move on to the next step and the government is already doing malicious things such as threads and insults. I voted, I know I have to deal with the repercussions of voting against him (because when you sign for a revocatory you aren’t anonymous). If you are Venezuelan with the age to vote please do it. Don’t be afraid. They already took too much away from us, we need to give it a try.

I know by posting this it might not help but I want the world to know this. If we don’t do this now, we might not get out of this situation. I can’t even imagine what it would be like 3 years from now. We are a country without light in every single way, when we used to be one of the most gentle and happy people. We are basically the real hunger games, and we are killing each other to survive.

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