Venezuela was one of Latin America’s most prosperous countries until socialist leaders destroyed its economy. Yet in one of the most heartbreaking modern tragedies, there is still hope.
It seems hope has left Venezuela. Hungry children cry themselves to sleep at night. With no food at home, kids turn to the streets. Swept up in gangs, they trade the safety of home for knife scars on their bellies. Stripped of their humanity, Venezuelans have been reduced to digging through dumpsters for food.
Parents lose their little ones to malnutrition. Cut-out paper wings are often placed over white baby coffins where parents slowly, painfully, tragically hold their babies for the last time before burying them. One tiny baby, Kleiver Enrique Hernandez, died from severe malnutrition just three months after birth. His small, lifeless body lay in a white coffin during a wake at the family’s house, underneath a colorful sign that had just celebrated his arrival with “Welcome Kleiver Enrique, I love you so much.”
Venezuelans can no longer earn a living due to hyperinflation. There is little food, fuel, medicine or access to jobs. And something else that is running out is hope.Venezuelans have been robbed of their future by governmental mismanagement and corruption.
Where is the light at the end of the tunnel?
In just a few short years, the country has become a told-you-so example used by advocates of freedom and capitalism to show the failings of socialism. Yet while socialism is certainly greatly to blame for Venezuela’s fall and it’s right to point it out, we must not forget the untold masses who are suffering—millions of people who just want to eat and live.
The Venezuelan crisis is not a mere philosophical argument for the 9-year-old girl scouring trash bags for breakfast.
The collapse is a human problem—a mankind problem.
Start of the slide
Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world. So how did a once-prosperous modern nation fall so quickly?
The economic collapse started with the nation’s socialist leader Hugo Chavez. But it took on new depths under his handpicked successor Nicolas Maduro.
A comprehensive 2016 article in The Atlantic by Venezuelan authors Moises Naim and Francisco Toro shines light on what happened:
“What our country is going through is monstrously unique: It’s nothing less than the collapse of a large, wealthy, seemingly modern, seemingly democratic nation just a few hours’ flight from the United States. In the last two years Venezuela has experienced the kind of implosion that hardly ever occurs in a middle-income country like it outside of war.
“Mortality rates are skyrocketing; one public service after another is collapsing; triple-digit inflation has left more than 70 percent of the population in poverty; an unmanageable crime wave keeps people locked indoors at night; shoppers have to stand in line for hours to buy food; babies die in large numbers for lack of simple, inexpensive medicines and equipment in hospitals, as do the elderly and those suffering from chronic illnesses” (“Venezuela Is Falling Apart,” May 12, 2016).
The country’s rapid descent is not like a plane crash or train wreck or car accident. These kinds of tragedies happen relatively frequently. But an oil-rich, modern, beautiful country like Venezuela collapsing in just a handful of years? It just doesn’t happen.
The authors related some of how the unthinkable came about:
“The real culprit is chavismo, the ruling philosophy named for Chavez and carried forward by Maduro, and its truly breathtaking propensity for mismanagement (the government plowed state money arbitrarily into foolish investments); institutional destruction (as Chavez and then Maduro became more authoritarian and crippled the country’s democratic institutions); nonsense policy-making (like price and currency controls); and plain thievery (as corruption has proliferated among unaccountable officials and their friends and families) ...
“There are many theories about the deeper forces that have destroyed Venezuela’s economy, torn apart its society and devastated its institutions, but their result is ultimately a human tragedy representing one of the most severe humanitarian crises facing the Western hemisphere.”
Food shortages have become so severe that reports have come out of people breaking into zoos to kill and eat the animals. Power blackouts are part of life in many areas of the nation. There’s a widespread lack of medical equipment, and disease is on the rise. Crime is skyrocketing, with Caracas now the murder capital of the world.
The littlest victims
The greatest tragedy in Venezuela is the suffering of its children. The New York Times spent five months in 2017 investigating how Venezuela’s economic crisis has affected the nation’s little ones. What they saw shocked them:
“Hunger has stalked Venezuela for years. Now, it is killing the nation’s children at an alarming rate, doctors in the country’s public hospitals say ... Riots and protests over the lack of affordable food, excruciating long lines for basic provisions, soldiers posted outside bakeries and angry crowds ransacking grocery stores have rattled cities, providing a telling, public display of the depths of the crisis.
“But deaths from malnutrition have remained a closely guarded secret by the Venezuelan government. In a five-month investigation by The New York Times, doctors at 21 public hospitals in 17 states across the country said that their emergency rooms were being overwhelmed by children with severe malnutrition—a condition they had rarely encountered before the economic crisis began ...” (Meredith Kohut and Isayen Herrera, “As Venezuela Collapses, Children Are Dying of Hunger,” Dec. 17, 2017).
The journalists also exposed how government officials have hidden the truth:
“The Venezuelan government has tried to cover up the extent of the crisis by enforcing a near-total blackout of health statistics, and by creating a culture in which doctors are often afraid to register cases and deaths that may be associated with the government’s failures. But the statistics that have come out are staggering. In the Ministry of Health’s 2015 annual report, the mortality rate for children under 4 weeks old had increased a hundredfold, from 0.02 percent in 2012 to just over 2 percent.”
After the government’s health ministry had not released even one report about infant mortality rates, a link suddenly appeared on their website in April 2017. It revealed that 11,446 children under the age of 1 died in 2016.
The nation’s healthcare system has been hit hard with an estimated 43,000 medical professionals leaving Venezuela. And for infants in hospital emergency rooms, baby formula is hard to find.
Sadly, since 2017, the situation has not improved. A February 2019 article titled “Venezuela Voices: ‘We Are Starving Here’” described the country as being “on the brink”: “Grocery shelves lie empty as food becomes increasingly scarce and expensive. People are fleeing the country at record rates, flooding neighboring countries. Inflation is set to reach 10 million percent in 2019” (Ana Vanessa Herrero and Megan Specia, The New York Times, Feb. 1, 2019).
Massive exodus of those finding a way to leave
This hopeless situation has caused 4 million Venezuelans—4 million!—to make the heartbreaking decision to flee their homeland. A Wall Street Journal article described it as “the largest migration crisis in modern Latin American history” (Kejal Vyas, “The Perilous Road Out of Venezuela,” Oct. 3, 2019). And every day, thousands of citizens are adding to this number.
The article tells the story of a young Venezuelan woman who recently left the country with her boyfriend, the two of them having worked as nurses for a health clinic in eastern Caracas: “‘My grandparents used to tell me, “Don’t go,”’ said Ms. Loyo. ‘Now they say, “Flee as fast as you can.”’
“The day before the bus trip, Mr. Morales [her boyfriend] went to the cemetery with a rag and a bottle of soapy water and washed the headstone over the grave of his teenage brother, Jhonny, who had been shot dead by gangsters four years ago.
“He swept away fallen leaves with a worn-out broom and laid down a fistful of marigolds. A short walk away, he tidied the graves of two cousins, both victims of police shootings. ‘Everything around me just screams: Get out of here!’ he said.”
Some shocking migration projections follow: “The Brookings Institution estimates the number of Venezuelan migrants could double to eight million in the next two years, far more than the six million who fled war-ravaged Syria. Per capita, Venezuelan migrants have seen less than 2% of the international aid that has been committed for Syrian refugees” (ibid.).
No end in sight?
Since the beginning of Venezuela’s slide, its people have taken to the streets in protest. Out of these protest movements, one man, Juan Guaido, has risen up as the opposition leader. On Jan. 23, 2019, he boldly declared himself the nation’s rightful president:
“The young politician stood before thousands of protesters in Caracas and swore himself in as interim president—a move that was immediately greeted by the US and Canadian governments. Guaido first signalled that he was willing to mount a serious challenge to the country’s president in early January  when Nicolas Maduro, began his second term of office following elections last summer  that were widely denounced as fraudulent ...
“Guaido, just six days into his post, told the world he was ready to assume the presidency until free and fair elections could be held—provided he had the vital support of the military” (Joe Daniels and Mariana Zuniga, “Venezuela: Who Is Juan Guaido, the Man Who Declared Himself President?” The Guardian, Jan. 23, 2019).
After President Maduro refused to step down, Mr. Guaido led a military uprising in April that failed. Despite the setback, the opposition has continued to pressure Maduro to leave office, and Guaido has been recognized by more than 50 other governments as Venezuela’s acting president.
The United States and other countries have been increasing political pressure on Venezuela, but so far it appears to have had little effect. Maduro is now targeting his military to consolidate power and crackdown on dissent:
“There are now 217 active and retired officers being held in Venezuelan jails, including 12 generals, according to the Coalition for Human Rights and Democracy, a Caracas-based nonprofit that represents several of the men. The coalition has documented 250 cases of torture committed by Venezuelan security forces against military officers, their relatives and opposition activists since 2017” (Anatoly Kurmanaev and Isayen Herrera, “Venezuela’s Maduro Cracks Down on His Own Military in Bid to Retain Power,” The New York Times, Aug. 13, 2019).
“The spectacle of collapse”
No one knows what exactly will happen in Venezuela in the coming years, but it’s hard to imagine how it can continue getting worse without it reaching some kind of breaking point.
A final quote from the story in The Atlantic cuts to the heart of the matter. Is Venezuela another example of socialism’s failings? Yes. But it is so much more than that. Above all, it is a humanitarian tragedy that should leave all of us looking forward to better days with some hope still left in our hearts.
The Venezuelan authors of the piece reflect: “The happy, hopeful stage of Venezuela’s experiment with Chavez’s 21st-century socialism is a fading memory. What’s been left is a visibly failing state that still leans hard on left-wing rhetoric in a doomed bid to maintain some shred of legitimacy. A country that used to attract fellow travelers and admirers in serious numbers now holds fascination for rubberneckers: stunned outsiders enthralled by the spectacle of collapse. To the Venezuelans who live its consequences day after day, the spectacle is considerably less amusing.”
In the midst of such great and totally unnecessary tragedy, where can we look to find hope for the future?
Coming end to misery
The Bible reveals God’s master plan for mankind. It shows us that a better day for humanity is coming—through the arrival of the Kingdom of God. This divine government will be ushered in at the second coming of Jesus Christ (see Daniel 2:35, Daniel 2:44-45).
With the ultimate fulfillment of the Kingdom of God on earth, after Jesus Christ has put down all enemies and submitted all to God the Father, the constant tears of today’s hungry and hopeless will be a thing of the past. Notice this inspiring prophecy from the end of the Bible:
“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).
Today we are still living in the times of the “former things.” But soon a new day is coming when the newborn baby will no longer have his or her life snuffed out so early. The days of failed governments will be over, replaced by a perfect government by God that is truly for the benefit of the people.
In the midst of a tragedy like Venezuela, there is still hope for a better world!
What Is “Socialism”?
While countries use different kinds of socialism as a political system, the word “socialism” is used in a general sense to refer to governments imposing more and more control over their citizens by legislating expensive non-essential programs. Think welfare programs, social services, etc. “Essential” government activities are those that provide safety for the citizens—protection from dangers from within (crime) and from without (attacks and invasion). Most modern nations are operating with a combination of personal freedom and socialism.
A helpful and thorough definition of socialism, and how it differs from communism, comes from Marcus Hawkins in his article “A Definition of Socialism”:
“‘Socialism’ is a political term applied to an economic system in which property is held in common and not individually, and relationships are governed by a political hierarchy. Common ownership doesn’t mean decisions are made collectively, however. Instead, individuals in positions of authority make decisions in the name of the collective group. Regardless of the picture painted of socialism by its proponents, it ultimately removes group decision making in favor of the choices of one all-important individual.
“Socialism originally involved the replacement of private property with a market exchange, but history has proven this ineffective. Socialism cannot prevent people from competing for what is scarce. [Venezuela is a prime example of this.] Socialism, as we know it today, most commonly refers to ‘market socialism,’ which involves individual market exchanges organized by collective planning.
“People often confuse ‘socialism’ with the concept of ‘communism.’ While the two ideologies share much in common (in fact, communism encompasses socialism), the primary difference between the two is that ‘socialism’ applies to economic systems, whereas ‘communism’ applies to both economic and political systems.
“Another difference between socialism and communism is that communists directly oppose the concept of capitalism, an economic system in which production is controlled by private interests. Socialists, on the other hand, believe socialism can exist within a capitalist society” (thoughtco.com, Jan. 28, 2019).
— Don Hooser