It’s been a mere six years since the death of Venezuela’s Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, and in that little amount of time Venezuela’s economy has gone into a steep decline.
Under Chávez, a larger percentage of Venezuelans prospered under a centralized economy. The Venezuelan government had committed the nation’s military to actively engaging in projects that supported the larger public and raised the average citizen’s living standards. Chávez curtailed—but notably, did not completely end—corruption and his Fifth Republic Movement/United Socialist Party of Venezuela fostered educational, health, and social welfare programs that were primarily funded with proceeds from the nation’s oil industry.
Chávez was re-elected four times and held the presidency for more than 14 years. International Monetary Fund and World Bank statistics show that Chávez was able to bring down poverty in Venezuela from 62 percent in 2003 to 29 percent in 2009; unemployment fell from 14.5 percent in 1999 to 7.6 percent in 2009; and illiteracy fell from 7 percent to 5 percent between 2001 and 2007.
He established PetroCaribe in 2005, an alliance that allowed Caribbean and Central American member states to buy oil from state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela at preferential prices. The Chávez administration opened new embassies throughout Africa and created the Africa-South America summit to help other South American countries foster better relations with African nations. And the Chávez administration’s collaboration with the Citizens Energy/CITGO Oil Heat Program provided free heating oil to low-income families in the United States.
When Chávez died March 5, 2013, his vice president, Nicolás Maduro, announced the president’s passing with fellow legislators standing by his side. Maduro promised that he and other Chávez-aligned politicians would continue the late president’s work and added, “To all the people of the world, the presidents who have called during this time of pain and difficulty, we send you an eternal thank you because we know that this world we inhabit today, grants a love and a great appreciation to those who use their lives to create projects that make life more beautiful and humanistic…”
There’s been a major debate about the extent to which Maduro has perpetuated Chávez’s legacy. With the current U.S. president calling for Maduro’s ouster and threatening to possibly use military means to help put Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaidó in his place, Venezuelan citizens are voicing their own opinions about what should happen next. Encouraged to speak with me via the messaging application WhatsApp, what follows are the thoughts of Venezuelan citizens from within and outside of the country who want to assert what they believe should happen in their nation.
Hylenne Márquez, who had to leave Venezuela with her husband and child, stated, “This is a very complicated situation because, in reality, I don’t see Maduro leaving even under the pressure of people wanting him to leave. I don’t want an invasion from the United States because that would be even more of a disgrace to our nation. The solution ought to be that the National Guard puts an end to this and that they put it in the hands of the people so that this way Maduro can leave from the presidency and this way, little by little, all will be resolved and people can return to their homes.
“And anyway, I think that Guaidó just adds to the confusion—he’s just looking for fame, he hasn’t done anything for the people he’s only working for his own interests.”
Arbin Perez, the husband of Hylenne Marquez, stated, “First of all, we really want a change because the government is not any good, the government is so corrupt. The armed forces of Venezuela are now against the people because Maduro has all of the police and political forces in his pocket. Second, they don’t respect our constitution, which are the laws that should govern Venezuela. They don’t respect us; they mistreat and repress the people. What the Venezuelan people think or want just isn’t important. We’re living under the veil of a dictatorship in Venezuela that is managed by another dictatorship, Cuba. This is, day-by-day, impoverishing Venezuela. Third, as Venezuelans we don’t want any kind of military intervention from the United States or from any place else because that would just lead to war and death, just like what happened in Panama a few years ago and as has happened in other countries. We don’t want that. Yes, we want change; yes, we want Maduro to go; yes, we want our legitimate president, accredited by the National Assembly—not the Constituent Assembly that was created to favor Maduro. We, as Venezuelans who are not now living in the country, we still have family there and we don’t want an invasion—that would be a disgrace. Venezuela cannot handle a war, our citizens won’t accept an invasion; we don’t have that conviction as Venezuelans to have another country invade us, when our people need necessities, they need medicines, food, the hospitals are completely empty. There’s nothing, there’s no food, now there’s not even electrical services—there’s no lights, we had five days without lights.
“So, that’s what I have to say—I believe that as Venezuelans we don’t want a military intervention, we simply want to be governed according to our constitution. We want Maduro out and that the military finally bring the government to the people. We will be fine when the military opens its eyes and sides with the Venezuelan people.”
Litzais, who only gave her first name and is living outside of the country, stated, “This is a difficult situation, it is very difficult over there right now. Even though it seems people are offering hope no one has sufficient power to really make change. Intervention is not the way to a solution. The only people with the ability to create change are in the National Guard but they are not supporting the common people, and as long as they do that, nothing will change.”
who is in Caracas, Venezuela, said, “Venezuela is and has been a nation that has aided other South American countries and Central American countries without self-interest. For example, we have the aid we gave the Caribbean through PetroCaribe as a way of promoting integration, which is what we even brought to the United States as a fellow nation. Venezuela can certainly transform and fix its problems on its own. Leaders are born and leaders are created, and this same battle that Maduro is going through is the same that our president, Hugo Chávez, went through. And I believe that all that we are going through will teach him and motivate him and inspire him to do better: him and the government and the people of Venezuela.”
Benito Márquez, who is currently studying in Argentina but still lives in Venezuela, said, “Venezuela has always been a country that lives in solidarity with other nations in the world and especially with other nations in Latin America and the Caribbean. So, in this moment, Venezuela needs the solidarity and support from those it has had agreements with. The Venezuelan people need solidarity from the world and whatever aid it can get from other nations in terms of food and medicines. The revolutionary movement in the country has to transform itself and be fixed from within—self-criticism would be positive and allow the nation to fix its problems and modify all of the failures its been having during this process. Obviously every political movement or revolution is not going to be perfect, on every path you need to adjust your steps as time goes on. The state needs a profound transformation to deal with the bureaucracy, the corruption, the clientelism, and to give more power to the people who have been organized.
“Maduro has a long way to go to fix things, to fix this situation. We believe it’s not just a job for him but something we all have to work on—all of the organizations in the government along with the addition of the Venezuelan people. He definitely has to finish his term for which he was elected in free and democratic elections last year. And we will have sufficient time to fix this. If the people do not want to do this, there is an article in the constitution that permits a recall referendum or they could wait and the Venezuelan people could elect new leaders to represent them.”