Losing Freedom: Venezuela, Before the storm
I am sure must of you are already aware of the fact that Venezuela has been in a horrible economic situation these past few years, with news about the scarcity of all sort of basic products, even toilet paper as was extensively covered by international news sites.
Yet, even though a lot of people know all of this, the majority don’t know how did Venezuela ended up in this mess in the first place. The truth is that Venezuela has been adopting policies and supporting political parties that were anti freedom for a long time.
The result of this is perfectly clear now, the complete collapse of an entire society, starting with its economy.
With this series of articles I plan to explain how it all went so wrong for Venezuela, with the hopes of teaching people the patterns that have been followed in a lot of countries in the past, always having the same end result, destruction of freedom and therefore, destruction of prosperity.
Venezuela before the storm
To understand what the course of events was that resulted in what we see today, it is important to cover the central character of this “story”, Hugo Chavez, and the context in which this individual came to power.
What few understand is that the Venezuela they know, the one that appears on the TV, is not the same Venezuela in which a lot of people grew up. The Venezuela of the 90s, the one Chavez inherited is not like the current one. In the same way the Chavez who won his first elections at the end of the 90s is not the same one who died a decade and a half later. His image, his message, his speech, changed in the course of his government. Or perhaps, what happened was that after winning and consolidating his power, he ended up showing his true colors.
For a person who lives in Venezuela from day to day the transformation is slow. It seems to unfold naturally. After all the change took place over several years. When the changes are progressive and are made slowly, the contrast is zero, and it is very difficult to notice that something is happening. But if we could only observe the initial form and the final form, if we could skip everything in between, then the difference would be extremely clear. For example, if we could summarize the Venezuela at the end of the 90s in a single picture and place it next to another picture of Venezuela years later, the change would seem brutal and unthinkable. The difference would be as dramatic as the typical before and after photos some people use to promote a new diet in which the transformation of the person is so extreme that we doubt if it is even the same person.
Summarizing what Venezuela was like before Chavez is not easy because there is a danger of falling into romanticism because of the tendency to believe all past time is better, and secondly because this regime has put a lot of time and effort into rewriting the past of the country to put the previous situation of Venezuela as an atrocious space from which Chavez rescued them. Because of this, it is difficult to describe that Venezuela in a 100% objective way.
Venezuela in the 90s, before Chavez, was not a paradise. The economic inequality was considerable. A truly minority elite, and almost always with good relations with the government, had a life of excess while the vast majority of the people were poor or close to. The social structure was a pyramid with a very broad base that, instead of being the middle class, it was the lower class.
But that does not say much about what it was like to live in Venezuela on a day-to-day basis. Before this regime appeared, Venezuela was a relatively relaxed place. Most people didn’t talked about politics, and at least young people were not aware of the political details of the country. There was not a strong interest in politics because it was not necessary, finding out what was happening was more difficult than ignoring it because it was not part of the popular conversation, if someone wasn’t interested in politics, that person could almost live without knowing the name of the president or any minister.
Cities were quiet, at least in contrast to what would come next. The public structures each had a different color and public places used to be relatively clean. When it comes to basic services, there was always electricity and running water. If you turned on the TV any day you could always find a baseball game, regular shows, among other type of entertainment. The messages in the media were all different because there was tolerance for diversity of thought. There were journalists openly criticizing the government, each of them with their own opinion, that was normal back then.
Venezuelans have always been a happy people. The treatment of each other, regardless of social class was friendly and cordial. One Venezuelan considered others as Venezuelan with no sense of division whatsoever, and they were able to discuss the country's problems as a situation they faced together. Families and social circles were united regardless of each others political ideas. There was a natural feeling of brotherhood.
Although there was distrust of the government, people felt secure about Venezuela’s future. Many risked their savings to create their own business, people set up their small stores, factories, coffee shops, malls, whatever, because there was confidence in the economy and private property. In the same way, people got married and bought a house without fear, excited about the future. Families got bigger and bigger, and when someone went to another country, they usually went to find a better job, so the reason for this was ambition rather than desperation.
The storm begins
All of that changed after Chavez took power. More than a decade later, poverty, corruption, impunity, and inequality were the same, but in exchange people lost each and every one of the democratic victories they had underestimated in the past, which seemed so little back in the 90s. This new Venezuela is a dramatic place where it is impossible to be comfortable. I use the word "be" and not the word "live" because although it is close to impossible to live in this country, the feeling is more dramatic than that. It is not a problem about the future or the impossibility of creating a life project. Living with this “revolutionary” government is an intolerable situation because it overwhelms people’s life. I will try to explain how it was walking in the streets after this government took over and became more strict. (It should be noted that when saying government, I mean all of their propaganda mechanism, their way of ruling, and their new leader called Nicolas Maduro.)
After these people took power, escaping from politics was impossible, because it was in every space, always surrounding people. The battle began on television. The first thing they did was to abuse a mechanism that allowed the president to communicate a message to the entire nation by using every single one of the public channels. What that means is that the president can interrupt all channels of television and radio to make a speech on all channels simultaneously. Until then this mechanism was used only with serious and very specific topics that lasted just a few minutes to transmit an emergency message or important news, and either way it was almost never used.
Chavez misused this mechanism and started to do national speeches constantly, several hours long speeches that interrupted the programming of all TV channels. People could not enjoy their regular shows or their baseball match because the president was speaking to the country. The speeches were not important, they were a mixture of occurrences about distorted history, with anecdotes about his breakfast, suddenly he released a kind of economic analysis without any sense, and ended the evening singing a song or some absurd thing like that. It was insane. The worst thing is that no one could escape from it because it was on every TV channel, and in those years the internet was not as developed as it is now.
But after a while their takeover strategies started to pay attention to not only the TV or radio, but the city looks as well. The looks of the buildings and its posters, became an ideological battleground in which the government reminded ordinary citizens how insignificant they are. If before Chavez each structure had a different color, with Chavez they were all painted red. Public buildings started to be “decorated” with gigantic portraits of Chavez's face, Che Guevara's face, and sometimes Simón Bolívar's face. Portraits of 30 feet long with a random slogan like for example: “Socialism, or death". As the images were simply a giant poster every time they changed the slogan, the image of the buildings varied as well.
When that happened, it was impossible to look out the window of your house without coming face to face with Chavez's face and his phrases about division and hate. Thus, little by little, but without stopping, every part of society was getting more and more influenced with ideology. It was inescapable. The government in their ideological battle consumed everything. There was no room for anything other than political thought and their ideology. At first this was done only from public institutions but over time the government started to appropriate spaces that were private thanks to their totalitarian ways, until almost all spaces were under their ideological control.
In this article, I covered the beginning of a political movement that would end up causing havoc in Venezuela. And several measures they took to start changing the general atmosphere inside the country, to make everyone see politics as a kind of battle between enemies, with the obvious goal of dividing the people.
In the coming years, the government started to take what could certainly be seen as totalitarian measures, by forbidding the people to freely exchange the local currency with any other international currency (which is a law that still exists), and arbitrarily expropriating private business in what was considered as a direct attack towards private property and freedom, and that would start a series of events that ultimately caused the biggest crisis in the history of the country, which even to this day, is still not resolved.
We will continue with this exploration about how Venezuela ended up losing its freedom in the next entry.
Cheers to all and thanks for reading!
Authored by: @dedicatedguy
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