I was born and raised in Venezuela. I grew up under the dictatorship of Perez Jimenez who, in 1958, fled to the U.S. after embezzling an estimated $200 million from the Venezuelan oil coffers. I remember standing on the balcony of the apartment where my sister and I lived with our parents, watching Jimenez’s motorcade racing down the mountain roads toward the airport.
I remember my dad saying, “There’s going to be a revolution in this country. We’re going to have to leave.”
And in 1963, when the government nationalized the oil companies, we left.
Venezuela always has been rich in oil. It’s why my dad went there in 1937, an accountant for Creole, a subsidiary of Exxon. During the turmoil of Jimenez’s reign and afterward, we experienced bombings in the city, turmoil, chaos. I remember walking into our local supermarket during these tense times and finding the shelves bare because a strike was underway. Or a revolution had started. Maybe it was training for what happens South Florida when a hurricane is on the way.
In the 1980s, wealthy Venezuelans arrived in South Florida for lunch, pedicures, shopping sprees. Now many of them are refugees fleeing to the U.S. and to Colombia. Now, thanks to the regime of Nicholas Maduro, the people don’t have the basics – food, clean water, jobs. After more than 100 days of street protests, in which hundreds of Venezuelans have been killed, Maduro has tossed out the Venezuelan congress and intends to rewrite the constitution so that the executive – Maduro – has more power.
Maduro is like Trump, a congenital liar, a guy who promises much and never delivers. Now that sanctions have been imposed by the trump administration, it means the locals are hurt, the ones who lack food, clean water, medical services. But it’s not clear that trump understands what that means. It’s not clear that trump understands anything about how the world works.
These sanctions, like those the U.S. imposed against Cuba for nearly 60 years, won’t change Maduro or his authoritarian rule. Nothing changed in Cuba until Castro died and his brother took over, and Obama re-opened diplomatic relations. Trump has now scaled back travel to Cuba for Americans – even though we can still fly freely to China, Saudi Arabia, even North Korea, countries whose dictatorships and human rights violations are appalling.
Here’s an excellent article from The Guardian about the parallels around the world to what trump is doing to the U.S., a hollowing out of Democracy. From Maduro in Venezuela, to Putin in Russia to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (and that’s just for starters, Democracy may go the way of the dodo bird.
From The Guardian:
Let’s be brutal: democracy is dying. And the most startling thing is how few ordinary people are worried about it. Instead we compartmentalise the problem. Americans worried about the present situation typically worry about Trump – not the pliability of the most fetishised constitution in the world to kleptocratic rule. EU politicians express polite diplomatic displeasure, as Erdoğan’s AK party machine attempts to degrade their own democracies. As in the early 1930s, the death of democracy always seems to be happening somewhere else.
In the U.S., it’s happening right in front of us.