18 What Venezuela Silences

Daniela Molina Palacios

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In this piece, Molina Palacios narrates the glory of Venezuela and the conditions that led to its present political conflict and economic crisis. An essay carefully crafted in thought and vision, it employs contextualization, history, statistics, and personal narrative to educate readers about the country. This essay is especially insightful and visionary for its bilingualism, experimentation with formatting, and poetic nature while maintaining the focus and research components crucial to standard academic essays. Molina Palacios incorporates and balances both creativity and intellect that expands readers’ ideas of what a research paper can look like.

Daniela Molina Palacios


ENGLWRIT 112: College Writing

Day Month Year

What Venezuela Silences

Llevo tu luz y tu aroma en mi piel; y el cuatro en el corazón.1

I carry your light and your scent on my skin; and the cuatro2 in the heart.

Venezuela had it all. It was a country that was blessed with everything one could ever ask for: it had the largest proven oil reserves in the world, vast agriculture, natural wonders, and ganas.3 It was the promised land; the land of opportunities for those who were trying to escape the disasters left by the World Wars. Venezuela, with its rich cultural traditions and contagious energy, was easy to fall in love with, not only for the breathtaking landscapes but for its people.

Llevo en mi sangre la espuma del mar y tu horizonte en mis ojos.

I carry in my blood the sea foam and your horizon in my eyes.

Eight hundred and seven. The height, in meters, of the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world, which is called Angel Falls and is located in Venezuela. 4,765. The meters above sea level of the highest cableway in the country, which is also the highest in the world and second longest. Two. The number of consecutive crowns won in the Miss Universe. Five hundred and ninety-three. The total number of ice cream flavors in a store located in Mérida, Venezuela, which gives them the record for the most quantity of ice cream flavors. 177,617. The size, in square kilometers, of the Amazonia forest located in Venezuela, which is the biggest portion of the largest rainforest in the world.  2008. The year Venezuela was voted the happiest country in the world.

Con tus paisajes y mis sueños me iré…

With your landscapes and my dreams, I will leave…

27,875. The number of people who died in 2015 due to violent crime. 1,351.98. The number of bolívares a dollar can buy on the black market. One hundred and forty-one. The percentage of the inflation by the end of 2015. Twelve. The mortality rate in the country due to homicides. Eight. The percentage of the economy that is projected to shrink this year. Ninety. The number of homicides for every 10,000 inhabitants. Eighty-nine. The percentage of homicides that go unpunished. Thirty. The number of minutes the government pushed the official time forward, to maximize daylight and blunt the blow of power shortages. Eighteen. The number of minimum wages needed to get a basic food basket. One hundred and forty-six. The amount in dollars that a McDonald’s Happy Meal costs in Caracas. Three. The time in the morning when people start lining up in supermarkets with the hope of buying basic products. Two. The percentage amount that the death rate among babies under a month old increased in the last year. 27,064,231. My ID number, which ends in one and means I only get to buy food or hygiene products on Mondays.  Zero. The places Venezuelans feel safe. One. The number of questions that comes to mind: How did we get here?

It was once one of the richest countries in Latin America, and now it is falling apart. The country that was once “divided” into two baseball teams’ supporters is now split into Chavistas, the name given to the followers of the socialist policies of the late President Hugo Chavez, and those who cannot wait to see an end to the seventeen years in power of his United Socialist Party (PSUV). As BBC News summarizes the conflict in its article “Venezuela Crisis: What Is Behind the Turmoil?” while Chavistas praised Chavez for using Venezuela’s oil riches to markedly reduce inequality and for lifting many Venezuelans out of poverty, the opposition stated that ever since it came to power in 1999, the PSUV had eroded Venezuela’s democratic institutions and mismanaged its economy. Over the years, the government managed to change the laws in order to concentrate power to themselves and stay longer and longer in power; all for “the people’s benefit”. In 2013, the socialist leader, Hugo Chavez, passed away and after fraudulent elections, his successor Nicolas Maduro, who was handpicked by Chavez himself, rose into power with the promise of continuing Chavez’s policies. However, Maduro has not been able to inspire Chavistas in the same way his predecessor did (“Venezuela Crisis”).

Chavez’s social programs were possible because of the money coming in from oil. When oil was around $100 a barrel, the millions flowing in through the state-owned petroleum company could be spent on social programs and subsidizing food. However, as Rachel Clarke explains in her article for CNN, when oil prices fell to less than $30 a barrel that became unsustainable. With the drastic fall in oil prices, the amount of foreign currency available for the government, which affected dramatically the ability to import items, decreased resulting in critical shortages of goods, including medicine. Also, Chavez ordered the prices of key products to be slashed so that everyone could afford them, which makes them accessible for consumers. Now, however, the prices have fallen below the cost of production, so domestic producers have stopped making them, which has led to imports becoming even more essential (Clark).

Shortages of basic food. Shortages of medicine. Rolling blackouts. Difficulty getting clean water. Rising unemployment. Soaring violent crime. All of these have become part of our daily life. A perfect example of the crisis Venezuela is facing, that Javier Corrales assertively explains in his article for The Huffington Post, is the phenomenon known as las colas. When Venezuelans stand in lines to get food, they face four types of painful uncertainties. First, because the lines are so long, there is no guarantee to make it to the front. Second, even if you manage to enter the store, you still don’t know whether you’ll get what you need, if anything at all. Stores often run out of rationed products, and the prices are too high due to rampant inflation. Third, standing in line makes you an easy target for criminals. Venezuela, being one of the most insecure countries in the world, murders and robberies in broad daylight are routine. And lastly, Venezuelans are uncertain if a protest will materialize while standing in line. Protests incite the police to act and can trap innocent bystanders in episodes of violence or even arbitrary arrests. The government has created hunger games (Corrales).

Separately, per Freedom House in 2015, Venezuela scored eighty one out of a hundred in press freedom, one hundred being the worst. Press freedom deteriorated in Venezuela in 2014 as journalists were caught up in Maduro’s attempts to shut down antigovernment demonstrations. More than forty people were killed and at least nine hundred injured by the time the protests began to calm down; journalists covering the events were subject to arrests, harassment, and violence. Moreover, the sale of influential newspaper El Universal in an opaque transaction the same year, which led to the softening of its critical stand toward the government, was another blow to press freedom after two other major networks suffered similar fates in 2013. Also, Freedom House assertively explains the lack of freedom of speech by calling out the 2004 Law on Social Responsibility in Radio, Television, and Electronic Media, which contains vaguely worded restrictions. For example, the law bans content that could “incite or promote hatred,” “foment citizens’ anxiety or alter public order”, “disrespect authorities”, “encourage assassinations”, or “constitute war propaganda” (“Venezuela”). There is no clearer example of the press oppression faced in Venezuela than the fact that I had to turn to international sources to get real ciphers and events that were happening in my own country to be able to write this paper. The government has silenced us. They have made us hungry, and they have silenced us.

Despite being only nineteen years old, I have missed months of classes due to riots happening all around the country. I have heard gun shots while trying to do homework in my bedroom, the place you are supposed to feel safe. While working at a tutor center, I have witnessed how kids robbed other kids. I have been pulled out of my classroom by the capuchas.4 I have had to pack my notebook and pencil and run desperately trying to find a way out. I have been locked down in my own neighborhood by barricades built by ourselves. I have marched for kilometers hoping the deaf government men would listen. I have stood in line for hours trying to get food and hygiene products. I have gone to every pharmacy or drug store in my hometown trying to find medicine my sister or I needed. I have been living in fear of leaving my house. I have been afraid of being in my house. I have been afraid.

Y tus recuerdos al atardecer, me harán más corto el camino.

And your memories at sundown, will make shorter my path.

Twenty-three. The ranking of Venezuela, despite the critical crisis the country is facing, in the happiest countries in the world by The Washington Post in 2015. We Venezuelans are passionate and energetic people. We have a way of finding the humor in every situation: we laugh it off. Our traditions, culture and ganas are still intact. You would never hear a single Venezuelan speaking badly of the country; they may speak badly of the government or the situation, but never about Venezuela. On the contrary, we love Venezuela more than ever, because protesting and fighting for your country has a funny way of making you love it even more. You may find Venezuelans all over the globe: Madrid or Oviedo, Spain; Panama City, Panama; Lisbon, Portugal; Bogotá, Colombia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Toronto, Canada; Quito, Ecuador… Amherst, United States of America; and I assure you that each one of them would do anything to have an arepa5 and un marrón6 while listening to Alma Llanera7 in the warmth of Venezuela.

Y si un día tengo que naufragar;

y un tifón rompe mis velas,

enterrad mi cuerpo cerca del mar,

…en Venezuela.

And if one day find myself shipwrecked

And a typhoon breaks my sails,

Bury my body near the sea,

… in Venezuela.

1 Lyrics of a popular song dedicated to Venezuela by writers Jose Luis Armentos Sanchez and Pablo Herrero Ibarz.

2 Traditional Venezuelan instrument.

3 Willingness.

4 Group of antisocialists.

5 Traditional food.

6 Coffee.

7 Popular Venezuelan song.

Works Cited

Alarcón, Benigno et al. “Can Democracy Win in Venezuela?” Journal of Democracy, vol. 27, no. 2, Apr. 2016, pp. 20-34.

Bremmer, Ian. “These 5 Facts Explain Why Venezuela Could Be on the Brink of Collapse.” Time, May 2016, http://time.com/4342329/venezuela-economic-collapse-nicolas-maduro/

Corrales, Javier. “How Venezuela’s Repressive Government Controls the Nation Through Hunger.” The Huffington Post, 8 Oct. 2016, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/venezuela-government-hunger_b_11429014

Clarke, Rachel. “What Went Wrong in Venezuela?” CNN, 2 Aug. 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/02/americas/venezuela-what-went-wrong

VanderMey, Anne. “What on Earth Happened in Venezuela?” Fortune, 1 June 2016, http://fortune.come/2016/06/02/venezuela-crisis-key-statistics/

“Venezuela.” Freedom House, 2015, freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2015/venezuela

“How Happy is Your Country?” Washington Post, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/world-happiness-2015/

“Venezuela Crisis: What is Behind the Turmoil?” BBC News, 26 Oct. 2016, www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-36319877


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