It is important not to overlook the very real economic war being waged by the U.S. and its allies in Venezuela and throughout Latin America.
This morning I saw the sun rise over Venezuela from 30,000 feet, my flight descending to Caracas in the early dawn light. As the darkness retreated, a rugged, majestic coastline came into view: the small waves lapping against the rocky shore, perceptible only by a thin streak of white foam set against the dark brown of rock, and deep green of the lush hillside just above it.
This was my first glimpse of Venezuela, a country I have been following since the early days of my political development, when a man named Hugo Chavez was elected and shook the very foundations of Latin America, challenging the hegemony of the U.S. Empire in its own “backyard.” Soon I was in the airport, sipping strong coffee from a small plastic cup with a few members of my delegation from the U.S. and Canada. We all came to the Bolivarian Republic to bear witness to the all-important elections scheduled to take place Sunday, as well as the violence and destabilization that is likely to follow if the U.S.-backed opposition loses.
From the back seat of the car taking us from the airport to the center of Caracas, I gazed out the window, drinking in the landscape, the people, the juxtaposition of modern public housing high rises and small, dilapidated homes lining the hillsides. But as I observed the surroundings, there was one pair of eyes that seemed to be gazing back: El Comandante.
Chavez is larger than life in Venezuela, a country where “Chavismo” is both a movement and an ideology, one rooted in the legacy of this hero and leader, even in death. His face adorns billboards. His signature is plastered on the sides of buildings. His eyes have literally come to be the symbol of the PSUV, the Venezuelan socialist party that he built into a political force in the Bolivarian Republic (also a Chavez creation) and throughout Latin America.
But one cannot help but be struck by the difficulties the country now faces. Many basic necessities of life such as deodorant, sunscreen, and toilet paper are either missing from store shelves, or are in such short supply that lines wrapping around the block are a common sight at busy drug stores in the city. Inflation has wreaked havoc on daily life for ordinary Venezuelans who have been forced to wait for hours at the ATM just to withdraw Bolivars whose official exchange rate is 6.5 to 1 U.S. dollar, while the unofficial rate is hovering around 800 to 1. Even the cafes and restaurants that line the major avenues of Caracas are often out of basic foods such as beans, pork, and more. For someone with visions of hot, steaming arepas (Venezuela’s signature food) filled with juicy pernil (shredded pork) dancing in my head in the days leading up to my trip, the lack of such staples was a major realization of just how dire the economic situation has become.