Venezuela Before Chavez

By Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryA quarter of a century ago, I was in Venezuela. It was another time, and in so many ways it was another country. I cannot compare the Venezuela I saw with the one that exists today. I was able to get into that country comparatively easy. I simply got a tourist visa stamped into my passport, and I was on my merry way. Did I have to worry about getting a taxi and any crime? The answer was no. Taxis were easy to get, and I did not have to worry about attacks on the highways or even side-roads. Were there beggars? Yes, but I would say there were far fewer than in Mexico during the same time period. Was there any problem eating or buying any food? The answer was no. The grocery stores I had seen were well stocked and the prices for the common people were reasonable. More than that, nobody was starving, and I could easily go to a nearby restaurant and eat a good seafood dinner which I did.

Was it dangerous at night? In part, the answer was yes, but it was far, far more dangerous in the slum areas in the mountains just above the cities and not in the city center wherever I visited. It is not to say there were not any robberies, but it was actually safer just about anywhere in Venezuela compared to Mexico of the same time period. Was it safe to voice my opinion in the country? There was complete freedom of speech in Venezuela at the time. I used to get a free copy of the newspaper The Daily Journal at the hotel I stayed at. It had all kinds of news about what was happening in the country, and it published the good, the bad, and the ugly about the situation. Not only was the newspaper free to publish the stories it had in its pages, but it presented a very balanced view of what was happening in the country at the time.

Did people feel they had any future in Venezuela? Did Venezuelans want to leave? That was probably the only country at the time in South America where people overall wanted to stay and work for a brighter future. Yes, the country had 30 percent poverty, and some political problems, but the average Venezuelan wanted to live in Venezuela and work to make the country better. The country’s currency, the bolivar, had actual buying power, and people overall could afford to buy not only food but also consumer goods as well as have good paying jobs and live in safer communities than they can now. The political problems the country exhibited at the time would become the opportunity for Hugo Chavez to come to power and put the country on the path of socialism. We have seen what this path has led to, and may take two or more generations for Venezuela to recover from the current nightmare it is in now once the socialist government that controls the country is gotten rid of.

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