Alexander Duarte and his family are now refugees in Toronto. He and his wife are members of the Pen Writers in Exile Supper Club. This column has been translated by Canadian-Mexican author Martha Bátiz.
Venezuela owns the world's biggest oil reserves and is rich in minerals such as gold, iron and diamonds but its population is going hungry from lack of food and medicine.
After ascending to power in January, 1999, Hugo Chavez and his regime benefited from an increase in oil prices. With billions of dollars at its disposal, Venezuela gave away oil to countries which, in turn, became its allies within international organizations.
In April, 2002, after a failed coup, the regime launched the persecution of journalists and the opposition. At the same time, it established very restrictive money exchange controls, expropriated farm lands as well as food-producing companies, and withdrew mining and oil concessions.
But the regime was not capable of producing enough food and started to import it through the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela. This move opened the doors for senior officials to become private entrepreneurs, carrying out the biggest embezzlement Venezuela had ever seen.
The exchange rate is officially set at 10 bolivares per dollar, but this applies to imports only. The dominant cycle of corruption consists of making dollars available at this price only to those who are close to the regime. They, in return, buy merchandise abroad, which is then sold at the price set by a parallel exchange rate where, right now, one dollar is equivalent to 178.547 bolivares. The minimum wage is insufficient to cover the food expenses of Venezuelan families. At the end of last year, President Nicolas Maduro announced the sixth increase to the minimum wage in that year alone – which, in real terms, is barely five dollars per month.
After the fall in oil prices, the government does not have enough resources to import food any longer. The so-called food-sovereignty translates into hunger, malnutrition, repeated looting of supermarkets and food-transporting trucks, farmhouse robbery, and livestock theft.
The government hopes to combat inflation through strict price control. With the support of the National Guard, it polices supermarkets and forces managers to drastically reduce prices. Some managers are even deprived of their liberty, accused of promoting an "economic war"– a term that the government uses to justify its inability to stop the increase of the inflation rate, which, in 2017, reached 2,616 per cent.
President Maduro has created the "Homeland ID." Those who have it have access, once a month, to insignificant bags of food. People are starving.
In July, 2017, Mr. Maduro created the National Constituent Assembly, which granted itself legislative authority. On Aug. 5, 2017, its first action was to dismiss Attorney-General Luisa Ortega Diaz, who, four months before, had denounced to the world the breach of constitutional order in Venezuela. The Constituent Assembly granted itself judicial authority, ordering to have the Attorney-General and her husband, representative German Ferrer, arrested. They were forced to flee on a tiny boat to Aruba. Ms. Ortega Diaz, who was once close to President Chavez, has experienced herself the tragedy of dozens of politically persecuted Venezuelans.
My wife and I, together with our children, were also forced to flee. We were accused of collaborating with the Attorney-General in the dissemination of documents that prove the government's fraud in designating 33 magistrates for the Supreme Court, many of them involved in various crimes. Journalists are accused of being traitors: More than 376 were attacked in 2017 by security agencies; fourteen of them were arrested and cruelly mistreated. On May 10, during a protest, journalist Miguel Castillo was killed.
The denunciations of corruption made by Ms. Ortega Diaz generated numerous demonstrations against the government, during which 157 people were killed and more than 2,000 wounded by the National Guard. Three thousand were arrested. Through the Constituent Assembly, Mr. Maduro's government passed the Anti-Hate Law, which allows citizens to be arrested merely for expressing their dissatisfaction.
The government claims that nothing is wrong in Venezuela but the political upheaval is at its highest. It's not only middle-class students who are protesting on the streets when hunger is a fact for many.
How can my wife and I explain to our children why they had to abandon their country, to leave their friends behind and become forced foreigners, exiled and banished, only because their parents were persecuted for telling the truth?