Editor’s note: this piece is being published with the explicit permission of the author’s affiliate (represented in this article by the name ‘Jaime Barrio’) who wishes to remain anonymous.
I met Jaime Barrio when he came to the US. He was an engineering student with a passion for building and racing go-karts. His team stayed at my Airbnb while attending an international dune-buggy competition. Now he’s back in Caracas, Venezuela where a hostile government allows a humanitarian crisis to worsen daily. We talk on WhatsApp when his electricity works and I’ve helped him write the following account of his experience:
My life in Venezuela is like an apocalypse movie. Every day I see mothers with their babies living in the street, eating decomposing food from the trash. Food prices are completely insane. A week’s worth of meals costs $20 for one person but the minimum wage is $6 a month. We often go without power, but the lack of water is even worse. In Caracas, it is critical. Medicine is too expensive or unavailable. Hundreds of people die in the infected hospitals every day. To get sick here of any nonsense is to be one step away from death. I’ve lost count of how many friends and family have left the country.
Those who remain here are trapped. We are imprisoned in our country and we live in fear. President Nicolas Maduro uses national television to summon crooks on motorbikes, known as “colectivos,” to intimidate the population. We have no speech, no justice, no freedom, and the truth is that we cannot recover these rights alone.
In 2014 we protested but the government responded with force. They killed activists and sent many others to prison. Political opponents, journalists, students, all still in jail. In 2015 we won a majority in the National Assembly, and in 2017 the regime illegally stripped its power and gave it to a sham congress packed with Maduro allegiants.
This is not democracy, but unfortunately it follows a precedent set in Venezuela. In 2004, Hugo Chavez made a mockery of the Supreme Court. He created a false majority by adding 12 supporters to the existing 20-seat court. To demonstrate their loyalty the judges took an oath: “I give my life for the Revolution. I would never betray this process, and much less my Commander.” But Chavez’s social programs were popular, and we didn’t realize the regime he was creating. We didn’t see it until the oil money stopped flowing and he lost popular support, but he wouldn’t give up his power.
When Chavez’s successor, Maduro, stripped the National Assembly our nation protested for months, almost daily. The repercussion was even worse. At that moment we realized that these criminals will not abide even by their own constitution. They will not relinquish power and we, the citizens, do not have the power to fight against the state.
It is important to know that the dictators are criminals. Maduro’s networks and military high command work with violent drug traffickers like the FARC and the ELN, a fact that was verified by Insight Crime’s Venezuelan Investigation Unit. Even Islamic terrorists are gaining foothold here, mostly thanks to former vice president, Tareck El Aissami.
Venezuelans do not stand for this so we rally behind Juan Guaido, the rightful leader under our constitution. After Maduro was sworn in this January 2019, after those illegitimate elections, our constitution put responsibility on Juan Guaido, president of the National Assembly, to take command as Interim President of Venezuela and restore democracy by holding legitimate elections. Maduro paints this as a coup when in reality he himself has violated our constitution and even rewritten it with the help of his sham congress and packed courts. In response to the challenge, the dictators kidnapped Guaido’s Chief of Staff and are threatening to incarcerate Guaido too.
While many countries acknowledge Juan Guaido’s legitimacy, we are still trapped by these tyrants. They have money, the military and they hide in a fortified palace. We barely have food, we are living in the streets and more than 3 million of us have fled. The US oil sanctions will take months to work, and rumors say they may not even work due to Russian backing of Maduro’s oil complex. This delay will mean death for many of us. The water crisis is extremely dire.
While we resist, Maduro has blocked humanitarian aid that would save lives. For my people, please demand your government start negotiations now. Help us get Nicolas Maduro to step down. We don’t want war but we are desperate, so much so that many of us even pray for a military strike.
I did not, and will not, leave Venezuela. Because I love my country, and like many other Venezuelans, I firmly believe in the great potential of this nation. I will stay here, resisting, giving the best of me to make it a better place, and hoping that everything is going to be good.
Jaime Barrio is a citizen living in Caracas, Venezuela.
Robbie Harding is a graduate student at Stanford University.
Contact Robbie Harding at robbieh ‘at’ stanford.edu.