Nobody expects it to hit close to them – the hunger. We see pictures on television: Ethiopia, Congo, Kosovo. We dig into our pockets or open our checkbooks to help, we are good people of course. Sometimes we watch a documentary on the History channel, old pictures of internment camps with the emaciated bodies of the victims of foreign wars; and we wonder how it could have come to that? We go to the parades to honor our veterans, celebrating our heroes and mourning the great loss of life; black and white pictures glossing over the horror with the brush of time. It can’t happen to us.
“Venezuela isn’t Cuba,” we heard a lot in the heady days of Hugo Chavez. “That could never happen here; hunger isn’t something we Venezuelans will put up with.” Turns out they were wrong. Venezuela has entered its own Periodo Especial – a time in the mid 90’s when the Castro’s starved their island. Yet oddly enough we hear it still, all the time in fact, those words. Brazil is not Venezuela – except it almost was. Spain is not Brazil – except that it very well might be.
For the last twenty years all anybody in Venezuela talked about was politics. Over expensive meals, black label whiskey and cold beer on street corners the endless debate raged: revolution, popular democracy, participatory democracy. Conspiracies, the empire – planning; oh, the endless planning. The only thing people talk about these days is food. Where can you find milk? Has anybody seen eggs? Cheese, butter, chicken – these are the topics, on street corners in front of boarded up kiosks where the drunken debates used to rage. But the beer is now gone, and sobriety is a heartless companion. It’s humiliating, the hunger is – but hungry people don’t care. They don’t have the luxury of pride.
Then people you know begin to talk about their hunger. What they feel like, the hunger pangs. How they cope; their new meal schedules, their strategies to avoid the bread lines. Their thoughts of meat – their dreams of powdered milk; the cries of their babies.
We reach for our checkbooks again – and it hits us; true poverty has nothing to do with money.
They forget to tell you that, don’t they? The Harvard professors who still teach Marxism – although they call it socialism these days. The Hollywood crowd who love to talk about redistribution. They don’t tell us what to do when all the money in the universe will not buy a loaf of bread. When, in a land of consumers, nobody is left who can produce. They don’t tell you that all the matrices and elections and orders and threats and laws and guns in the world cannot turn that money into milk and butter and eggs. That is – and always has been – the job of free citizens.
In Spanish there’s a word for what is happening in Venezuela; desgracia. We don’t have a similar word in English; the closest translation is ‘misfortune’; but that doesn’t sum up the anger and disgust and powerlessness. There’s a sister word in Spanish too, desgraciados; again no word in English sums up the enmity against ‘those who caused the misfortune’.
What is happening in Venezuela is, nevertheless, a desgracia caused by a group of desgraciados.