When Will It End; Venezuela’s Hunger?

When King Leopold of Belgium seized the Congo he was after a colony – he was after wealth and prestige in the halls of power in Europe. He never even visited Congo; it didn’t matter. He didn’t care; didn’t need to know; didn’t feel it had any importance. What he did need – rubber. Before synthetics, rubber came from trees in the orient; in Congo it came from vines. It was Leopold’s ticket to immense riches; and consequently the Belgian thirst for rubber was insatiable. A wise steward bleeds a rubber vine slowly, so as not to kill it. But Belgians wanted more, greater amounts than the vines could not provide. If the villagers did not have full buckets when the Force Publique, the feared mercenaries came through they would receive the ultimate punishment. It was the Belgians who invented the chopping of hands. Out of fear the balance of village life changed. Planting ceased; rituals of births and deaths and marriages ended. It all became about the rubber. In their desperation they would slash whole vines and bleed them, draining them of their lifeblood for the insatiable occupiers. Because they could no longer farm, their eating habits changed. Gone were the beans and the spinach and the goat. They switched to fufu, big balls of boiled manioc; a food that requires no work to harvest and very little preparation. Forget that it also has no nutrients – life would be infinitely shorter anyways for the Congolese if they did not produce the buckets-full of rubber for their oppressors.

The violence changes things.

Profoundly, permanently – irreversibly, the violence is changing Venezuela. In Caracas – people don’t go out at night. There is an unofficial curfew – imposed by the gangs. Restaurants are closed, malls do not work. There is no power anyway, so would bother? And no money to spend, even if the stores had something. In Libya, during the years of Qaddafi, life changed. The walls around houses became high; neighbors have ears and eyes are always unwelcome, un-trusted. The dictator’s spies paid well for information. In Raqqa it’s the boredom, when it’s not the brutality, which accompanies people’s lives. Music, dancing – weddings – iftars; they are all gone. People stay home – when they must go out they hold their heads down and cover up. They always will.

The hunger changes things.

In Caracas, the seat of authority the stores are half full at best; the government trying to placate the angry masses. In the villages, the hunger is consuming. Mango and yucca – that’s what they are eating; until the rainy season ends and the mango goes away. Then what? Who knows. Distrust, envy, bitterness. Sorrow, these are the new feelings of a formerly freedom-loving people who thought about life as a party. Now it’s about existence. Seven meals – I’ve said it before – the difference between stability and mayhem is seven meals. But hungry people cannot fight; because hungry people are only obsessed with that one thing. Its humiliating, the hunger. When you once had plenty – when you can remember those times.

The conversations are all about food these days too. How to survive; and what it must be like in the interior. A video of a starving baby; not Ethiopia, not parts of India. But Carabobo state – where I used to stop for fish empanadas during the times of plenty. What can people do – trying to make the difficult decisions in poverty? The brutality of a regime that never really cared exposed. How often have we seen this before? It never ends well.

The Hunger.png

Dictatorship changes things.

In Congo they still talk about the Belgians. I lived there for years – I know. And the Force Publique, also Congolese – mercenaries who were paid to brutalize their own, the colonizers couldn’t even be bothered to do that, the worst of all labors. In Venezuela – they will talk about the days of hunger forever; like the Periodo Especial in Cuba, or the Killing Fields in Cambodia or the genocide in Rwanda: did you know that North Koreans are a full six inches shorter on average than their South Korean cousins? Self-inflicted destruction is more dramatic; a country falling upon itself and bleeding out in ever-tighter circles; like water going down a drain. First the borderlands go, then the interior, then the regional capitals – and finally Caracas; one great food kitchen with boiling pots of dogs and cats and pigeons in front of an endless line of people with Styrofoam bowls.

When will it end? The hunger. That, of course, is the question – which keeps those of us who think about it up at night; but that is a facile worry for those of us far away – because for those who have not eaten, sleep is impossible.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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22 Responses to When Will It End; Venezuela’s Hunger?

  1. The Behrg says:

    Reblogged this on The Behrg Writes … and commented:
    More poignant thoughts on Venezuela’s crisis by Joel Hirst.

    After viewing more pictures today of thousands standing in food lines, only to be told there is no food, with families that literally have nothing on their shelves or in their fridges, I can’t help but wish I could go back to my days in Venezuela and raise the warning cry louder.


  2. Pingback: When Will It End; Venezuela’s Hunger? — Joel D. Hirst’s Blog | Thus with a kiss I die

  3. Odile Donis says:

    Populations are controlled with food supply.


  4. Rage seems feels to be a redundant response. However, if rage births outrage which leads to pressure on political actors, perhaps…the kernel of a response will grow.


  5. Joe Katzman says:

    if consistent past experience in Marxist countries is any guide, the hunger ends with millions of people dead. distributing food only through party members is a standard approach the presages mass murder.

    following the religion of gulags and graves changes things.

    Venezuela is at a kill or be killed stage.


  6. jeff says:

    Hi Joel

    Could please you expound on the differences between what is happening in Venezuela and (did happen in) Zimbabwe?

    Thank you Jeff


    • Hi Jeff, its a good question. I’m not an expert on Zim. Lots of similarities. However in Zim it didn’t come from a communist takeover (and subsequent destruction) of the mechanisms of production and distribution. It came from Mugabe seizing all the productive land (from white people) to redistribute it to his allies. And that is what collapsed the economy


    • The issue is foreign exchange. the reason we need foreign exchange is to purchase what we cannot produce ourselves. Venezuela started seizing companies so there was a net outflux of exchange as people tried to protect what they had. so venezuela capped the currency, overvaluing their currency which made venezuela expensive. meanwhile they tried to make up for the collapse in production by assuming control of the importation and distribution of food and other goods. But they ran out of money to buy it, could never get their seized company to work. Now, they refuse to liberalize their economy, get rid of foreign exchange restrictions and reduce the size of their government. so people starve because there is no food while inflation goes rampant.


  7. Wonderful blog! I found it while browsing on Yahoo News.
    Do you have any suggestions on how to get listed
    in Yahoo News? I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get
    there! Appreciate it


  8. Joel, I like the way you write.
    However, you have been on Venezuela bashing crusade for some time now. It is almost as though you are basking in some sweet satisfaction of ‘I told you so’. Seriously, people are starving but what solutions are we offering other than describing their plight in depressive terms?

    And to make matters worse; it is the ordinary folks who are at the receiving end of the punishing hunger pangs and not those at the centre of power.

    What are the leading world bodies like WHO doing to meliorate the suffering of ordinary Venezuelans?


  9. Jacob Sulzbach says:

    Well done again Joel. This crisis sickens the heart.

    Only a few days after you posted this, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez responded to OAS President Luis Almagro’s most recent report on the situation in Venezuela saying “there is no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.”


    There is no end to the outrage from the Chavistas.


  10. Robert S. Cameron says:

    Nice writing. It’s so heart-wrenching to hear what the Venezuelan people are enduring. it makes me want to gather up friends and fly to a nearby island (eg Trinidad, Aruba, Curaçao), load up food in a hired boat, and land on a beach near Caracas. I realize this simplistic action wouldn’t really make a dent, but the fact that it is relatively simple to reach Venezuela from any number of wealthy nations makes it all the more frustrating.


  11. Bill says:

    I could not resist commenting. Exceptionally well written!


  12. Nam H Nguyen says:

    It’s not a matter of food aid – there’s plenty of that.
    It’s more of a matter of where all that aid going 😐 The problem with countries that require aid is that they contain institutionalized corruption – which prevents anyone but the wealthy getting hands on donations.
    The problem is even more glaring when you consider that Venezuela is meant to be a communist nation. Whatever happened to equality for all?


  13. Ewan says:

    I think more writers need to write with enthusiasm like you.
    Even educational articles like this can have personality.
    That’s what you have injected in this helpful post. Your views are very exceptional.


  14. Pingback: Stalin, the NYT and the Holodomor | Joel D. Hirst's Blog

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