Mariana Vega on Venezuela's Political, Humanitarian Crisis: 'My Country Is Not the Same One I Left' (Guest Essay)

Mariana Vega photographed on April 22, 2015 in Miami.
Larry Marano/Getty Images

Mariana Vega photographed on April 22, 2015 in Miami. 

As Venezuela’s political and economic situation continues to escalate, we asked Venezuelan artists for their take on the political issues and humanitarian crisis affecting the South American country, which have led to a shortage of basics like medicine and food. Just last week, President Nicolás Maduro shut down the opposition-led National Assembly, signaling a shift toward total dictatorship. Maduro has since reinstated the parliament's legislative powers.

Below, Mariana Vega, a Caracas-born Latin Grammy-winning artist who now lives in Miami, reflects on her "privileged childhood" in Venezuela, leaving the country when former president Hugo Chavez took office, and her hopes for the country. 

When I was approached by Billboard to write about the crisis in Venezuela, I couldn’t understand my own initial reaction. I was conflicted between the need to speak up for my people and fear. Fear of what could happen to me or my family the next time I go visit my country, fear of not being able to properly explain the situation back home and therefore missing an important opportunity to be of any help.

I was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. My weekends were spent between beaches and mountains. Paragliding with my father and siblings, I was able to see my country from a different perspective than most of my friends, and I don’t mean from "up above," I mean being able to meet people from very different backgrounds and building friendships that were not limited to my private school classmates. But the truth is that I had a very privileged childhood and that my reality was unattainable for the majority of the Venezuelan population. These two realities were the key to the growth of a movement, a "revolution" that promised social equality, but only worsened the social divides and economic crisis.

My family and I left Venezuela the year Chavez took office. I have seen the country’s struggles from far away, so I’m not writing these words claiming to be any kind of expert. I’m just expressing my opinion as a Venezuelan that had to leave and hasn’t been able to come back home because there is no home to come back to. My country is not the same one I left. Most of my friends are not living there anymore and the few that are spend their days standing in long lines at the supermarkets or hopping from pharmacy to pharmacy praying they will find the medicines they need, and, if they do find them, hoping they can afford them.

Sometimes I hear them say that all the food scarcity, the health crisis and the corruption might be bearable if only the crime rate were not so rampant.

Let's be clear: It is very hard for me to write these words. Even though the situation in Venezuela is terrible, even though the infant mortality rate is extremely high because hospitals have no resources, even though people are searching for food in other people’s trash, even though the number of political prisoners rises every day and human rights violations are the norm, even though we keep thinking that we have hit rock bottom and yet we keep falling, the naive part of me still wants to leave you with a good impression of Venezuela.

I want the world to know about my beautiful country, its breathtaking landscapes, its joyful and kind people with their witty sense of humor. I want the world to try our delicious arepas and get to know the amazing talent that springs out of Venezuela, the young musicians and artists creating under such adverse circumstances. But this will come in due time. For now, the world needs to pay attention to what the people of Venezuela have been going through for the past 18 years.

And if 18 years is too long a time span to research, just pay attention to what has been happening this last week. Read about the elected National Assembly being dismissed and its attributions being taken over by the Supreme Court. Read about the protests on the streets being met with excessive force and abuse by the national police, read about the attacks on elected members of the National Assembly by colectivos -- militant "thug" civilian groups supported by the government. Read about it and please share it! Silence and fear are the Venezuelan government’s best weapons; we must do our best to give them neither.


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