It is a phone call that every Venezuelan fears to answer. The stranger’s voice on the other side immediately paralyzes your body. You don’t know who he is, but you know why he is calling. The name of a loved one is followed by threats. Your voice breaks, but you don’t need it—there’s no time for you to speak. He gives you instructions, then quickly hangs up. The end of the call marks the beginning of a very long night. Your first move: find cash.
Kidnappings became common in Venezuela around the year 2000. The guerrillas in the frontier with Colombia initiated the trend. Guerrillas, the Spanish for little wars, is the name commonly given to armed groups that attempt to rebel against the established army or overthrow an existing government. Small bands in Venezuela learned the “know-how” of the guerrillas’ crime and brought it to the main cities of the country. Initially, their targets were big businessmen, but with time and practice, the target became anyone who is walking alone and unarmed.
Violence in the country is growing exponentially, but little has been done to stop it. In fact, the government widely ignores the issue, and it seems to have a reason for it. Kidnappings are one link in a chain of crimes that makes Venezuela one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Sadly, stories of robberies and murders have become standard. The number of killings is spine-chilling, with 24,700 violent deaths last year, according to the nonprofit Venezuelan Violence Observatory.
Crime bleeds from an open wound that divides the country into two parts, each half fed by the misconception that contrary opinions are wrong and that one side must hate the other. President Nicolás Maduro is a strong supporter of this idea, which takes the country far from a peaceful reality. The extremes on both sides blame each other for the country’s problems, creating a chaotic political climate that clouds the fact that these issues are affecting the people of Venezuela.
Venezuela urgently needs reconciliation. However, the government will not take the country in that direction because it seems to take advantage of Venezuela’s disunion. They pocket the money of the oil-rich country, while Venezuelans are distracted with the violence and unsolved problems. Maduro constantly insults his opposition, calling them fascists and nazis. With those empty words he accuses them for the problems crippling the country, when in reality, he is the one to blame.
Being a victim of violence in Venezuela is more the rule than the exception. I have heard stories about kidnappings, but I have never thought my family and I would experience it. Simon, my 21-year old brother, was kidnapped 2 years ago. He still recalls the four men pointing guns at him when his car was intercepted. He remembers the sound of the shots that were fired between the police and his kidnappers. Simon has committed to his memory the voices of those who made him feel completely helpless for the longest three hours of his life.
It is no secret to anyone that the opposition in Venezuela has had enough. The country has been shaken by protests for the past month. The manifestations were encouraged by opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, as part of his campaign “La Salida” (The Exit) to unseat Maduro. Besides their desire for a change of government, the protesters are demanding solutions to the deadly crimes, basic goods shortages, and inflation.
The protests have turned fatal, with a total of 21 deaths. The killings are supplementary evidence to the extreme political ideas that divide Venezuela. Pro-government groups infiltrated the demonstrations and shot at the protesters. Maduro has banned rallies and ordered the National Guard to disperse crowds with tear gas and rubber bullets. He also ordered the imprisonment of Leopoldo Lopez. We keep calling Venezuela a democracy, but that’s a mistake. In real democracies, the people’s opinions are suppressed by rubber bullets.
Unfortunately, these protests won’t make a long-term change, as the government has the power to completely shut them down. The responsibility to heal and reunite the country falls on the people of Venezuela. There need to be fewer protests against Maduro and more conversation between the two halves. The opposition must wake their brothers from the government’s spell. It should be clear to all Venezuelans that the government is the one responsible for the shortages of milk to feed babies, the lack of paper to print the newspapers, the grief of uncountable families, and the inflation of 56% (the highest in the world). Before “The Exit” of the government, there needs to be an exit from the dark place where divisions took our Venezuela.