“Why don’t you go to Venezuela and speak to people living there to find out what is really going on?”
Invariably, any article or post on social media presenting a different view to that pushed by the corporate media would prompt numerous comments such as this — almost always from people not in Venezuela and who, mostly, have never been there.
So Green Left Weekly decided to take up the challenge.
In early March, together with freelance journalist Joe Montero and solidarity activist Lucho Riquelme, I went to Venezuela as part of a fact-finding mission coordinated by the Melbourne-based Latin American Solidarity Network.
Unlike most journalists who cover Venezuela from the wealthy suburbs of eastern Caracas or Miami, United States, we ventured to Caracas’s poorer neighbourhoods, the barrios. We also travelled to rural states such as Barinas and Apure, on the border with Colombia.
Our aim was to hear from those voices permanently and deliberated excluded from the media discussion on Venezuela.
We wanted to hear firsthand about their realities, how they were dealing with the current crisis, who they blame for it, and how they would like to see it resolved.
We met with representatives from women’s organisations and the LGBTI community; members of the much disdained colectivos; independent journalists and economists; grassroots activists from communal councils and communes; and many others we happened to bump into on our way.
People such as María Paez who we met in the barrio of Santa Teresa, in one of the poorest parts of San Fernando, the capital of Apure.
Following a short discussion with residents and members of the local communal councils, I approached María to ask what day-to-day life was like for her, given everything we had heard about Venezuela’s “humanitarian crisis”.
“The truth is that the situation is very difficult,” she told me. “But we are convinced we will get out of it.”
“What we want is unity, peace and to be able to resolve our problems by ourselves, because the idea that others will resolve our problems for us is a lie. We are sure of that.
“I know what life was like before [the government of former president Hugo Chavez]. Perhaps a young person, someone who is 16 or 17-years-old doesn’t remember, but I am 41-years-old, so no one can lie to me because that was something I lived through.
“We were very poor, very humble and, thanks to the revolution, today we have houses made of concrete, we have floors made of cement.
“I was able to study as a result of the revolution, because before the revolution this would not have been possible but today it is something I have achieved.
“We were very poor. Everything was available to buy but we couldn't buy anything because we didn't have any money.
“Given the wealth that Venezuela has, we shouldn't be facing the kind of conditions we have today. These are difficult moments. But we are fighting and we are convinced we will be able to overcome this.”
Asked who she blamed for the situation, María said: “We are facing an economic war. Everyone knows what they want here in Venezuela: our natural resources.
“The main problem is that imperialism has always viewed itself as being above everything else and is willing to destroy everything to maintain that position.
“Imperialism has always attempted to show us as standard of living that doesn't exist and cannot exist. We only have one planet, we cannot destroy it.
“This is something we need to take into consideration. We need to make sure we can leave a planet for our children. This is really what we want, what we have being doing and what the revolution has taught us: to love what we have, respect what we have, and to try to get ahead with the little we have.”
I asked what she thought about Juan Guaidó, Venezuela’s self-proclaimed “interim president”.
“Well, the truth is I don't think much of Juan Guaidó because he doesn't have any plan,” María responded.
“His plan is to destroy everything we have built and that's not what we need.
“What he should be doing is putting forward a plan — that is, if he really wants to help Venezuela — and on the basis of that plan convince us to support him, just as Hugo Chavez convinced us with his words and actions.
“He should try to do this the proper way; he is trying to do this in an improper manner, but he hasn't been able to achieve his aim.”
María’s belief in the need for peace and for Venezuelans to be able to resolve their problems free of foreign interference was shared by many we spoke to. This was the case whether they were the most loyal followers of President Nicolas Maduro, revolutionaries who don’t trust Maduro, and even many opposition supporters.
This belief is also shared by millions more Venezuelans, as poll after poll has shown.
The question therefore that should be asked is: Why are governments of countries like Australia and the media refusing to speak to people living in Venezuela to find out what is really going on?
[This visit was made possible in part by donations from Green Left supporters. Donate now to help us continue our coverage.]