Venezuela’s Rum
Extended hyperinflation continues to cripple Venezuela’s economy with prices of basic groceries skyrocketing to five times the monthly minimum wage from 2015 to 2017. Estimates determined that extreme poverty in Venezuela in 2016 was 82 percent. Yet, there is a shimmer of light with potential economic growth through Venezuela’s rum industry.

Fall in Whiskey Sales

For a long time, people have seen Scotch as a status symbol in Venezuela and often only for the upper-class to enjoy at home or for middle-class friends to have on a night out. In 2007, Venezuelans consumed over three million boxes of whiskey, fifth in consumption worldwide and priced at nearly $151 million in imports. In 2009, imported Scotch whiskey outsold Venezuela’s rum sales nearly two to one.

However, with hyperinflation setting in, reaching over 60,000 percent in 2018 and almost 350,000 percent in 2019, imports experienced restriction and the tightening of currency controls, putting whiskey out of reach for many. At the black market rate, a bottle of Chivas Regal 18-Year-Old Whiskey costs $31, more than the country’s monthly minimum wage.

Rise in Rum Sales

The popularity of whiskey began declining in 2013, with a 29 percent drop in sales. At this point, the country had only recently crossed the hyperinflation threshold of 50 percent, while Venezuela’s rum sales increased by 22.6 percent. During that same time period, domestic rum production increased from 15.8 million to 21.8 million liters.

In addition to the rising cost of imports, the government’s recent introduction of relaxed regulations and loosening price controls has bolstered domestic rum production. This has led to Santa Teresa, one of Venezuela’s rum distilleries, to become the first in the country to release a public offering in 11 years, selling one million shares on January 24, 2020. With banks hesitant to lend, public offerings provide alternative forms of capital that can allow businesses to grow and become more competitive in the global market.

Project Alcatraz

Project Alcatraz, a recreational rugby initiative, launched as a means of rehabilitation and to serve as a deterrent for gang violence after gang members broke into the grounds of the Santa Teresa rum distillery. Now, Project Alcatraz includes vocational training, psychological counseling and formal education, reaching roughly 2,000 adolescents and a few hundred inmates.

Additionally, experts believe that the project has led to a drop in the murder rate of the local municipality. In 2003, the year the project originated, there were 114 murders per 100,000 people; as of 2016, that number had dropped to 13 per 100,000 people.

Cocuy

Venezuelan rum has not been the only liquor that has seen recent success in the country. Cocuy is a liquor similar to that of Mexican tequila because it comprises of fermented agave plants. Cocuy has a long history in the country, with indigenous groups originally making it 500 years ago. The country reportedly outlawed the drink prior to 2006 to boost Venezuela’s rum and beer production and sales. Cocuy production companies regained licensure, resulting in the drink gaining popularity throughout the years. This once stigmatized drink meant for the poor and less refined is now one of choice primarily because of its low price point.

While the rise in domestic liquor sales may be seemingly insignificant, the growth of any domestic industry can play a critical role in the reversal of the economic climate of an impoverished nation. Venezuela’s rum revolution in the past decade could turn the country’s economy around.

– Scott Boyce
Photo: Pixabay

5 Ways Music Helps Impoverished Youth
For many cultures, music is a primary form of expression. It serves as an outlet for struggles with identity, relationships, politics and even poverty. Since music encapsulates various elements of a culture, it is essential for heritage preservation and for spreading awareness about the adversity that the respective cultures face. Music is a universal language, capable of reaching out and touching the hearts of any listener. This includes children, who are extremely receptive to music and are capable of learning of its benefits and values. Here are five examples that show how music helps impoverished youth cope with their experiences and spread awareness of the world’s poor.

5 Examples of Music Helping Impoverished Youth

  1. A group of Yazidi girls formed a choir to preserve their cultural identities after suffering through sex slavery. Yazidi was recently overrun by the Islamic State military, resulting in thousands of young girls being sold into slavery. One of these girls was Rainas Elias, who was taken by ISIS at the age of 14. Two years after her kidnapping, Elias is one of the 14 young women who formed a choir that performs traditional Yazidi songs as a means of coping with their past traumatic experiences. In early February, the girls took a trip abroad to perform at the House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Since Yazidi music is not traditionally written or recorded, British violinist Michael Bochmann has been working with the choir. They are recording the songs, which are then archived in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. This work helps preserve an important piece of Yazidi culture while simultaneously providing a healing experience to the girls involved.
  2. “Fresh Kid” is an 8-year-old rapper from Uganda who sings about his family’s struggles with poverty. His real name is Patrick Ssenyonjo and he began hearing songs on the radio at a very young age and could immediately memorize and repeat them. Soon, Fresh Kid was performing for his local community, rapping about struggles that he, his friends and his family face. Uganda’s lack of electricity and poor transportation standards are two primary causes behind the nation’s impoverished circumstances. Although the country has seen vast improvements in recent years, there are still many developments to be made. Fresh Kid’s music draws attention to this issue while his success provides hope to impoverished youth across the globe.
  3. Schools in Venezuela are teaching classical music to students as a means of transcending poverty. Venezuelan conductor Jose Antonio Abreu established the State Foundation for the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela in 1996. Otherwise known as The System, the program educates students on how to read and perform classical music. The System provides students with an artistic outlet in a professional atmosphere, resulting in the development of discipline and passion that is often unattainable by impoverished youth. Students living in poverty have made up 70 percent of the program’s participants since its creation. The foundation has produced world-renowned talents such as Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, and Edicson Ruiz, the youngest bass player to ever perform with the Berlin Philharmonic. Venezuela continues to suffer from a collapsed economy and corrupt politics, with an unemployment rate of 44 percent. The System grants Venezuela’s poorest children the chance to rise above these issues while spreading an appreciation for classical music.
  4. The Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) teaches traditional music to students. Half of these students come from poor backgrounds. The school instructs both Western and Afghan classical music as well as basic subjects like math and science. The school prides itself on embracing the education of Afghanistan’s less advantaged youth including girls, orphans and street-working vendors. One significant product of ANIM is Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra. Not only does the school provide a well-rounded curriculum, but its music-oriented focus promotes the resurgence of cultural factors that were once banned by Taliban rule. ANIM demonstrates the influence music has by bringing social change and emotional healing to impoverished youth.
  5. Ghetto Classics is a youth orchestra featuring more than 500 children from Korogocho. The orchestra is a result of the Art of Music Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of impoverished youth in Eastern Africa by integrating classical music studies into schools. The director of the Art of Music Foundation, Elizabeth Wamuni Njoroge, founded Ghetto Classics in 2008 after a local Catholic priest requested that the foundation start teaching classical music to the youth. Njoroge states that the community was skeptical of the idea at first, partially because of distrust in NGOs and partly because classical music is quite different than the hip-hop and reggae that locals are accustomed to. However, Korogocho soon warmed up to the idea, and Ghetto Classics is now one of the most valued and successful community projects to exist in Korogocho. Since its foundation, the orchestra has extended to 14 other schools in Eastern Africa. Ghetto Classics and similar programs help students to grasp core life values and provides a fresh outlook on life.

Music has the power to preserve generations of cultural value. It can also spark interest and motivation in the minds of impoverished youth. These stories demonstrate the potential music has to raise awareness for issues such as sex slavery and poverty. Since music is directly tied to heritage and tradition, it can bring about major social change without eliminating the cultural identity of a society. These five examples of how music helps impoverished youth serve as proof that something as simple as the beat of a drum can contribute to the fight against global poverty, one tap at a time.

Harley Goebel
Photo: Flickr

Understanding the Venezuela Crisis
Venezuela’s socioeconomic debacle has been grabbing headlines over the past few years, especially as the crippling inflation rate—recently eclipsing 10,000 percent—hit the country’s economy and began to unravel its health sector. But these are just two of the key components to understanding the Venezuela crisis and its various impacts as the humanitarian crisis continues to debilitate the region following many years of unrest.

Many Years of Strife

Since the death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 2013 and the appointment of the current leader, Nicolás Maduro, the country has experienced a dire financial crisis as a result of low oil prices and financial mismanagement. Various power struggles and changes within the country’s National Assembly marked the political and humanitarian crisis that ensued.

The country’s military largely continues to back Maduro despite domestic, international and widespread condemnation of his authoritarian government. The political crisis has now spread to all levels of the economy and society, with nearly 4.5 million individuals having fled Venezuela due to the escalating unrest.

Following anti-government protests in 2014 after the victory of Maduro’s party the previous year, the economy and health care sector began their plunge and had all but collapsed by 2016. Malnutrition, child mortality and unemployment rates began to rise as a result. The United Nations estimates that the undernourishment rate in the country has quadrupled since the year 2012, putting more than 300,000 lives at risk due to limited access to medical treatment and medicines. Aid and relief efforts continue to face major hindrances due to mounting strife.

As the economic and humanitarian crisis grew over recent years, there was significant backlash and condemnation from foreign nations including the U.S. followed by significant international sanctions, especially over the increasingly authoritarian measures that Maduro took to pass laws autonomously and virtually unchecked.

Venezuela’s Refugee Crisis

Another dimension to understanding the Venezuela crisis is its refugee crisis as the economic and political problems have resulted in a dire humanitarian emergency. Since the beginning of the crisis back in 2014, over 4.6 million Venezuelans have fled the country. Mass displacement and humanitarian challenges continue mostly unabated due to integration obstacles, immigration and border pressures.

In 2019, the UNHCR-led joint effort, the Regional Refugee and Migrant Rescue Response Plan, along with the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) called for the provision of $738 million in assistance to countries in the Caribbean and Latin America that were dealing with the impacts of the migrant exodus. Unfortunately, the Venezuelan refugee crisis remains one of the most underfunded in the world.

Aid and Other Positive Developments

Throughout 2019, the Venezuelan government under Maduro refused aid relief headed by Brazil, Colombia and the U.S., relying on Russia’s 300 tons of humanitarian assistance instead which included food as well as medical supplies. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been overseeing foreign aid, especially medical and food supplies from Russia and other countries. However, at the same time, aid relief and efforts such as the distribution of crucial medicines have stalled owing to the escalating political crisis and mounting corruption.

The U.S. and President Donald Trump have not only pledged humanitarian financial assistance but have declared their support for the democratic opposition group led by Juan Guaidó. In October 2019, USAID signed a major development agreement with Guaidó’s shadow government, thereby raising aid and assistance to $116 million and allocating a further $568 million to helping Venezuelans displaced by the conflict. Though the U.S. and its allies remain committed to toppling Maduro’s regime and reinstating rule of law, they are in serious conflict with Maduro’s international allies, namely Russia, Turkey and China.

Hope for the Future

The Center for Prevention Action from the Council on Foreign Relations believes it is imperative to consider important policy options to help promote democracy as well as channel crucial humanitarian aid and assistance, perhaps even by means of forced humanitarian intervention and post-transition stabilization.

Even though the Venezuelan crisis at times may seem to be reaching an impasse, it remains possible that the humanitarian and pro-democracy efforts of foreign powers could ultimately lead to a post-Maduro scenario. The year 2020 will be an important year in determining the ultimate fate of the country and the internal power struggles. The international community will hold an indispensable role in helping to create a better understanding of the Venezuela crisis and to help create a promising future for the country.

Shivani Ekkanath
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Venezuelan Humanitarian Crisis
Venezuela has been marred by a humanitarian crisis for several years, and the situation persists. As policy forum the Wilson Center explains, more than four million Venezuelans have left the country, most since 2015. This makes Venezuela the second most common country of origin for displaced people worldwide, behind only Syria.

In breaking down the crisis, the Wilson Center says Venezuela has “widespread poverty and chronic shortages of food, medicine, and other basic necessities,” and as The Borgen Project reported last year, cases of malnutrition and disease are rampant. These issues come as a consequence of economic mismanagement, official corruption and decreasing oil prices between 2013 and 2016.

An example of that purported corruption — and perhaps the most public element of Venezuela’s overall state — is that Venezuela’s current President Nicolás Maduro won a second term in the 2018 election, despite being largely blamed for helping further the once-wealthy nation’s free fall that began under Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chávez. Much of the world believes Maduro’s re-election was falsely won through corrupt tactics, and instead back key opposition entity the Lima Group’s leader Juan Guaido. The group seeks to install Guaido in Maduro’s place, but has as yet been unsuccessful.

Still, as dire as the situation remains for Venezuela, several efforts have been launched and entities mobilized to help the Venezuelan people. Here are seven organizations or initiatives aimed at assuaging the long-standing and growing Venezuelan humanitarian crisis.

7 Venezuelan Humanitarian Crisis Aid Efforts

  1. Future of Venezuela Initiative (FVI): Created by the Center for Strategic & International Studies, this initiative aims to “shed light on the unprecedented humanitarian, economic, and political crisis in Venezuela, and its impact in the Americas,” with an emphasis on the role of the United States and the international community in limiting Venezuelan suffering. FVI will leverage research to generate awareness and ideas on challenges facing Venezuelans and solutions to those challenges.
  2. BetterTogether Challenge: The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Inter-American Development Bank partnered to launch this initiative in October 2019. The initiative aims to crowdsource, fund and scale innovative solutions from Venezuelans and other innovators worldwide to support individuals displaced by the crisis in the country. It also calls on people to help elevate Venezuelan voices, develop solutions for the problems facing Venezuela and grow a network to host and support displaced Venezuelans.
  3. United States government: Since 2017, the United States has provided over $656 million in aid to the Venezuelan crisis, according to a report from the U.S. Department of State. Of that amount, nearly $473 million went toward humanitarian assistance for Venezuelans forced to flee the country.
  4. Giving Children Hope: The California-based faith-driven nonprofit Giving Children Hope, which provides wellness programs and disaster response services locally, domestically and abroad, established a program specifically to address the Venezuela crisis. With the help of various partnerships, it feeds more than 8,000 Venezuelans every week. Last year it launched a campaign with a goal of serving 1 million meals to Venezuelans in need.
  5. The European Commission: The European Commission (EC) has been sending humanitarian aid to Venezuela since 2016. The EC announced last year a new commitment of 50 million euros, bringing the total amount the European Union has contributed to alleviating the crisis since 2018 to 117.6 million euros.
  6. The United Nations: The U.N. has distributed funds and a variety of health, food and other supplies and services to Venezuela. In the first half of 2019 alone, the UN sent 55 tons of health supplies to the country, distributing them across 25 hospitals in five states. Contributions include nine million doses of the diphtheria vaccine, 176,000 doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and 260 education kits for 150,000 children in public schools. The UN also provided 400,000 people with access to safe drinking water.
  7. Action Against Hunger: This France-founded, globally-operating organization set up boots-on-the-ground teams in Venezuela in 2018 to help aid those impacted by the humanitarian crisis. Its work has focused on providing nutritional and related support for schoolchildren across six Venezuelan states. The organization has helped 3,685 Venezuelans to date.

There is much that must be done to end the crisis that has resulted in many citizens fleeing the country. However, the situation has not gone completely ignored. Entities big and small, public and private across the globe are working to make a difference.

– Amanda Ostuni
Photo: Flickr

The State of Venezuelan Sex TraffickingThe recent collapse of Venezuela’s economy and political stability has made the headlines of many news outlets. The controversial reelection of President Nicholas Maduro in May 2018 plunged Venezuela back into violent protests and demonstrations. As of June 2019, more than four million people had fled from Venezuela’s deteriorating conditions. In this mass exodus, women and children are especially vulnerable to Venezuelan sex trafficking.

Venezuelan Sex Trafficking

Venezuela’s sex traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Venezuela. More than four million Venezuelans are fleeing from their country, according to the Refugee International’s 2019 field report. The recent influx of Venezuelans fleeing their country presents a new boom in Venezuela’s sex and human trafficking. Neighboring countries, mainly Colombia, Brazil, Tobago, Trinidad and Ecuador, have experience receiving refugees from Venezuela.

What makes the situation especially difficult is the sheer number of refugees who are fleeing from Venezuela. The Brazilian Ministry of Justice reported that there were 2,577 refugee status requests made between 2016 and 2017 for the state of Amazonas. This makes up 12.8 percent of the requests made nationwide.

This increase in the number of people attempting to leave the country makes it hard for many Venezuelan refugees to use the legal pathways. Many Venezuelan refugees utilize illegal means, such as the black market or illegal armed groups, to escape their country.

In June 2019, a story of Venezuelan refugees shipwrecked near Trinidad and Tobago brought the dark underbelly of Venezuelan sex trafficking to light. Traffickers in the first shipwreck included members of the Bolivarian National Guard and a member of Venezuela’s maritime authority. These individuals were arrested after a survivor of the shipwreck spoke out against them.

Survivors of the second shipwreck testified that the traffickers charged $250 and $500 to everyone aboard the boat headed for Trinidad and Tobago. In both cases, captains of the boats concealed the fact that the women and children were headed to Trinidad and Tobago to work as prostitutes. Venezuelan women and children are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking in Colombia and Ecuador, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons report.

Venezuelan Refugees Entering Colombia

Venezuelan sex trafficking is not limited to domestic trafficking. Many Venezuelan female refugees entering Colombia are in danger of sexual exploitation. Since Colombia’s legal requirements to enter the country are very strict, many Venezuelan refugees resort to informal routes and illegal armed groups to enter Colombia. In the Refugee International’s 2019 investigation, many refugees testified that women and girls are forced to pay for their safe passage through sexual services to traffickers.

After entering Colombia through illicit means, Venezuelan refugees must live without any proper identification. As refugees without any identification or means to support themselves, many Venezuelan women turn to street prostitution in order to make ends meet.

The Colombian government is taking steps to register these refugees. Colombia passed Act 985, which created the Interagency Committee for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons (ICFTP).  The ICFTP works with 88 anti-trafficking committees, which work with many NGOs to train police, government officials and law officials in identifying victims and providing legal assistance to human trafficking victims. Colombia also plans to grant citizenship to 24,000 undocumented Venezuelan children who were born in the country. Experts believe that this will reduce the reliance of refugees on illicit organizations in order to escape Venezuela.

The Quito Process

In September 2019, multiple Latin American countries came together in the Declaration of Quito on Human Mobility of Venezuelan Citizens. In the declaration, participating countries agreed to bolster cooperation, communication and coordination in collective humanitarian assistance for the Venezuelan refugees.

Part of the Quito Process’ goal is to prevent Venezuelan sex trafficking and assist the victims of sex trafficking in Latin America. By streamlining and coordinating documentation required in acquiring legal resident status, the Quito Process makes it easier for participating countries to more effectively assist Venezuelan refugees.

Experts recommend the participating countries further investigate and understand the demographics of Venezuelan refugees. Since many refugees escape to other countries for financial stability, experts recommend that participating countries work to make obtaining a stable job easier.

The Colombian government has been credited for its adherence and furthering of the Quito Process. In March 2019 Colombia fulfilled its commitment to the second Quito conference by allowing Venezuelan refugees to enter Colombia with expired passports. In addition, experts are demanding increased rights for displaced refugees in the hosting countries of the Quito Process.

The crisis in Venezuela is increasing Venezuelan sex trafficking. Venezuelan women and young girls are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking and exploitation. While the current situation is grim, it is clear that South American countries are coming together to remedy the current situation. Through the Quito Process, they are working to assist Venezuelan human trafficking victims and eliminate the sex trafficking of Venezuelan refugees. With these efforts, the international community hopes for a quick end to the Venezuelan crisis.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Music and Poverty
Globally, each culture has a connection to music. Numerous Latin American cultures developed music such as salsa and tango,  energizing types of music with trumpets and bongos. Meanwhile, the Middle East produces songs written in Arabic. This style ranges anywhere from traditional Arabic music filled with violins and percussion instruments to Arabic pop including catchy lyrics set to engaging instrumental tunes. Although different cultures produce different types of music, people often view music as a link between cultures and nations. People often do not put music and poverty together, but the study of music is often beneficial and may allow some the chance to escape the poverty line.

The Link Between Music and Poverty

A study at Northwestern University has proven that music lessons can help alleviate the psychological damages that poverty brings. This study observed how learning to read sheet music affected teenager’s brains, aged 14 and 15. By teaching the children how to read musical scales, Kraus, the leader of the study, believes that the world can decrease the bridge between literacy and low socioeconomic status.

Ways Music Can Lift People Out of Poverty

Studying and playing music has proven to affect more than just literacy skills. Studies have observed that individuals who learn how to play music experience increased self-esteem, they believe that they can achieve things that they never thought possible. Also, by learning and studying new skills, individuals develop a new sense of discipline that they might have been lacking, which, in turn, encourages individuals to try new things, like attending college or developing a career.

Organizations Putting Music to Good Use

  1. Global HeartStrings: Started by Rachel Barton Pine, Global HeartStrings’ goal is to help foster classical musicians in developing countries. To achieve this, Pine provides children in impoverished countries with sheet music, basic supplies and even instruments.

  2. Children International: Based out of Kansas City, Missouri, this organization has developed a program called Music for Development in the Dominican Republic and Colombia. Started in the Dominican Republic in 2014 and Colombia in 2015, the program aims to teach children and teenagers life skills through music. By teaching children music, the organization says that they are giving individuals a road out of poverty, self-confidence and the ability to reject negative influences.

  3. System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela: Started in 2002, this organization focuses on individuals aged 3 through 29, and teaches them how to play and perform with musical instruments. Ran by Nehyda Alas, the organization has benefited around 350,000 individuals who live below the country’s poverty line. In Venezuela, around 70 percent of the country’s 30 million citizens live in extreme poverty. Alas, the organization promotes a healthier and more fulfilled life by providing children with new skills and the discipline to learn them. The United Nations Development Programme supports this program and the program aims to end the country’s extreme poverty and hunger crisis.

  4. El Sistema: Founded in Venezuela in 1975 by José Antonio Abreu, people have credited this music-education program with helping individuals rise above the poverty line. It is a cultural, educational and social program that helps empower children and teenagers through music. The organization has opened music learning centers in areas that are easily accessible to children living in poverty. At these centers, children work on learning how to play instruments or learning and performing choral music. Abreu believes that by teaching children music, they not only learn how to read and play music, but they also develop positive self-esteem, mutual respect and cooperating skills. They can then apply these skills to their daily lives. He is a believer in the link between music and poverty and strives to help his students achieve their best.

Musicians Who Came from Poverty

  1. Pedrito Martinez, Edgar Pantoja-Aleman, Jhair Sala and Sebastian Natal — Cuban Jazz Group: People know this Cuban jazz group for its unique blending of Yoruba folkloric music, contemporary beats, piano, bongos and traditional Cuban music. Cuba is one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere, and Martinez and Pantoja-Aleman are the only two members of the four-member band that grew up in impoverished areas of the country. Sala is from Peru and grew up in New York City, while Natal is from Uruguay. All four members of the group grew up struggling to make ends meet and they credit music as being both their escape and their success.

  2. Eddie Adams — American Cellist: Adams and his family, his mother and five siblings, lived in a Virginia homeless shelter when he signed up for band class in 10th grade. Although cello was not his first choice of an instrument, Adams grew to enjoy playing and would watch YouTube videos at school to improve his skills. He did not own his own cello, nor could he afford to take formal music lessons. However, after his audition, Adams received a full-tuition scholarship to George Mason University in Virginia where he became the lead cellist.

  3. Rachel Barton Pine — American Violinist: Growing up, Pine lived in a single-income household and, in her own words, her family was always “one missed payment from losing the roof over our heads.” Pine’s family could not afford a house with central heating or cooling. As a result, in order to stay warm in the winter, they used a space heater that they rotated every 10 minutes to keep their house warm. Pine worked her way above the poverty line by playing various shows as often as she could. She started playing as young as 5 years old, and as of today, she travels around the world performing her music and people have regarded her as “one of the most accomplished violinists in the world.”

Music and poverty intertwine more than many have originally thought. Music can greatly benefit individuals living below the poverty line as it provides a sense of culture, a form of education and a means of creative expression. Impoverished individuals who study music greatly benefit from increased literacy skills, along with increased self-esteem and a willingness to learn and develop new skills.

Destinee Smethers
Photo: Flickr

Health Crisis in Venezuela

The extreme shortage of medicine and medical supplies in Venezuela has forced many people to seek refuge in neighboring countries in the hopes of getting the medical care that they need. More than three million Venezuelans have fled the country and the number continues to rise. With the continued lack of aid and action from the government, Venezuela’s health crisis shows no signs of disappearing. These are six facts about the health crisis in Venezuela.

6 Facts About the Health Care Crisis in Venezuela

  1. Because of the lack of available vaccinations, preventable diseases such as measles and diphtheria are spreading throughout the country. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that diphtheria had not been reported in Venezuela for 24 years until 2016. Measles had not been seen since 2007. Unfortunately, these diseases are once again affecting the citizens of Venezuela. As of 2018, there have been 2,170 suspected cases of diphtheria with 1,249 being confirmed. There have been reports of 287 deaths due to this preventable disease. Out of the 7,524 cases of measles that had been suspected between 2017 and 2018, 6,252 were confirmed. At least 75 people have died from measles as of 2019. The toll of these diseases could have been prevented if the people of Venezuela had the vaccinations that they needed.
  2. In 2018, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the Venezuelan Ministry of Health noted that new cases of HIV had increased by 24 percent. Between 2010 and 2016, deaths due to AIDS increased by 38 percent. In addition, around “87 percent of the 79,000 registered individuals living with HIV” do have antiretroviral treatment because of the shortage of medicine in the country.
  3. Cases of malaria have increased by 76 percent. There were 240,613 reported cases of malaria in 2016 in Venezuela. In 2017, that number increased to 406,000 cases, the largest increase worldwide. WHO estimated 280 deaths due to the disease in 2016. Venezuelans fleeing the country to Colombia and Brazil are taking the disease with them and escalating the spread. The United Nations agency is urging those countries who are hosting Venezuelan refugees “to provide free screening and treatment regardless of their legal status to avoid further spread.” Because so many Venezuelans are fleeing, these diseases are reaching neighboring countries as well. The re-introduction of measles in Manaus, Brazil resulted in 1,631 cases as of November 2018.
  4. Expecting mothers are unable to receive the prenatal medication they need. Many are forced to have unsafe labors. According to a 2017 report by the Venezuelan Ministry of Health, infant mortality has increased by 30 percent and maternal mortality has increased by 65 percent.
  5. Although these neighboring countries are trying their best to provide aid to the people of Venezuela, their healthcare systems are also taking a toll. Many HIV-positive immigrants have reached Brazil only to find that local hospitals were already overwhelmed with AIDS patients dying from infection. Colombia is currently hosting the largest number of Venezuelan immigrants with an estimated one million as of November 2018. Public hospitals are struggling to accommodate refugee health care needs such as vaccinations and emergency services.
  6. The current government of Venezuela has not publicly recognized the crisis among its people, and therefore they are not allowing international relief agencies to enter the country. In Colombia, a huge supply of medicine and supplies from the United States waits to cross the border. Unfortunately, the current president of Venezuela won’t allow the supplies into the country. Colombia has organized many events to help raise money to aid their Venezuelan neighbors. A relief concert called Venezuela Aid Live was held in Colombia on February 22, 2019, to support and bring awareness to the crisis in Venezuela. In four days, the organization was able to raise almost $2.4 million. They plan to do the same next year to continue bringing awareness and aid to the people of Venezuela.

Despite Colombia’s struggle to accommodate refugees, the country is providing limited healthcare to Venezuelans who desperately need it. “In May 2017, the Colombian government declared that all public hospitals must provide free emergency” treatment for Venezuelan patients, which includes treatments for malaria and measles. Between 2017 and 2019, 29,000 pregnant women were able to safely deliver their babies in Colombia free of charge. This also means that their children will be getting free vaccinations plus a promise of healthcare due to their Colombia citizenship. Since 2017, Colombia has provided healthcare services to 340,000 Venezuelan immigrants.

Venezuela’s government officials still have a lot of work to do to help its own people, but thanks to countries like Colombia and Brazil, Venezuelans seeking medical treatment are able to get some assistance. Providing this healthcare, although straining, has made a difference to the three million Venezuelans who had no choice but to flee their country. Through this continued support and care, at least some of the health crisis in Venezuela can be alleviated.

Jannette Aguirre
Photo: Flickr

Eight Facts About Education in Venezuela
The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, located on the northern coast of South America, is well-known for its education system. For many years, Venezuela was the pinnacle of education in the region for decades, but following recent political and economic crises, the education system has suffered greatly. Here are eight facts about education in Venezuela.

8 Facts About Education in Venezuela

  1. The School System: School for all children between ages 6 and 15 is mandatory and free. Under the country’s 1999 constitution, higher education is still free throughout the country, although not many pursue it. The education system shows astonishingly low levels of discrimination on social grounds as well, boasting nearly equal enrollment rates of male and female students.
  2. Higher Education: There are 90 institutions of higher education in Venezuela. Most students come from the wealthiest 20 percent of the population since less-wealthy students may have to get jobs immediately. Universities feature a universal entrance exam that they use to boost enrollments in the millions nationwide. In 2017, only 44,000 enrolled at the University of Carabobo, compared to 56,000 10 years before.
  3. School Attendance: In addition to a drop in college enrollments, many children have dropped out of regular school as well. In 2013, there were only around 254,709 school-age children and adolescents who did not attend the free schools. According to a 2019 UNESCO study, the numbers reached 557,327, which is more than doubled compared to just six years ago. Children and adolescents have poor attendance because there is a lack of water and food at school and at home, and are all side effects of the current economic issues in the country.
  4. Colombia’s Education System: Many of the primary-school-age children not attending Venezuelan schools are instead trekking across the Colombian border to attend classes there. The mass influx of students is placing a strain on Colombia’s education system.
  5. Absence of Teachers: Many teachers are also quitting. As of 2018, the average teacher in Venezuela currently makes the equivalent of $10-30 USD a month, which is below the poverty level. This makes teaching a much less desirable profession, forcing teaching positions to fall to new graduates and other professionals that do not have the qualifications to teach.
  6.  Studying Abroad: The U.S.-Venezualan relations have harmed study abroad prospectives for Venezuelan students. Following the U.S. travel ban that has impacted countries such as Venezuela and Yemen, many students have been unable to obtain student visas to study in the United States. While the ban does not prevent students from applying to institutions in the U.S., it puts their applications under scrutiny, leading many to pursue an education in other countries.
  7. Literacy Rate: On the bright side of these eight facts about education in Venezuela, 97.13 percent of Venezuelans over the age of 15 can read and write. This is the highest literacy rate in the entire region.
  8. Foreign Aid and Nonprofits: As of 2019, Venezuelan President Maduro conceded to requesting foreign aid, which gives countries in the United Nations the ability to help with the economic crisis at large, despite the fact that most of the money will not go to education specifically. Within the country, organizations, such as Cuatro Por Venezuela, provide the aid they can. Cuatro Por Venezuela provided over 480,000 individual meals from 2017 to 2019, and are still doing more.

To conclude these eight facts about education in Venezuela, one should note that the main reason Venezuela’s education system was so successful in the past is because of the amount of resources it dedicated to it. The country has not changed this and combined with the worldwide collective desire to ensure the protection of education as a right, it should have a hopeful future.

– Anna Langlois
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Human Rights in Venezuela
People have long associated the current humanitarian crisis in Venezuela with the autocratic governance of late President Nicolás Maduro and decades of socioeconomic downfall. Gross political corruption persists in Venezuela that constitutional violations show. These began in 2017 and have barred acting president Juan Guaidó from assuming the duties of his office. In September 2019, The UN Human Rights Council dispatched a team to the country to investigate alleged human rights abuses, including state-sanctioned killings, forced disappearances and torture. With this information in mind, here are the top 10 facts about human rights in Venezuela.

Top 10 Facts About Human Rights in Venezuela

  1. The Situation: Deteriorating social and economic conditions in Venezuela have incited a refugee crisis in the country. Since 2014, more than four million Venezuelans have fled (a figure which excludes unregistered migrants). Displaced by violence and corruption, Venezuelan migrants struggle to obtain legal residence, food security, education and health care resources in the nations they flee to. These bureaucratic hurdles and unstable living situations force many to return home.
  2. Maduro and Corruption: The dismantling of Venezuela’s National Assembly in March 2017 was the Maduro Administration’s first attempt of many to silence political opposition. The move stripped the opposition-led parliament of its legislating powers and immunity—important checks against potential exploits by the executive branch. Research from Amnesty International confirms that Maduro’s government used torture, unhinged homicides and extrajudicial executions to maintain support in the years following this constitutional scandal.
  3. Protests and Arrests: Nationwide protests and demonstrations began in 2014 in response to human rights violations and a buckling economy. According to the Penal Forum, authorities have arrested more than 12,500 people between the years 2014 and 2018 in connection with protests. Security personnel and government-backed militias often use excessive force—tear gas, firearms, asphyxiation, severe beatings and electroshock, etc.—against protesters and detainees in order to quell resistance efforts.
  4. Censorship: Maduro’s regime has used censorship of mainstream media to control Venezuelan civilians and eliminate its critics. A pervasive fear of reprisal effectively denies Venezuelans their freedom of expression and speech.  During times of global scrutiny, the government has blocked online news broadcasts, VPN access and streaming services to curb bad press and anti-government organizing. The government staged an information blackout in February 2019 in response to a clash between the military and aid convoys at the Colombian border.
  5. Political Bribery: The Venezuelan government has used political bribery to keep Venezuelans compliant. The government has used its monopoly on resources to withhold food and other basic goods from dissenters and reward supporters with the same incentives. In 2016, Maduro launched the government-subsidized food program, Local Food Production and Provision Committees (CLAPS). Through this insidious program, Venezuelans received monthly (oftentimes late or empty) food shares in exchange for having their voting activity tracked.
  6. Human Rights Crisis Denial: In February 2019 Maduro denied claims to the BBC that the country was undergoing a human rights crisis. He has repeatedly used the same rhetoric to reject foreign aid and unassailable evidence of health and welfare shortages in the country, by equating the acceptance of aid with the fall of his regime. That same month, there were disputes over $20 million in U.S. and European aid shipments at the Colombia-Venezuela border.
  7. Venezuela’s Inflation Rate: The International Monetary Fund forecasts Venezuela’s inflation rate will reach 10 million percent in 2019. Food scarcity and hyperinflation have led to millions of cases of malnutrition and premature death, especially amongst children.
  8. Doctors and Hospitals: Twenty thousand registered doctors have left Venezuela between 2012 and 2017 due to poor working conditions and growing infant mortality rates. Hospitals are unhygienic and understaffed, lacking the medicine and medical equipment to accommodate the excess number of patients. Tentative water sources and power outages make most cases inoperable, presenting a liability to doctors and causing untreated patients to become violent.
  9. Death Squads: In June 2019, the UN reported that government-backed death squads killed nearly 7,000 people from 2018 to May 2019. Maduro attempted to legitimize the killings by using the Venezuelan Special Police Force (FAES) to conduct the raids, which he staged through family separation techniques and the illegal planting of contraband and narcotics. Again, Maduro devised this strategy to threaten political opponents and people critical of the Maduro government.
  10. Human Trafficking: A 2016 report conducted by the U.S. Department of State condemned Venezuela’s handling of human trafficking in the country, in both regards to sex trafficking and internal forced labor. Venezuela lacks the infrastructure to properly identify and assist trafficking victims due to governmental corruption and rampant gain violence which facilitates human trafficking and forgoes accountability. Traffickers often trick or coerce Venezuelan migrants into the sex trade. In fact, 10 percent of 1,700 recorded trafficking victims in Peru between 2017 and 2018 were Venezuelan.

The top 10 facts about human rights in Venezuela should read as a call to action. Global aid agencies and national governments are currently working to bring humanitarian aid to Venezuelans and the growing Venezuelan migrant community. While the current political climate complicates internal relief efforts, spreading awareness about the state of human rights in Venezuela is the first step in addressing the crisis.

Cuarto Por Venezuela Foundation is a nonprofit organization conceived in 2016 by four Venezuelan women living in the United States eager to alleviate the situation at home. The Foundation works to create programs and partnerships to deliver comprehensive aid to Venezuelans in need. In 2018, the organization shipped over 63,000 lbs. of medicine, food and school supplies to Venezuela (four times the number of supplies shipped the previous year). Additionally, its health program has served nearly 40,000 patients to date through vaccination and disease prevention services.

– Elena Robidoux
Photo: Flickr

Venezuela's Education System
A number of factors are greatly affecting Venezuela‘s education system. The Venezuelan government has always believed that every citizen has the right to free education. When oil prices drove Venezuela’s economy, so too was its educational system. Venezuela used to rank as one of the highest in education in Latin America until 2010 when it became number six in the region. Now the country is undergoing one of the worst humanitarian crises and it is affecting Venezuela‘s education system.

Economic and Political Collapse

In the 20th century, modernization and urbanization in Venezuela brought many improvements to its educational system. Former President Hugo Chavez used the rise in oil prices to fund the education system, train teachers and fund laptop computers. Now that the gas prices have dramatically fallen, not only has the economy gone down with it, the corruption and mismanagement of the government have also affected the quality of Venezuela‘s education system.

High Dropout Rates and Limited Faculty Members

Several students living in Venezuela have missed more than 40 percent of class due to school cancellations, strikes, protests or vacation days. That is equal to missing more than half of their mandatory instruction school days. There has been a “massive desertion of students” in every level of education. Yearly dropout rates have doubled since 2011 and in 2017 about 50 percent of students in three public universities located in Táchira dropped out. About one-fourth of the students do not attend school at all.

Massive numbers of teachers have left their jobs because of their low-wage salary of $6-$30 a month. About 400 employees have quit one of Venezuela’s top science universities, Simon Bolivar University, in the past 2 years. Some teachers dedicate their time to attending strikes and protests in the hopes of changing the education system, which results in them only working 10 days out of the month. Teachers also miss school when they encounter long food lines to feed their families, and some fear that someone will shoot, murder or rob them on campus when they go to work. Robberies in universities have increased by 50 percent in the last three years.

Lack of Food, Water, Electricity and Supplies

“There is only one bathroom for 1,700 children, the lights are broken, there is no water and the school meals are no longer being served,” said a teacher working in one of Venezuela’s middle-class public schools. The scarcity of water, food in cafeterias and electricity has caused schools like Caracas Public High School to close down for weeks at a time. Teachers are even trading passing grades for milk and flour because of the scarcity of food. Students are passing out every day at physical education classes due to their empty stomachs and broken school kitchens.

Budget cuts on school funding are the major reason why schools lack the supplies they need. In 2019, the University of Central Venezuela received only 28 percent of its “requested annual funding.” This is less than the 40 percent it received in 2014 and estimates determine that it will decline to 18 percent next year. These budget cuts result in “broken toilets, leaking ceilings, unlit classrooms and cracked” classroom floors. The education budget now prioritizes Bolivarian Universities due to the fact that they teach 21st-century socialism.

Lack of Intellectual Freedom

About 15 years ago, during former President Hugo Chavez’s presidency, the Bolivarian University of Venezuela opened. This is a higher education institution for underprivileged and poor civilians that are suffering due to Venezuela’s situation. This developed into a new education system the government created that stands by “the ideology of its socialist revolution.” Since the government has taken control over the university’s autonomy, lack of academic thought and intellectual freedom is prevalent. Since private companies now cannot fund universities as of 2010, there have been no new majors approved.

Solutions

Caritas is a nonprofit organization inspired by the Catholic faith and established in 1997. It has a history of listening to the poor talk about what they need and giving them what is necessary to improve their lives. It has seen over 18,890 children and provided 12,000 of them with nutritional care. About 54 percent of those children have recovered from malnutrition and other medical emergencies.

Global Giving is another NGO that has started a foundation called the I Love Venezuela Foundation. This Foundation focuses on creating and channeling resources to NGOs that focus on the “wellbeing, human development, and social transformation” in Venezuela. It also works on raising money in order to buy shoes for low-income families in Venezuela so that they can safely walk to school, play with their friends and be children. Its goal is to reach $10,000 and it has raised about $630 so far.

While Venezuela’s education system has had challenges in recent years, organizations like Caritas and Global Giving should help alleviate some of the burdens that prevent children from attending school. With continued support, Venezuela’s school system should one day reach its height again.

Isabella Gonzalez
Photo: Flickr