Queens’ undergraduate Lucas Marsden-Smedley, in collaboration with the university’s Colombian and Venezuelan societies and the local Venezuelan community, has helped organise ‘Vida: Ayuda a la Frontera’ to raise money for Venezuelan refugees fleeing to Colombia as a result of significant political unrest, severe poverty caused by hyper-inflation and rapid economic decline, and as a last resort in the face of hunger and homelessness.
PROBLEMS IN VENEZUELA:
Venezuela has finally started gaining coverage in UK news, but the situation has been problematic for years. In 1998, Hugo Chávez was elected President to combat the gross inequality present in Venezuela: despite promises that US investment would profit the whole community, only the elite had received the benefits, and the majority of the population remained poor.
Chávez instituted an economic initiative called the Bolivarian Revolution that rapidly decreased unemployment and increased the quality and reach of public services. Poverty decreased by almost 50%, and extreme poverty dropped by more than 70%. However, Chávez had nationalised much of the oil industry and he began to rely on it as his main source of income, so when prices collapsed in 2013, Venezuela plunged into depression.
Chávez died in March 2013. Nicolás Maduro, his successor and ‘son’, and a former bus driver and foreign minister under Chávez, assumed the Presidency. Maduro began increasing domestic spending and printing banknotes to cope with the crippling inflation rates, leading to hyperinflation and widespread poverty. By 2015, food prices had risen by 305%: the price of a ham bread was now worth more than one month’s minimum wage.
FLEEING TO COLOMBIA:
My grandparents live in Tunja, an industrial city near Bogotá in Colombia. The motorway passes close to their farm. It is the main entrance to Bogotá from the north, and for the past three years they have seen a stream of Venezuelan families and children pass through the farm. It has become a part of the landscape. Just as cars continuously drift through the motorway, so do families, many barefoot, lugging their trollies and bags over the mountains of Boyacá. They have been walking for weeks, and many have weeks to go. The refugees flood past, down into Bogotá and beyond, as far as Chile and Peru. Thousands of young girls have been pushed into prostitution; others clean cars or sell sweets on the roads. Every day is a struggle: sleeping rough on the streets, begging on the pavements.
But no matter how bad conditions are in Colombia, they are still far better than the alternatives. Back in Venezuela, where 87% of the Venezuelan population are affected by poverty, and extreme poverty is at 61.2%, families dig for food in rubbish bins and risk death and robbery every time they leave their homes. The corruption has infected the country from the top to the very bottom. As Maduro bleeds the country dry, the international community fails to take full and decisive action because of threats from Russia and China, who support Maduro and have invested heavily in the oil reserves.
VIDA FUNDRAISING WEEK:
The local Venezuelan community of Cambridge, alongside the university’s Colombian Society and South American residents and students, have come together to present a series of events celebrating Latino culture and raising awareness for the refugee crisis. Among the events planned are a documentary and discussion, a panel of speakers, a beginner’s salsa class, sales of traditional Venezuelan food, a demonstration, and a big party with South American music and food. The events are open to absolutely everyone, and all of the money will go to a charity called Comparte por una Vida, which helps Venezuelan children in Colombia who are suffering from malnutrition.
For details about Vida Week’s upcoming events, as well as information and updates about the state of affairs in Venezuela, please follow our page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vidaparavenezuela/.