‘Vida: Ayuda a la Frontera’: A Documentary Screening and Talk

Genie Harrison 28 February 2019

Vida: Ayuda a la Frontera is an organisation established by a group of students in collaboration with Cambridge University’s Venezuelan and Columbian Society and the local Venezuelan community. Seeking to raise both awareness and funding for refugees affected by the country’s political turmoil, this week sees a series of events organised across Cambridge to promote the cause. Following the opening demonstration, on Tuesday, February 26th, Queens’ College welcomed Vida and Italian film-maker Michele Calabresi for a screening of his documentary, El Ocaso del Socialismo Mágico, detailing the numerous atrocities plaguing the country as a result of its economic and political chaos. Joining them also was Dr Nick Morgan from the University of Newcastle, speaking about some of the critical issues his time working in Venezuela alerted him to.

Particularly for those who may not have previously been aware of the complicated and shocking political history that Venezuela has suffered over the past decades, Calabresi’s film illustrates the rise and fall of Hugo Chávez, the country’s former leader. Interviewing senior politicians, scholars, opportunists and ‘chavists’, El Ocaso details the short-comings of Chavez’s socialist political ideology, ‘Chavismo’. Albeit initially successful, the eventual failings of Chavez’s economic initiatives resulted in an almighty depression and extreme poverty in Venezuela. Reliant on oil as the primary source of income, the collapsing prices resulted in economic and social crises in the region. With interviews ranging from 2009-2013, the documentary lays the foundations for the disastrous state of affairs continuing in Venezuela today, the consequence of which has seen tirades of people fleeing the country.

Following the documentary, the short talk given by academic Dr Nick Morgan illustrated the realities of the current situation in Venezuela. Now under the leadership of Nicolás Maduro, the country’s economic dependence on a fiscal ‘black market’ drove Morgan to curtail the extensive academic work he had planned to do in Venezuela at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá. Neatly following on from where Calabresi’s film leaves off, Morgan spoke passionately about the dire state of Venezuelan politics of the moment. With a particular focus on the humanitarian crisis occupying the country, Morgan painted the disastrous picture of everyday life for Venezuelan locals, some 2-3 million of whom have subsequently fled the country. Now both a bureaucratic and a narco-state, Morgan expressed his disbelief in any form of instant relief for the nation due to the intractability of the situation.

Especially moving was a brief statement on the country’s militarism given informally by Parvathi Subbiah, a third year doctoral candidate at the Centre of Latin American Studies. Expounding the politicisation of the country’s army, Shubbiah spoke fervently about the blurring between civilian and military status, resulting in a chaotic and corrupt state of social affairs, problematizing a movement towards reform. Detailing also the unlikelihood of successful elections during this period, Subbiah’s contribution to the event illustrated the urgency with which the situation in Venezuela must be tackled.

An informative and insightful evening, Vida has precipitated a greater state of awareness in Cambridge regarding the events troubling the Venezuelan nation, a drive that promises to be only strengthened by the successive events organised by the group. With a Salsa class on March 1st and a traditional South American Party at The Emperor on the 5th, the movement is sure to have an impact on the population of Cambridge, and thus hopefully, the wider South American community.