← Back to portfolio

Crossing Simón Bolívar

Published on 18th February 2019

By Sara Høyrup

Whilst a European delegation hoping to meet with the opposition is being denied access to Venezuela upon landing in the Simón Bolívar airport, people keep crossing the Simón Bolívar bridge to Colombia on the run from the humanitarian crisis but unprotected by the Geneva Convention for refugees. According to international law, they count as mere migrants. On the other side of the border bridge, help is stuck in the form of humanitarian aid that Nicolás Maduro –one of the country’s competing presidents- will not let pass. His regime assures the population and the outside world that the content in the aid packages ”provoke cancer”.

Smuggling in both directions across the bridge is rife as well. Be it basic goods such as food and medicine, or illegal drugs from the cocaine producing neighbouring country: the border is very frail, reports the French daily Libération from the foot of the bridge, and desperation is the mother of all inventions. In the vicinity, ordinary commerce and economy have as good as broken down and been replaced by black-marketeering traded in Colombian pesos. Nobody wants the Venezuelan bolívar currency that loses value by the minute.

All this is not even new. Part of the middle classes worried greatly right from the onset of the military officer Hugo Chávez' presidency in 1999. A son of two teachers, he presented himself as ”working class” and wanted to introduce a Communism that had already given up in most quarters of the world by then. The result over time was plunging the population into poverty, in spite of the country’s nationalised oil reserves.

A split power system

Luis V. from Barcelona has been bringing food and medicine to Venezuela for years on end, every time he has been visiting his in-laws. He says he always leaves his red T-shirts back home, lest people take him to be an advocate of the Bolivarian regime. Gaudy had moved back to Venezuela with her Danish husband and their young children to be with her larger family, but had to leave again last year when the situation was getting untenable.

The regime handed over from Chávez, beat by cancer six years ago, to his less charismatic follower Maduro, has been losing popularity. His rightwing opponent Juan Guaidó declared himself interim President on 23 January, insisting that it is his duty to do so as chairman of the Parliament when ”there is no President”.

US President Donald Trump was very prompt to recognize Guaidó as such, pending free and fair elections in theory. Some 50 countries have followed. Authocratic Russia, China and Turkey, on the other hand, back Maduro, as does –so far– the military that Guaidó had hoped to turn.

Last year’s elections appear to have been rigged, and Maduro is, in fact, no longer considered a legitimate president by many, in and outside the country. Venezuela now has not only two men claiming to be presidents, but also two opposing supreme courts (one in exile) as well as two parliaments inside the country that do not acknowledge each other. The division is complete, and the lion’s share of the population is assessed by visiting journalists to be anti-Maduro.

The Bolivarian regime’s fall from popularity is everything to do with the misery it subjects the Venezuelans to. Over time, everything has faltered. In the light of the unwillingness of the cornered regime to let in the aid packages that it fears will be the spearhead for a military invasion (which they might very well be), Virgin founder Richard Branson plans a concert with Latin American pop stars beyond the Simón Bolívar bridge to collect help for the starving population.

Detractors say that Branson is after publicity; and the mobile telephone section of his company is indeed moving in on Latin America currently. Critics also say that Branson's aid will be inefficient, since it will be distributed by volunteers rather than by professional actors such as Red Cross, experienced in aid work.

Maduro on his part has sent aid packages the other way across the bridge, hoping in vain to show that he is on top of the situation. Meanwhile, the Bolivarian model nation suffers.

Bolivarianism

So who is this Simón Bolívar? Why is he such a prominent figure in this Latin American country by the Caribbean Ocean?

Actually, not only here. Bolívar was the great Liberator and founding father, back when Spain had colonized half the continent by use of the sword and the cross. No less than six Latin American countries emancipated themselves from the metropolis inspired and assisted by this politician and military leader. Bolivarianism is pan-American and national-patriotic. In the present century, it has been given a Socialist twist.

More populist and dictatorial than Socialist as such, the late Chávez’ Bolivarian revolution has led to yet another version of authoritarianism in the guise of social justice. This is why, even when the people wants rid of this regime, it will not go away willingly.///