After the United States levelled “narco-terrorism” and drug trafficking charges against Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro and 14 of his officials, two women who emigrated to Canada feel buoyed by the development and say the only way forward for their homeland is Maduro’s exit.
“We really hope that members of the army will do the right thing now, for the reward I guess,” said Aymara Agrega of the indictments and a $15 million reward the U.S. offered for assistance in Maduro’s apprehension.
Agreda’s friend, Maikol Diasparra, left her job teaching pure and applied mathematics at Simon Bolivar University in Venezuela’s capital Caracas after she could no longer purchase essentials like tires for her SUV.
Ensconced in an economic tailspin exacerbated by the glut in global oil supply—Venezuela’s number one industry—the country has been in political upheaval since May of 2018 following a protested election that saw Maduro, the late Hugo Chavez’s hand-picked successor, win the election. Many countries, including Canada and the United States, don’t recognize the legitimacy of the election and don’t recognize Maduro as the legitimate president of the country.
Mass unemployment and skyrocketing inflation have resulted in an estimated 5 million Venezuelans fleeing their country. For those who didn’t flee, Maduro’s swearing-in on Jan. 10, 2019, was cause for mass protests, some including running street battles with authorities.
Twelve days later, after nearly two weeks of civil unrest in Venezuela, Canada joined Australia, United States, and the Lima Group of a dozen South and Central American nations in backing speaker of the Venezuelan Parliament Juan Guaidó as interim president.
Diasparra said her hopes for Guaidó and her native country are fading.
“I was supporting him until he started talking about negotiations (with Maduro’s regime) because it’s impossible, I think, to negotiate with a narco-state,” she said. “Venezuela has become a narco-state and it’s not possible to negotiate with terrorists, drug dealers, killers, and kidnappers. In my view, they need to be sent packing.”
A day after U.S. charges were announced on March 26, former Venezuelan General Cliver Alcalá surrendered himself to American narcotics agents in Colombia.
Support for Maduro
The Venezuelan regime is supported by China, Russia, Cuba, and Iran.
In Canada, some organizations and politicians have also spoken against the stance of the U.S. and Canadian governments in their opposition to the Maduro regime.
Last year, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) expressed its support for Maduro, saying he was “duly elected by the people of Venezuela,” denouncing Ottawa’s support of Guaidó. The Public Service Alliance of Canada issued a similar statement, saying Canada should not seek a regime change.
The NDP has also chided Ottawa for its support of Guaidó, with leader Jagmeet Singh saying “Canada should not simply follow the U.S.’s foreign policy.”
NDP MP Niki Ashton has used harsher words, calling a meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Guaidó “shameful,” saying it acts to “prop up an unelected figure and legitimize a deeply divisive and undemocratic agenda.”
Agreda said much of the international community believes the United States is behind the economic collapse in Venezuela, “but the crisis came well before.”
“What people don’t understand is that Venezuela used to be a lot like Canada, a rich country with social problems,” she said. “Yes, there was poverty, but there was democracy and people had opportunities to study abroad, like myself,” she said, having completed her education at Laval University.
“Since, 2000 I was seeing the deterioration. There was something wrong—little by little the regime was taking away rights,” Agreda explained. “But also, you don’t have food or the basics and you’d have to stand in line for seven hours for a chance to get it.”
The women, both of whom are Canadian citizens, relay disturbing stories from relatives still in Venezuela about the lawlessness and chaos that has gripped their home country, including the torching of Jose Puig & Cia Galletas, a cookie factory in Los Teques last July.
“A gang of criminals did this because the owner didn’t want to pay ‘vacuna’ or protection money, and apparently managers and employees were threatened with retaliation if they didn’t pay,” said Agreda.
Maikol said much of the violence is orchestrated by local gangs while the government and military ignore it. She fears that “Venezuela could become the next Somalia, where criminals and gangs rule the country.”
While a desire for regime change looms large among their friends and family still living in Venezuela, the day-to-day life of the average citizen remains intolerable.
“My brother-in-law spent two days waiting to fill the tank of his car at a gas station—this sound crazy but it’s real, and now the military is limiting access to gas stations,” said Agreda, who blames fuel shortages on poor domestic policy, not U.S. sanctions.
And military control of resources like fuel has cascaded through the economy, hampering an already depleted healthcare system in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“Most hospitals don’t have running water or even electricity,” she said.