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For weeks my friend Ever has been living under siege.
He's not a soldier, a diplomat, a protester or a revolutionary.
He's just a regular citizen of Venezuela.
For those who don't know,
Venezuela is in the middle of an uprising.
The reasons, of course, are complicated myriad
and go back at least two decades,
but since the death of President Hugo Chavez one year ago
the economic situation has become increasingly dire.
And major nationwide protests began on February 12, 2014
This news is largely been overshadowed by recent arguably more serious events in Ukraine,
but just because Venezuela is not a conduit for petroleum products
between Russia and Western Europe nor a proxy for the conflict between the two
and just because the death toll during protests in Venezuela hasn't yet reached the hundreds,
doesn't mean that life is good for its citizens.
Take case in point, Ever.
He lives in Ciudad Guayana, a city of a million along the Orinoco River in eastern Venezuela.
It is Venezuela's sixth-largest city with a dozen universities
(including the one where Ever teaches),
a major industrial center for iron and aluminum,
many beautiful parks, and so on,
but none of that matters at the moment
because on an average day in Ever's neighborhood
there are cars burning on the streets,
teargas wafting through his windows,
and protesters barricading the main roads
with trash, tires, and tree limbs
so the Guardia Nacional and everyone else can't get to where they're going.
Even before the protests started,
Ever and I had a little joke going
about the dysfunctional nature of life and so-called socialist Venezuela.
Whenever the internet or power in Ciudad Guayana would go down
or Ever had to wait three hours in line to buy rice,
(all of regular occurrences)
He would describe the situation with the hashtag: #ThirdWorldProblems
It was funny because it was ironic.
That's no longer the case.
Now Ever and his family and neighbors and countrymen have spent two months in a state of uncertainty.
They still have third world problems on their hands
but the problems have grown much bigger
than waiting in lines.
(even while those problems continue to persist).
And then this week something else caught my attention.
Ever started describing the situation
in his neighborhood as "quiet" or "fine"
during lulls in clashes between
protesters and the Guardia Nacional.
Things, at least, from my vantage point
3,000 miles to the north
clearly weren't fine.
They were just slightly less bad.
I sent Ever the following email:
Ever,
I'm getting a little worried that your standards for quiet
have become skewed.
Yesterday you said it was quiet
and several vehicles were lit on fire on your street.
Today it was quiet and a National Guard man was hit by a bomb.
I'm saying this partly in jest, but also to remind you what peaceful life is really like,
so you don't become complacent and start accepting
even a little insanity as being okay.
Henry.
Here is his beautiful response:
You are right, Henry.
I forgot to give you context for the video.
He was hit by a firework,
one of those that sounds very loud.
They call it mata suegra, tu ma rancho, bin laden, etc.
That guard was the captain that was leading.
He got a very bad looking injury in the upper left leg.
Fortunately, he is alive,
and despite the fact that "quiet"
was referring to what happened after those events
you're right in that I may be complacent
and accepting a fair amount of insanity
as being okay.
And that made me think about my personality
I mean I know that it shouldn't be happening
and that is not okay,
but the fact is that I live in
an insane dysfunctional country,
where basic products such as
milk, coffee, flower, and toilet paper
are scarce to the point that
people make insane long lines
and even end up fighting and looting to get those goods
I live in the country with an insane dysfunctional economy,
where there's nothing cheaper than gasoline.
Where people have gotten rich making money
by trafficking it and other subsidizing goods.
Where the police and National Guards
cannot control the rampant crime
that took the life of more than 24,000 during 2013 only.
Where impunity is the law.
Where prisoners control the jails
and live with a comfort that honest working people
outside cannot have.
Where at least half the population ratifies the disaster
by voting in favor of the 15 year long revolution.
Where you have to drive like a drunk
because of the craters in the roads.
Where law does not apply to people who can
afford to pay off judges.
Where all TV stations want to report
to avoid conflicts with the government.
Where government blames
the Empire, the CIA, the opposition,
and nearly every imaginable thing,
even iguanas,
for the problems in the country.
Where you cannot save in local currency
due to the fifty percent inflation rate,
and I could go on and on.
And on top of that,
we have had about a month
with many streets blocked,
with National Guard's using teargas every day
to dissolve peaceful protest,
with some protesters setting fire on cars,
bosses taking down
traffic lights, trees, and even building concrete walls on the street.
I have no control over any of these things.
I can only talk, debate, and try to make people I know
think carefully about what they do and support.
And being complacent and accepting all these insanity
may be a defense mechanism.
If I don't do it then I will leave angry and embittered,
as many people I know do.
I don't know if this is a good way to deal with frustration but that's me,
I think.
[Truck burning]
As a follow up,
I want to acknowledge that Ever works with me
as the illustrator for the MinuteEarth channel on Youtube,
and the situation in Venezuela is part of the
reason the video output from Minute Earth
has suffered over the last month.
As we've been working on this video,
Ever's neighborhood continues to be the scene
of clashes between protesters and the Guardia Nacional
often going long into the night.
I guess I just want to make clear that the scenarios we illustrated
aren't isolated events, and they're not over.
They are literally the daily insane reality.
I'm thankful that I don't have to deal with teargas
coming into my apartment at 2 AM,
and i hope the situation in Venezuela will improve
for all of its citizens.
[Soft guitar music]