Montreal’s Venezuelan Community Calls for Peace and Democracy

No More Murder, No More Dictatorship

Last Sunday my wife and I attended a Mass in an east-end Montreal church with a large Latino congregation. The service was a special one in that the theme was the current unrest in Venezuela.

The church was crowded, standing room only. There could be no doubt that the vast majority of those in attendance were of Venezuelan origin; flags, national ball caps, traditional dresses, and vinotinto soccer shirts were everywhere.

I have been to several services in Latino churches and never cease to be impressed by the vibrancy of the worshippers. Having been brought up in an Irish Catholic household it is always a wonderful surprise to hear upbeat music being played loudly and including drums …. drums in a church! Being used to the more sombre pipe organ, the Latino Mass, not to be confused with a Latin Mass, is a breath of fresh air.

Yet last Sunday’s Mass had its fair share of sombre moments. At one point the celebrating priest called all Venezuelans to come up and stand on the altar. My wife opted to remain in our pew and video the gathering. There must have been two hundred people of all ages standing there, some holding signs bearing the names of those recently killed in the Caracas protests. Then the band started playing and a woman with a lovely strong voice began to sing a much-loved song called Venezuela. This song was written not by a Venezuelan,  but by Spaniards  Pablo Herrero Ibarz and José Luis Armenteros Sánchez who had fallen in love with the South American country.

The tears started to flow as the song went on and those Venezuelans standing on an altar in Montreal thought about the violent turmoil in their country and feared for loved ones back home. The usually spirited members of the congregation made their way back to their pews obviously deeply moved by the experience.

Following the Mass many gathered in a park across the street from the church for a photo op. Using a drone the word NO+  (no mas – no more) was spelled out by those who braved the unseasonably cool and wet weather. No more murder, no more dictatorship. They want to once again feel they have control of their country.

Sadly there was no media coverage of the event.

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+
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Venezuelan protests: Trump administration is sucking the air out of world news

Demonstrators clash with police during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela on April 8, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

This is Holy Week, the last week of Lent, which actually ends today, leading up to Easter. When I was in grade school we used to get a vacation from Thursday to Tuesday. These days, with spring breaks included in most school calendars,  the days off for Easter are limited to Good Friday and, in schools but not most businesses, Easter Monday.

Millions of Venezuelans make there way to beaches for sun and surf. This year a new twist has been put on where and how Holy Week sunning should be done.

In Venezuela this week has traditionally been a time to kick back and relax. Millions of Venezuelans make their way to beaches for sun and surf. This year a new twist has been put on where and how Holy Week sunning should be done.

Since the first of April hundreds of thousands of opposition protesters have taken to the streets daily in an effort to force new election. On the April first the government of Nicolas Maduro stripped the Venezuelan congress of its powers, making the country a de facto dictatorship. The move has since been overturned, but the protests continue. Opposition leaders are urging people to forego the beach this year and take the sun while marching in the streets of Caracas. Will this latest round of demonstrations have the desired effect?

The Venezuelan opposition has been calling for peaceful protests this week, as it has on numerous occasions before. Thus far the result has been failure. Maduro has no interest in a new election, transparent democracy not being high on his list of essentials.  I can only assume he is hoping the situation in the US continues to hold the world’s attention.

There is a popular cliché that fits this situation: the Trump administration is sucking the air out of world news.

If the protests do not succeed in bringing about a new election, then perhaps they will serve to show the world what is happening in the oil-rich country. But I fear that with the regular flow of idiocy out of Washington – from Trump’s knee-jerk reaction to bomb Syrian airfields (some say he would have done the runways more damage had he bought the airfield and tried to run it as a business) to Sean Spicer’s foot/ankle/shin in mouth statement about Hitler not using chemicals – the world is otherwise occupied.

There is a popular cliché that fits this situation: the Trump administration is sucking the air out of world news. International ne’er-do-wells must be having a field-day while world attention focuses on Trump-Russia and Syria.

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

Venezuelan President Maduro Reacts to Fidel Castro’s Death

nico

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

Coals to Newcastle; Oil to Venezuela

Oil drills are seen in Maracaibo Lake in Venezuela's oil-rich Zulia state in this 2006 file photo [Leslie Mazoch/AP]

Oil drills are seen in Maracaibo Lake in Venezuela’s oil-rich Zulia state in this 2006 file photo [Leslie Mazoch/AP]

There is an old adage used to indicate a superfluous activity, it likens the act to carrying coals to Newcastle. Newcastle is a coal-rich area in England, so why would anyone bring more.

The oil-rich South American country is now, paradoxically, buying oil from the United States.

A recent piece in the New York Times illustrates a variation on the coals to Newcastle concept. Not coal in this case, but oil. Not Newcastle but Venezuela. The oil-rich South American country is now, paradoxically, buying oil from the United States. Not that Venezuela has exhausted its oil reserves, but the process of drilling for and refining the crude has come to a screeching halt for reasons that run the gamut from mismanagement to vandalism to corruption.  Should the country’s oil production continue to be stalled, the world will feel the pinch at the gas pumps.

In the article Helima Croft, the chief commodity strategist for the Royal Bank of Canada states “A collapse in Venezuela would be an accelerator for oil prices; it would be a total shock. This country is literally imploding.” She added that currently “There is no oil producer that is falling apart as fast as or as dramatically as Venezuela.”

Opposition supporters take part in a rally to demand a referendum to remove Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on Sept. 1. Credit: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

Opposition supporters take part in a rally to demand a referendum to remove Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on Sept. 1. Credit: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

I have in-laws living in Venezuela who provide me first-hand accounts of the chaos, the implosion, that has befallen their beautiful country. Staples including milk, bread, and over-the-counter medications are either not available or are in such short supply that long lines form outside stores in Caracas. Thousands of Venezuelans cross the border into Colombia when possible to stock-up on basics such as toilet paper and flour.

Shady voter registration and old fashioned ballot-box shenanigans have instilled a sense of severe distrust in the democratic process.

Opposition-led protests draw hundreds of thousands to the streets, but fall on the deaf ears of the government. Faith in the electoral system has been eroded by numerous dodgy votes. Shady voter registration and old fashioned ballot-box shenanigans have instilled a sense of severe distrust in the democratic process.

For many living there the anger and  frustration are creating a feeling of living on a powder-keg that will, unless radical change is implemented soon, explode. Here’s hoping a peaceful solution can be arrived at, but I fear the time may have passed for that.

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

Express Kidnapping in Caracas; A Firsthand Experience

Caracas_Kidnap

Journalist Matthew Fisher is currently filing reports for Canada’s The National Post from Caracas, Venezuela. In an ongoing series focused on the multitude of problems facing Venezuelans, the sub-head of his most recent column is: Life is cheap in Caracas, dubbed “the kidnap capital of the world”.

The concept of kidnapping for financial gain is certainly not new, but the practice of what locals call Express Kidnapping has been honed to a fine art in Caracas. Not that this heinous activity does not exist elsewhere – many Latin American countries battle this crime, or don’t battle it as the case may be – but Caracas leads the way when it comes to kidnappings.

The first time I heard of this was when my significantly better half, a proud Caraqueña born and raised, explained to me how she had been kidnapped from the front door of her building in Caracas.

According to Fisher’s article, “Jorge Gonzalez’s specialty is kidnapping. The gang he leads gives a victim’s family and friends only 72 hours to come up with the ransom. If they do not or cannot pay, the captive is murdered.”

The first time I heard of this was when my significantly better half, a proud Caraqueña born and raised, explained to me how she had been kidnapped from the front door of her building in Caracas. Just days before Christmas she had gone downstairs to see a friend who was going to drop off a CD. This friend had been followed by thugs who took advantage of the opportunity. Two got out of a car and forced them at gunpoint into her friend’s car and drove off, with an accomplice following in the other car.

They were taken to an out-of-the-way area. Was she going to be robbed, raped, killed? All of the above?  They were held at gunpoint by the thug in the passenger seat, while in the back seat the hostages feared the worst. Her friend finally saw an opportunity and lunged at the gun. It went off injuring his hand, but more importantly scaring the kidnappers.

 “We have lots of contact with the police,” he said. “They tip us off if anything is going wrong. We pay for that and give them a cut to stay quiet.”

Fortunately, after an agonizing and traumatic hour or so, this incident ended well, but not before a scuffle with gunshots being fired, and the two captives abandoned while the disappointed and frightened kidnappers fled.

I asked her if she went to the police. She looked at me as if I had sprouted a second head. In Fisher’s column this is explained by Gonzalez: “We have lots of contact with the police,” he said. “They tip us off if anything is going wrong. We pay for that and give them a cut to stay quiet.”

So with no police to rely on for protection, is it any wonder the crime rate soars? There are some 50 carjackings in Caracas everyday – not all of Venezuela, that’s just Caracas.

TrafficProblem

Motorcycle gunpoint robbery in heavy Caracas traffic

This was the last straw for her; she decided it was sadly time to leave her home and family as next time things may not end so well. And she knew there would be a next time. Is her family wealthy? No. Politically influential? No. Just an average middle-class family. But as Fisher’s piece points out, life is cheap. If this one does not bring in some cash, the next one will.

Life in many Latin American countries requires some special precautions to be taken. For example one day we were waiting in line in my bank here in Montreal. My phone rang, I answered it, spoke and hung up. She looked at me agog. When I asked why she pointed out that cell phone use is banned in Venezuelan banks as it was used primarily for one crook to inform another outside the bank of any patrons leaving with large cash withdrawals; easy pickings.

The more journalists like Fisher bring to light the problems long suffered by Venezuelans, perhaps the sooner something can be done. But I fear a culture of corruption and collusion will not disappear overnight.

I have lost count of how many times she has expressed relief to be able to wear simple jewelery outside in Canada – watches, earrings, bracelets – that would have to be left in a safe in Caracas lest they be snatched by passing thieves. Traffic in Caracas is horrendous, but many of those guys on motorcycles zipping along between rows of cars are doing more than just getting home quicker. Armed robbery of motorists is a very common occurrence.

The more journalists like Fisher bring to light the problems long suffered by Venezuelans, perhaps the sooner something can be done. But I fear a culture of corruption and collusion will not disappear overnight.

DCS_Grad_2 DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DC on Twitter @DCMontreal and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

World Focus Turns to Venezuela as Caracas Mayor is Arrested or Abducted

Caracas

Caracas, Venezuela

Once again the world’s media is turning its attention to the situation in Venezuela. The turmoil has been there all along, but now the world is taking notice after a bit of a hiatus. The recent arrest, or abduction depending on your political position, of Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma has caught the eye of major news agencies around the globe. Sensational video of the actual removal of the mayor from his office, featuring heavily armed police and military shooting guns, has been broadcast repeatedly on the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera and other international sites.

This event in Venezuela is just the latest in an ongoing period of social unrest that pits citizens against the government and vice versa. Last year protesters took to the streets and parks of cities across the nation to denounce the government of Nicolas Maduro that, through mismanagement and corruption, has made a bad situation worse. Maduro has continued the corrupt policies of his predecessor and mentor Hugo Chavez, but doesn’t have the charisma that Chavez plied.

Ven_Protests

Mayor Ledezma is a member of the opposition and has long been an outspoken critic of Maduro. The president claims Ledezma was involved in plotting a coup d’etat to overthrow the government, all with the aid and support of the USA. My casual discussions with expatriate Venezuelans usually produce the same result: no one wants to see the destabilizing and dangerous conditions brought on by outside intervention, but they fear it is the only hope for their country.

I don’t have the answer to Venezuela’s problems, I wish I did, but I know that having the conditions there exposed to the world can only help.

In good blogger disclosure, I admit that I actually owe a debt of gratitude to the late Chavez; my significantly better half fled her home, as have hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans, in an effort to live a normal life – unfortunately she met me and all traces of normal were erased, but that’s another story. She was seeking the little things in life like not having strict restrictions placed on your currency and ridiculously high inflation, and well-stocked grocery shelves, police who give you a ticket for blowing a stop sign instead of demanding a bribe. Other members of her family have escaped to Costa Rica and Spain, while several have remained.

Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma

Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma

For consumers of news, boredom sets in easily; no action and they yearn for something else. Last year the protests initially drew much attention as gas and bullets flew, but as days turned into weeks and months, and sexier world events occurred, the plight of Venezuela was pushed to the rear. But Maduro has solved that – muchas gracias Señor – by creating a scene that has fueled a revitalization of media interest worldwide.

One often hears of places or people being described by the expression “a terrible beauty”, well that certainly fits Venezuela. With tropical conditions, a vast influx of cash from tourism should be a given. Sadly the flow of foreign money-toting visitors is stemmed by a conception of lawlessness and danger. The country’s vast oil reserves alone could provide for all, yet many live in poverty due to corruption and mismanagement.

Chavez and Maduro have relied on electoral support from the poor by promising them better living conditions to come, but never delivering. All the while amassing huge fortunes for themselves. According to Jerry Brewer, president of Criminal Justice International Associates, Hugo Chavez’ was worth some US$2B at the time of his death. Much of that believed to have been taken from Venezuelans.

I don’t have the answer to Venezuela’s problems, I wish I did, but I know that having the conditions there exposed to the world can only help.

DCS_Grad_2 DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DC on Twitter @DCMontreal and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

 

Venezuela: Cheap Barbie Dolls and All About That Bass

Shoppers look at the selection of Barbie dolls for sale at a store in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, Nov. 10, 2014. (Ariana Cubillos/AP)

Shoppers look at the selection of Barbie dolls for sale at a store in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, Nov. 10, 2014.
(Ariana Cubillos/AP)

In an odd about-face Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has ordered retail outlets to reduce the price of Barbie Dolls. That most iconic of American toys, Barbie was once vilified by Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez who stated “the stupidity of Barbie”. One is left to wonder if Chavez actually tried to converse with the doll and, getting no response deemed her stupid.

It must be a relief for Venezuelans to know that in a country where basic staples such as milk and bread are becoming increasingly difficult to find on store shelves, they can be assured of cut-rate Barbie Dolls.

But this year, as part of Maduro’s “Operation Merry Christmas” he has decreed that toy prices be slashed to allow all Venezuelans to purchase them. No Grinch or Bah Humbug about it.

Poor Barbie has often been criticized in North America for being so damned perfect. Young girls see this cellulite-free figure and strive to emulate her. Unfortunately opinion seems to be that the proportions of the Barbie shape would not translate to a real woman. At least not an average real woman, maybe something Picasso created, but not your everyday girl.

As women in plastic-surgery loving Venezuela, land of umpteen beauty pageant queens, spend a fortune to try to look like Barbie, paradoxically their counterparts in the US, home of the “perfect body” doll, are being urged to love what they have.

The currently very popular song by Meghan Trainor, All About That Bass, (which I had assumed was a tribute to a fish … go figure) encourages young women to be satisfied with their shape just as it is.

I see the magazine workin’ that Photoshop
We know that shit ain’t real
C’mon now, make it stop
If you got beauty, beauty, just raise ’em up
‘Cause every inch of you is perfect
From the bottom to the top

It must be a relief for Venezuelans to know that in a country where basic staples such as milk and bread are becoming increasingly difficult to find on store shelves, they can be assured of cut-rate Barbie Dolls.

 

Me DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DC on Twitter @DCMontreal and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

Venezuela: Corruption, Oil Riches and Shortages of Basic Necessities

How can a country with the oil riches of Venezuela possibly have shortages of anything, let alone common household products? Could it be well-intentioned but poorly implemented mismanagement? Maybe, but I fear greed and corruption are more likely causes.

If you have read my blog at all you will no doubt have noticed that I like to point out the occasional juxtaposition. Often I illustrate those things that, when compared, don’t seem to add up. Or perhaps they not only add up, but are perfect mirror images.

An article in Upstream today heralds the signing of a US$38 million contract between a subsidiary of Kentz and the state-owned Venezuelan oil giant PDVSA – Kentz wins Venezuela contract.

Meanwhile an audio piece on the website of National Public Radio Venezuela In Turmoil For Lack Of Flour, Milk And Diapers details the daily struggle for basics, staples in a country that is finally starting to say enough is enough.

How can a country with the oil riches of Venezuela possibly have shortages of anything, let alone common household products? Could it be well-intentioned but poorly implemented mismanagement? Maybe, but I fear greed and corruption are more likely causes.

The governments of the late Hugo Chavez and Nicholas Maduro are essentially the same in that they talk a good game, but when it comes to delivering on promises they fall down. Great claims of socialism that are a mainstay of the President are debunked by a quick gander at Sweden or Norway, or even Canada, where socialist policies actually work. Venezuela’s leaders are more intent on maligning capitalism, and in particular the United States, than on providing basic needs to Venezuelans.

Venezuela

Image: Alejandro Cegarra/Associated Press

The ongoing daily marches and protests in the streets of Venezuelan cities, that are being pushed off the world news by the situation in Ukraine and by the missing Malaysian plane, indicate the people’s strong desire for change in their country. Too often the government turns on these protesters in a violent manner, sadly killing a number of protesting students. I hope the tenacity of these protesters can outlast the guns and tear gas of the government soldiers and real change can take place.

Godspeed Venezuela! Chévere!

Me DCMontreal is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and Freans and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DC on Twitter @DCMontreal and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

Venezuelan Protesters Face Heavily Armed Police

In Chicago in 1968 at the Democratic National Convention anti-war protesters were roughed-up by police  in what many  still refer to as a ‘police riot’.  The  chant ‘The whole world is watching’  became part of the protesters lexicon. Today more than ever, with the Internet and social media, the whole world is capable of watching.

Let’s hope the world sees images like the one below in which a Venezuelan police officer in helmet and protective gear, wielding not just a truncheon but armed with a gun as well, chases an opposition protester. Regardless of  what this evidently unarmed protester has done, running with, one assumes, a loaded weapon in the midst of a large group of peaceful demonstrators can’t be a very bright thing to do.

image

MeDCMontreal is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and Freans and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DC on Twitter @DCMontreal and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

Venezuela: Maduro Welcomes Castro – Hope He Likes Ketchup – While Cuban Flag Runs for Freedom

… during the welcoming ceremonies the Cuban flag, like so many of its citizens, made a break for freedom!
As the juxtaposed photos below indicate, the old adage that full shelves are better for sales is being put to the test in Venezuela. On the left we see the bare milk and meat section while on the right is enough ketchup to float a battleship. Bear in mind that this country is a member of OPEC and, one would think, very wealthy. sadly that wealth isn’t making its way down to the person in the street, or in the supermarket.

In yet another juxtaposition today several leaders of like-minded countries, Raoul Castro of Cuba at the forefront, are gathering in Caracas to commemorate the late Hugo Chavez. While hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans will hold their positions at street barricades in protest of the policies that Chavez set in place and that current president Nicholas Maduro is  maintaining.

I have a sneaking suspicion the honored guests will not be eating ketchup soup with ketchup pie and ketchup ice cream.

Godspeed Venezuela! Chévere!

Grocery

As if the ketchup-laced menu wasn’t bad enough, during the welcoming ceremonies the Cuban flag, like so many of its citizens, made a run for freedom!

Cuban flag makes a break for freedom!

Cuban flag makes a break for freedom!

MeDCMontreal is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and Freans and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DC on Twitter @DCMontreal and on Facebook, and add him on Google+