Friday, September 30, 2016

And now malaria...

I am a retired child protection social worker and a seventy year old New York taxi driver. I have a degree in Political Science from The College of Staten Island (Formerly know as Richmond College, City University of New York.)

I served in the United States Army from 1967 - 1969.

I live in Harlem and am married to a Venezuelan woman. I've visited Venezuela twice, most recently from November 2014 to February 2015 staying in the homes of a truck driver, a shoe store sales clerk, a taxi driver, and a construction laborer. I traveled by car from Caracas to Michelena on the Colombian frontier.

I feel qualified and driven to speak up for a change in the policies of the United States and Venezuela.

I follow publications and articles reflecting all points of view regarding Venezuela and I'm in contact with my wife's family who are having a difficult time in Venezuela. I am concerned about them and millions like them. It's now becoming apparent that malaria, a tropical scourge is making a comeback in Venezuela is which once had been a leading country in the eradication of this dread disease.

If I stole ten thousand dollars from you and then lent you a thousand dollars how much would you owe me? If your children were so hungry they couldn't do their school work what would you do first, pay your debt to me or buy food for your kids? Most sensible people would say that you owed me nothing, and that in any case feeding your children should be your top priority.

Venezuela is mentioned 241,000 times in the Panama Papers. While not every mention necessarily points to corruption it does indicate widespread capital flight, the very thing Venezuelan foreign exchange policy was said to be intended to prevent. 

Venezuela imports over seventy percent of the food and other items it consumes, making purchases with American dollars, and the government is the source of ninety-six percent of those dollars. Imports are expected to be valued at $15 billions this year, one fourth the level of imports in 2012. 

To understand how hundreds of billions of dollars were embezzled and removed from the Venezuelan economy one has to understand the country's foreign exchange system. The national currency is ironically called the bolivar fuerte, (strong bolivar). What a bolivar is worth in dollars "all depends." The government has virtually all of the dollars there are in Venezuela because the national petroleum company (PDVSA) is responsible for 96 percent of Venezuela's exports. The government sells those dollars at different prices in bolivars according to the purpose the dollars are supposedly being used for. Currently most dollars are sold for ten bolivars each. These dollars are supposed to be used to import food staples, medical supplies and inputs for domestic agricultural and industrial production, all to be sold at cheap "fair prices." A lesser used rate that supposedly floats and is restricted is around 645 bolivars. Recently the black market price of a dollar in bolivars is reported to be around 1,025 bolivars to the dollar. 

The inflation, the shortages and the spiralling violence that is being spurred on by hunger may or may not reach the level of a "humanitarian crisis" yet but they are on the path to just that.  The unfolding malaria epidemic portends catastrophe in a country whose public health system is collapsing. and malnutrition stalks the land. Something must be done. 

As much as the dramatic fall in oil prices is blamed for Venezuela's crisis the shortages began in 2013 when oil was still worth $100 a barrel. This was the year that President Hugo Chavez died and Nicolas Maduro succeeded him. 2012 was Venezuela's most prosperous year. Imports of all goods was at $60 billion. The embezzled money, at its lowest estimate is the equivalent of over four years of imports in a country that imports 70 percent of what it consumes. This clearly would've contributed greatly to the crisis. Amnesty International says "Unless those in power do a drastic U turn in the way they are handling this dramatic crisis, what is already an extremely serious situation will turn into an unthinkable nightmare."  This statement was made before the threat of malaria arose. "Those in power" now includes not only the government, but the political opposition and major stakeholders like the United States and China. If the government of Venezuela wants to continue denying that the situation is a crisis and refuses to request assistance this simply must be gotten around. Lethal ovitraps can be used to kill the mosquito that carries not only malaria but also dengue fever, yellow fever, chikunguya and a new threat, mayaro fever.

Venezuela owes billions of dollars to American citizens and to China. Venezuela still is a major exporter of oil and an estimated 100,000 Chinese expatriates live in Venezuela.President Obama ought to revoke his official claim that Venezuela constitutes a threat to American security. This incredible claim helps to isolate Venezuela in financial markets. It also lends credence to allegations that The United States is hostile to Venezuela and is waging an economic war against Venezuela. The U.S. should also "out" Venezuelan money that is sheltered in the United States. Much of this money is ill gotten and there is a proposal that this money should be taxed by the Venezuelan government. 
The United States could and should offer unconditional emergency shipment of medicines and staple foods. Concern that such aid will be misused is legitimate but right now a neighboring country of thirty million people is facing an imminent humanitarian crisis. If initial shipments are abused the aid can be discontinued. At the least insecticides, lethal ovitraps and mosquito netting could be sent through private channels without the government needing to acknowledge the aid.

Both China and the United States should do whatever possible to avert an "unthinkable nightmare."