Venezuela – why it matters
“The situation in Venezuela reached boiling point on 23 January, when Juan Guaidó, the President of the National Assembly used article 233 to assume the presidency,” says Akinin, who was born in Venezuela to a Jewish family that came to the country from Spain and Morocco.
Both former President Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó are claiming to be president of the South American country, which is battling for survival against corruption, dictatorship, economic implosion, and the drug trade.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Sunday that Israel would recognise Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela.
“The time has come to bring back the values of leadership, integrity, and accountability to the country,” says Akinin. “It’s time to pick a side, as the United States announced earlier this month. History will remember everyone who remained silent and didn’t stand on the side of justice, equality, and prosperity.”
He says he is proud of every country that is standing up for the people of Venezuela, recognising the humanitarian crisis the country is facing, and the socio-political oppression that has led to the collapse of its democracy and separation of powers.
Akinin and his brothers were kidnapped for a night when he lived in Venezuela. He and his family then emigrated to America, where he excelled. He now lives in Namibia where he has a thriving business and is a young but leading member of the Jewish community.
“Venezuela is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and was once the strongest economy in South America. At its peak, the Jewish community 20 years ago must have been about 30 000 Jews. Today there may be less than 6 000,” says Akinin.
While there are fears that Netanyahu’s backing of Guaidó may result in a backlash against the Jewish community, Akinin doesn’t believe this will be the case. “The Jewish community is as apolitical as any religious group. I don’t see how the Jewish community should be impacted negatively more than it already has. Venezuelan Jews, like all other citizens, suffer from the current crisis,” he says.
But he notes that “Maduro’s regime kicked out the Israeli embassy in 2009, and his policies have often had an anti-Israel message. For years, there has been growing anti-Semitism, built up as hatred from a regime that funds Hezbollah, Hamas, and others.”
Akinin went on to explain the latest political developments. “Maduro proclaimed himself president illegally for a new term of six years on 10 January, having held dirty elections which had a turnout of about 14% of the electorate. For years, the country’s opposition, which is more than 80% of the population if not more, has been trying to find a solution that was peaceful and constitutional. Many times the elections were stolen by the official party, but it was very hard to prove.
“This time, the stars were aligned for a constitutional exit to a dictatorial, narco-regime,” he says. “Over the past 20 years, the country’s coffers were raided by the likes of China and Russia, which usurped resources – Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world – and struck dirty deals with a crew of military and political leaders that fund terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as run one of the biggest drug cartels in the world today.”
Akinin describes the harrowing situation of people on the street. In the past eight to 10 years, eight zeros have been slashed from the currency – the biggest devaluation in world history. The minimum wage is about R60 a month, and it has been increased 40%, or more than 20 times.
There is no food in the supermarkets, and no medicine. Most people have the maximum of one meal a day, and the average Venezuelan has lost 8kg to 11kg. Child mortality has increased, and diseases that were eradicated decades ago are starting to reappear at epidemic levels. The children of protesters are often kidnapped and held for ransom in prisons in the most horrific conditions.
“Guaidó is taking each day as it comes, calling for peaceful protests, and little by little, getting the right support from the international community,” says Akinin. “There has been an exodus of nearly four million people in recent years. Very soon people will return and rebuild what was once a great nation, repairing its health and educational systems, restoring its infrastructure and economic engine, giving birth to a new republic, and planting seeds of hope in every family’s backyard.”
In the meantime, Akinin will keep a close eye on developments in the hope that the country and its Jewish community can resume its former glory.