By Javier Hasse
July 22, 2016
After three years as a correspondent in Venezuela, BBC’s Daniel Pardo decided to share a look into five myths he’s identified in relation to the country’s situation, as perceived by people abroad. Those up-to-date with the news know that almost every mainstream media outlet paints a gloomy picture of famine, insecurity and censorship. But, how bad is the situation really?
1. There’s Famine
While it is true that some areas in Venezuela are experiencing food shortages, and most people (90 percent according to an Encovi poll) have declared they now eat less and worse, there is no such thing as a widespread famine.
According to U.N. criteria, a famine is defined by severe food scarcity in more than 20 percent of households, a global acute malnutrition rate above 30 percent and death rates above 0.02 percent — two deaths per 10,000 people per day. In comparison, the most pessimistic figures for Venezuela point toward 20 to 25 percent malnutrition rate and a death rate that does not even reach one person per 1 million people per day.
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2. Venezuela And Cuba Are The Same
Pardo cited three main arguments people are using to argue that Venezuela has “Cubanized”: long lines to purchase rationed products, a dual economy and a militarized government. And, while there is some truth in these statements, Venezuela remains a capitalist economy with a still large private sector — and presence of international brands like McDonald’s Corporation MCD 0.51% and a large list of U.S. and Spanish banks.
Moreover, Venezuelans have free access to the Internet and the media; Facebook Inc FB 0.03%, Netflix, Inc. NFLX 2.13%, Twitter Inc TWTR 0.64% and Alphabet Inc GOOG 0.57% GOOGL 0.5%’s YouTube are available for everyone, opposite to Cuba. And, of course, Venezuelans can leave the country freely, which Cubans — arguably — cannot do.
It should be noted that none of the statements above imply contempt for the Cuban way, but are just a mere differentiation between two countries.
3. A Dictatorship Is Installed In Venezuela
While there is much debate among scholars regarding how to categorize Venezuela, one thing is pretty undisputed: It is not a traditional dictatorship — living in Latin America, I can assure you a dictatorship looks nothing like that!
First off, Pardo explained, opposition exists (even though limited in its expressions, it’s there) and elections are conducted periodically — although results can be questioned.
Now, agreeing on the fact that Venezuela is not a dictatorship is not the same as talking about a full-blown democracy — although the minimum criteria are met.
4. Everyone And Their Grandma Hates President Nicolás Maduro
Again, this is a straight-out lie. Maduro, like many Latin American (and world) leaders, is a polarizing figure. People tend to either love him or hate him; no grays. In this line, 20 to 30 percent of the country’s population supports the acting president, diverse polls have shown. However, analysts have argued these numbers are rigged, in the sense that many don’t dare to criticize the government, for fear of losing of housing, food and other benefits.
One way or another, “30 percent support is more than what the presidents of Brazil, Chile or Colombia boast nowadays,” Pardo added.
5. People Cannot Feel Safe In The Streets
While it is true that crime rates are quite high in Venezuela, people still go out, even at night, and most return home safely. However, one must keep a low profile, Pardo expounded. Showing riches or opulence are bad ideas, but this applies to almost every country in the world.