Firsthand accounts of the situation in Venezuela

Feb 27, 2019

By Jeff Van Pelt

On February 24, my wife and I attended a very moving presentation at Fishbon del Sur, given by a panel of 3 Venezuelan refugees, one a spinal surgeon now practicing at Monte Sinai Hospital here in Cuenca. Eight or ten refugees, who have opened three Venezuelan restaurants, sold food and came on stage briefly to tell us about their restaurants.

Some of their stories brought tears to my eyes. One talked about being robbed so often that he started staying home and eating only what he could get at a nearby store that he could get to safely. Another needed a Caesarean delivery and she had to go around town to find the necessary supplies, including surgical gloves. There was no pain medication available after the surgery, when the anesthesia wore off, and she said the pain was terrible, yet she said she was “one of the luckier patients.” Another person’s mother was close to death because kidney dialysis was no longer available.

Venezuelan refugees in Ecuador.

One individual said the military is putting common soldiers on the front line at the border, many of them women, blocking humanitarian aid. The masses of people who want the aid were begging the soldiers to think about their families, children, mothers, etc. and some of the soldiers cried but couldn’t do anything for fear of retribution from their commanders.

As bad as it appears to us in the media, I didn’t really comprehend the depths of their misery before hearing these accounts. And yet the doctor said Venezuela has millionaires who ride around in armored cars and can fly to New York, or wherever, whenever they like.

I asked them a question, to which they all gave the same emphatic answer. The question was, “How do most Venezuelans feel about foreign military intervention to remove Maduro?” They said it is absolutely necessary because nothing else can remove him. I then asked which countries should do it. Should it be a South American thing. They said Colombia, Brazil, and Chile are already preparing for this but they need the resources of the United States to succeed.

I think these are the voices we should be paying attention to, not the conspiracy theorists who are so quick to blame all of Venezuela’s problems on the United States’ sanctions and desire for their oil.

If you want to know how you can help Venezuelan refugees in Cuenca, write to Phil Smith at

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