By Sarit Benzaquen
The world would be a different place if Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera had not pardoned Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chavez in 1994. An economic emergency, caused by a large decrease in oil prices, hyperinflation, and a banking crisis, led to a failed attempt at a military coup. During the uprising, Chavez was sent to jail but was never convicted in order to appease the military force. The newly elected president, Rafael Caldera, pardoned him, opening the doors for Chavez’s political career, which took him to the presidency four years later, in 1998. Once Hugo Chavez became president, he began to implement anti-democratic ideas that brought the country to the authoritarianism that exists today in the oppressive government of Nicolas Maduro, even more than five years after Hugo Chavez’s death.
If c was not granted a presidential pardon in 1994 and was convicted according to the law, the democratic foundations of Venezuela would likely have survived the economic challenges of the time. If that had happened, the people looking for a change from the traditional dual political parties would have shifted to support candidates like Andrés Velazquez or the Primero Justicia party, which offered democratic alternatives of change. These contrasted with the radicalization and populist socialism that Hugo Chavez brought to the country, causing the greatest misery and recession in the history of Venezuela.
Having a democratic country would have given citizens the freedom and supplies to live safely, which is a strong contrast to the Venezuela that exists today. If democratic ideals had been adopted, Venezuelans would not be forced to flee the country in search of food, medical supplies and safety. Parents would not need to tell their children that gunshots are fireworks, and young students would not be tortured merely for exercising their freedom of speech. Three months of labor would buy more than just a dozen eggs. People would not search for their next meal in the trash. They would not need to stand in line for hours just to buy an overpriced roll of toilet paper. Society would receive proper medical treatment without having to worry about lack of medication. The economic market would not have been destroyed if other countries had not put sanctions on Venezuela. Millions of passionate workers would not have fled their magnificent homeland. If Chavez had not been pardoned, the people would be in a rich and developed country. People would live with basic human rights guaranteed.
I am from Venezuela. I fled my beautiful country. Because of Caldera’s decision in 1994, my family has experienced hardship. The place where we felt most at home is now a danger zone. The place I would pick mangoes with my Grandma is now a battleground. My favorite hiking spot is now deserted. If Chavez had not been pardoned, I would be able to walk outside my childhood home by myself instead of needing a bulletproof car. My family would safely travel to the Caribbean beaches. Venezuelans would be able to feed and support their families from their wages. The old charm and splendor of the enchanting country would return. Venezuela would be home. The tucán would sing of freedom, the turpial would dance in awe and the araguaney would sway with joy.