“Here at least we don’t have to wait in line at the supermarket” or “over there they don’t have toilet paper” or “in Venezuela there is no justice, human rights or democracy” are phrases repeated all the time by important [Colombian] journalists and then by everyday people.
The curious part is that here we Colombians have learned to view Venezuela as a country in ruins, where people die of hunger, where a crazy and stupid president makes the decisions, a bit like the “crazy neighbor” on the block, while we the “good neighbors” look on with annoyance.
What if I told you that in many ways Venezuela is better off than Colombia? Before you angrily stop reading, I ask you to take a look at these figures:
According to UNESCO, 83% of young people in Venezuela attend college, while in Colombia only 32% do.
Venezuela, as a country of 29 million people, has 43 public universities, while Colombia with 47 million people (18 million more) has 32. While Colombia has 1,106,244 students in higher education (including the SENA [technical schools]), Venezuela has 1,673,963 students studying in public universities.
Did you know that in Venezuela there is a public hospital for every 136,000 people and in Colombia there is one hospital for every 178,000? But above all, did you know that in Venezuela the hospitals are not being bankrupted by private health providers? Healthcare in Venezuela isn’t the best, but I remind you that here in Colombia there are public hospitals like El Valle University Hospital which don’t have gauze, syringes, nor gloves either. The debts of the hospitals in Colombia to the private health providers surpass 5.2 billion pesos [US $1,744,548].
But I assure you that this fact will open your eyes, you will decry it as fiction but it is the truth: did you know that according to the statistics of the FAO [UN Food and Agricultural Organization] (not the Venezuelan government) in Venezuela there are fewer malnourished people– that is, hungry people– than in Colombia? According to this international organization, in Venezuela 5% of the population is still malnourished, while Colombia the figure reaches 15%. Let me refresh your memory: [the Colombian provinces of] La Guajira, Chocó, and Vaupés have unsatisfied basic necessity (NBI) rates similar to Rwanda or the Congo; we all know the drama of the [indigenous] Wayúu people who die of hunger or those from Chocó who die from diarrhea. From what I have been able to find out, this does not happen in Venezuela.
Are you surprised? Still don't believe it? Well the FAO’s world program for fighting hunger and poverty is called Hugo Chávez Frías.
But that’s not all: the proportion of people who lack access to drinkable water in Venezuela is 5.3%, while in Colombia it’s 28% (here in Colombia there are municipalities without water beginning with Santa Marta and let's not get started on rural areas).
And there’s more: if we’re talking about the pension system, in Colombia it’s a joke. Only 20% of the population receives a pension and the truth is that those who pay in don’t know if they will receive a pension. In Venezuela, 73% of the population receives a pension.
Then, as if we were some kind of Nordic country, we say in a scornful tone, “But Caracas is one of the most violent cities in the world” or “in Venezuela crime is brutal” – as if Colombia didn’t have five cities that are among the 100 cities with the highest homicide rates in the world, as if there wasn’t exasperating insecurity here.
The Santos government has been proudly puffing its chest out for five years over 100,000 free houses (from the Radical Change party), do you know how many free houses the Venezuelan government has delivered? More than a million, of which 170,000 were given to Colombian families living there.
Are you surprised? Skeptical? I understand that in a country where the neighboring president has an approval rating of 5%, it’s normal to think that Venezuela is on the threshold of hell… but if things are really like that, then we are only one small step ahead. In Colombia, people angrily shout about the case of Leopoldo Lopez, “in Venezuela there is no justice” as if here we did not have our Pretelt (President of the Constitutional Court, for God's sake) saying, “if I go, we all go” or Judge Villarraga negotiating impunity for a military official sentenced over the false positives scandal. As Gonzalo Guillén recently commented: “justice is inferior to the mafia” and not exactly referring to Pablo Escobar.
We could go on: here they say that in Venezuela there is no democracy, that there is a dictatorship, as if here votes, juries, or even entire institutions are not bought.
Do we want to talk about corruption? The carousel of contracting in Bogotá, the private and public cartels, the justice reform, the Agro Ingreso Seguro scandal, the Yidispolítica scandal, [Mauricio] Santoya.
Do we want to talk about human rights violations? False positives, 6 million people displaced, 920,000 disappeared, the “chop-up houses”?
The truth is that in Colombia I believe that we have to get our heads out of the clouds: in Venezuela things aren’t that bad, nor are things here that good.
If what [Colombian President] Santos says is true, that the Venezuelan system is self-destructing, what can we say about our system then?
Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying that Venezuela is a perfect country, it’s a country with serious problems. What I’m calling into question is the fact that the debate about this sister country does not conform to reality, the opinions are brazenly biased, and many journalists are clearly partial to one side over the other. In the media, the problems of Venezuela are exaggerated and what is done well over there is disregarded, omitted, or hidden.
In his time, Salvador Allende was called insane while the great Chilean industries sabotaged the economy, creating shortages and the CIA devised a formidable plot that ended with his overthrow and murder. History often repeats itself.
Translated by Lucas Koerner for Venezuelanalysis.