Venezuela: As the River Flows

Minister Albarrán asked me, after three days on the river, stopping in various pueblos and villages, consulting communities and witnessing life in its most dire straights, “what do you think now of all this?” I refrained from answering at that moment, and my response came days later.

If you navigate far enough down the Orinoco river in Venezuela to no-man’s-land, between cotton fields, wide river banks, dancing dolphins, piranhas and the vast unknown, you’ll find Capuchino. Founded some time ago, named after some guy, last-name “Capuchino”, (not the frothy coffee), this little pueblo is truly the land of the forgotten. Almost four hundred people reside here, most born and raised in this riverside community, with no paved roads or drinking water, just the broad Orinoco river with its succulent fish to feed from. A partially constructed “Bolivarian” school shadows dimly in the distance from the river – some private contractor shafted the government and never finished the job. The tiny medical clinic is locked shut because the nurse – not a doctor around – left for the mainland and never returned. Electricity comes and goes with the tide and the only music jets from an eighties boom-box that is used for all local celebrations. Capuchino is the epitome of misery, the land of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables”.

Credit: Eva Golinger

We landed there by chance. I had the fortunate opportunity to accompany the Venezuelan Minister of Agriculture and Lands, Antonio Albarrán, and his team, during an inspection of cotton fields and fishing production all along the River Orinoco – where the states of Bolivar, Guarico, Apure and Barinas join together. We started in the fishing village of Cabruta, a strategic point that unites the states of Bolivar and Guarico and initiates the trail of “aquaculture” that reigns throughout the region. In Cabruta, we discovered a fish processing and freezing center abandoned seven years ago. Its deactivation made the lives of the local fishermen even more difficult and desolate. With nowhere to process and store fish locally, the fishermen were forced to sell fresh produce at cheap prices, or run the risk of losing their product to the intense heat of the Orinoco sun. But with Minister Albarran, the Bolivarian Revolution arrived in Cabruta, and the fish processing center, Alpesca, will soon be reactivated by the government and handed over to local fishing cooperatives to operate in the interests of the community. Cabruta will become once again a flourishing and prosperous fishing zone, with just pricing and marketing. At least that is the hope of the “pueblo.”

Credit: Eva Golinger

We left Cabruta on a small boat, operated by the National Guard, intent on checking out the status of local cotton growers throughout the region. We banked spontaneously at the site of a small community, barely visible from the glistening Orinoco. The homes were all made of earth, mud, “barro”. No concrete, no bricks, just dirt, sand, water and man. “Ranchos”, they call them, some with aluminum roofs, in the luckiest of cases. In Capuchino, there are no mattresses, just hammocks, made by the sweat and labor of the local women. A tiny little girl, hair discolored from malnutrition, peered out the door of one shack, and more followed. A young man, José Orlando Blanco, peeked from behind a tin door plastered with magazine advertisements, embarrassed to show his face to the newcomers. His right eye was inflamed, deformed from birth. I returned days later with the rest of the crew, at the orders of Minister Albarrán, to transport José Orlando to Caracas for medical treatment. Soon, he will return to Capuchino with two perfect eyes instead of one. A token contribution that will change the life of that young man forever. That is the essence of Chávez’s Revolution, the Bolivarian Revolution that has captivated the world.

The river Orinoco and its native villages, like Capuchino, is full of contradictions. We continued down the open waters to Apure State, to the fishing village of Arichuna, encountering more forgotten souls, severe medical situations, shut down hospitals, dysfunctional schools and cracking mud homes. But the spirits of the locals remained strong. “We are with Chávez,” most cried, out of the depths of their misery, “but we need help, we are forgotten.” It’s true. These lands are centuries behind. No running water, sparse electricity, no cellular telephone connections, no paved roads – just the river flowing by.

Minister Albarrán asked me, after three days on the river, stopping in various pueblos and villages, consulting communities and witnessing life in its most dire straights, “what do you think now of all this?” I refrained from answering at that moment, and my response came days later. Venezuela is a land of contradictions. An immense beauty circles an unbearable misery. Impoverished fisherman fish exotic, internationally desired species of fish that are shipped around the world as delicacies, savored by the wealthy, while the desolate producers tap holes on their shacks with clay. “What do you think?”  I think the revolution is long overdue. I think the hard work is to come. “What do you think?” I think Venezuelans are a strong-willed, tough people, and I feel deep pride to have their blood run through me like the Orinoco river. I think as we awaken our consciousness we will step aboard this boat gliding down the infinite river. River of hope, river of change, river that flows through the heart of Venezuela, bringing the revolution to the forgotten, the miserable, the wretched.  When both eyes are given sight again, we will embark upon the true revolution that will change Venezuela, and the world, forever.

Eva Golinger is a Venezuelan-American attorney and the author of “The Chávez Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela.”