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Eduardo Verdugo

Opinion The Venezuelan government must go - it has failed its people and become utterly corrupt

Venezuela, once among the richest countries in Latin-America, now needs food aid. Only free and fair elections can save the country, writes Eamon Stack.

LAST WEEK KEVIN Masterson vomited blood.

Things could not get worse for Kevin and his mother Madelle. In crisis-ridden Venezuela, they could not get a hospital to treat Kevin.

Madelle recounted that he was refused in one hospital because his name was too ‘gringo’.

Kevin Masterson’s Dad was Patrick Masterson, from Raheny in Dublin. Patrick left Ireland in the 1970s to go to London and there he met a Venezuelan potter called Madelle. They decided to go to Venezuela which had a booming economy due to the high oil price, to start a new life. They did so by producing unique pottery, a blend of Irish and Venezuelan, and made a good living until the economy went belly-up.

By then they had two children, Kevin and Ita.

Initially, for Patrick, the Chavez government seemed to offer hope, as they struggled to survive in the late 1990s. Bit by bit though, as Patrick and Madelle sunk into the ever deeper hole of poverty, their faith in Chavismo waned.

I first met Patrick in 1991 when I was living in Caracas. He was happy – an artist alive with ideas. We kept in contact when I returned home.

I last met him in 2006. He was a broken man, broken by poverty and by hopelessness. One year later, at the age of 59, he died of a heart attack, in the back of a jeep, on the way to the hospital. Little did he know that things were going to get much worse for his family.

Chavez died too and was replaced by Maduro, his anointed successor. Like many other families in Venezuela, the poverty of the Masterson’s just kept getting worse and worse.

Patrick’s son Kevin, now a young adult, worked hard to earn a few bolivars, the local currency that lost value by the week.
His sister, Ita, left for Peru, on foot.

Crisis struck last September when Madelle fell and broke her wrist, ribs and suffered a punctured lung. Kevin needed money to cover hospital care and there was none in Venezuela.

She was going to die if he did not get help. His Irish relatives and friends funded the cost of hospital care and medicine for Madelle.

But they also needed food – and inflation meant the price of food doubled every 19 days.

At first, the Irish supporters were able to get dollars to the Mastersons but in time this became difficult as the persons who helped channel the money left for the US or Spain.

As Madelle was just getting back on her feet, bad luck struck again. Last week Kevin vomited blood. It turned out that he had used all the help from Ireland to feed his ailing mother and starved himself.

He developed a chronic bleeding ulcer – the product of stress and malnutrition and he needed an immediate operation. The minimum cost was $1000. Again, his Irish family and friends quickly sent the money and he was treated.

Unfortunately, there was a power cut during the operation. Kevin suffered respiratory failure and was just kept alive before the power was restored. Kevin Masterson is clinging to life as is his mother Madelle.

This is the truth of Venezuela — it is no longer the amazing resource-rich salsa-dancing haven on the Caribbean.

What hurts Venezuelans most is that all of this is totally unnecessary.

To anyone who wants to hear, the current Venezuelan government needs to go. It has failed miserably to deal with the realities facing its people and has become utterly corrupt.

Democracy needs to be allowed to give someone else a chance.

Let’s be clear, there is no silver bullet. Any replacement government is going to struggle to tackle the problems confronting the country.

Venezuela’s core issue is that its only source of income is from oil but their production is down 70% and the price of oil is 25% of its peak in 2006. This is a true economic disaster.

Clearly, Venezuela needs to transform its economy, it needs to diversify its production, it needs to win the trust of the international community. The last person to lead this is Nicolás Maduro.

I was in Caracas during the parliamentary elections in December 2015. Everyone, there was surprised at the scale of victory for the united opposition candidates. They won over 75% of seats, one of which went to a new deputy, Juan Guaidó.

The Venezuelan voters clearly wanted change. But 18 months later, in the elections for a new constitutional assembly, the Chavistas won an unbelievable 90% of seats.

Any member of Fianna Fail will tell you, from experience, that you don’t reverse a landslide political loss in eighteen months.

Venezuela, once among the richest countries in Latin-American now needs food aid. The Irish government, using its EU position, must push to demand fair and free elections.

The 60 countries supporting Guaidó need to commit to a massive investment in Venezuela and a plan to rebuild the Venezuelan economy.
Otherwise, we will continue to witness millions of Kevin and Madelle Mastersons, and even though they may have less ‘gringo’ names, they will have no food and no health care — their only hope is democracy. And they need it now.

Eamon Stack lived and worked in Venezuela for three years. He is best known for organising the Garvaghy Road residents to peacefully protest against Orange Order parades in Drumcree between 1994 and 1997.

A former Jesuit priest, he is co-founder and CEO of Enclude, Europe’s biggest technology charity, which employs three Venezuelans.;

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