Death has free reign in Venezuela

Dr. Carlos Bravo knew what fate awaited him. Sebin (Venezuelan Secret Service) had been harassing him for broadcasting videos and commenting on the situation at the University Hospital, one of many hospitals whose capacity to serve patients has effectively been stripped by a government who does not care for the needs of its people.

The funds required to purchase medicines have been depleted, largely as a result of widespread corruption. At the same time, citing “outside interference”, humanitarian aid has not been allowed into the country. The remaining lifeline is individual parcels of the most elemental of resources sent by family and friends from outside the country.

Dialysis patients are not able to have the routine procedures needed to preserve their lives. HIV/AIDS patients long ago stopped receiving their needed medicines. Cancer sufferers have no access to any kind of treatment. People regularly utilize social media to request antibiotics, other basic medicines, and even ointments. On average last year, 31 Venezuelan infants died every day. Many were victims of diarrhea, bacterial infections, and other diseases that, according to the local pediatric society, could have been prevented or easily treated.

“There are vaccines and antibiotics available, but Venezuela is so lacking that these illnesses are coming back,” said Dr. Huniades Urbina, president of the Venezuelan Society of Childhood and Pediatrics.

Deaths of babies younger than one year jumped to 30% in Venezuela in 2016, according to the last available government figures. That is a stark contrast to declines across the rest of Latin America.

The government has long since stopped releasing data on all basic metrics of life in the country. No one is able to know the facts – from inflation and hard currency reserves to causes of death.

On October 20, Pastor Marcelo Coronel, leader of the Merida (main city in the Andes region) Pastors Fellowship learned that one of his church’s members had been detained by the security services. She had with her two boxes of medical supplies to distribute among the needy. She was accused of trafficking and taken into custody. Pastor Coronel voluntarily went to speak on behalf of his church member and has now been kept in jail for over a week.

There is a war against anyone trying to help the people in Venezuela.

This crisis is what drove Dr. Carlos Bravo to give all he had to serve at the hospital where he endeavored to preserve life. Starting as a nurse, then an assistant in surgeries, then a researcher in basic sciences and finally as a general surgeon, he became one of the best in the country.

Dr. Bravo knew that the Sebin basements were waiting for him because they had already called him to tell him that they were waiting outside the hospital to take him away. Terror and the panic destabilized him, for he was claustrophobic and he feared the darkness. Knowing that Sebin would leave him in the basements without light, he injected himself with a solution that ended his life.

Venezuela has lost a servant who loved his people till the end. The country’s human capital continues to be eroded as those who choose to stay and serve are slowly being decimated by a government whose intent is to create a North Korea-like pariah state… even as North Korea starts to reverse its decades-long failed policies.

Venezuela Article on Lausanne

Next Step Director Wolfgang Fernandez, a native of Venezuela, has written an excellent article on the crisis in his country for the Lausanne publication. Highly recommended read.

The Populist Disaster of Venezuela, by Wolfgang Fernandez

Alive in Athens

Kypseli Square – the gathering place

Yesterday on my flight out of Athens, I was asked what was I doing there. I had a chance to tell this local expat about the work Philemon and the StreetLights team is doing serving refugees. She was surprised to hear that refugees were being cared for by locals! Once again, I found that there is a huge misconception between reality and perception.

With regular reports on the negative refugee experiences, it’s no wonder people only know of the bad news. There is no doubt that 65 million refugees represent the one of the most significant challenges the global community faces today. Yet, they also represent new possibilities. For example, the elderly who are often alone can be served by properly trained newcomers who mostly come from cultures where their grandparents are treated with veneration and great care.

The Streetlights team has been serving in Kypseli, the largest refugee community in Athens. They have gained the support of the local community as they watch them teach the refugees Greek and also English. They have encouraged their own kids to join the many games they play in the square.

Instead of fear of hijabs and burkas, of new faces and languages, of competitors and potential enemies, everyone feels relaxed and content. Something very special is happening here.

Philemon’s passion to welcome and help integrate these newcomers has inspired a number of young people to come and work alongside him. During this short visit, I got to know Spiri, a woman on fire to get things done and get them done well. She manages hundreds of details necessary to meet needs and motivate workers to do their best. Her capacity to motivate others is remarkable.

The StreetLights team

I also spent time with Stefan Vass, 17, who came as a 5 year old to Greece from Romania and Aris Nemir, 16, who was born and raised right in Kypseli. Both are high school seniors, rugby players and they do it all with speed and joy! These kids humbled me with their compassion and love for the new kids. All the action takes place at night when the temperatures dip from the 35°C we had during the day.

As we walked around, I met locals who warmly greeted Philemon offering encouragement and practical ways they wanted to contribute.

Two days before I left, the skies over Athens grew brown. Strong winds just 20 miles away had spread fires, burning 1000 homes and causing the loss of at least 80 with hundreds injured. The speed with which the flames grew and spread left everyone astonished.

Philemon and his team went immediately into action contacting authorities offering their services to the kids affected. They now await confirmation to help kids in an orphanage near the devastated area among several possibilities.

I made a commitment to help them raise funds to mobilize people and equipment to the affected area. Will you join us and encourage StreetLights to continue to help make a dent into the mega need refugees represent now?

Crossing Borders

By Wolfgang Fernandez.

It is not apparent in the news yet for the last few months I have continued to watch in horror and disbelief at the further deterioration of society in Venezuela.

It is estimated that more than 4 million Venezuelans have left the county in the last five years. First, were those with enough resources to buy plane tickets relocating to Europe, the United States, and beyond.

Now it is the turn of those taking buses and walking the rest of the way. The numbers crossing the bridge that links Venezuela and Colombia in the city of Cúcuta continues to overwhelm anyone’s imagination. It is estimated that over 100,000 Venezuelans are in Cúcuta alone at this moment with more coming every day.

The same is happening to the south in Brasil. The difference is that going to Brasil means going through the Amazon jungle. Boa Vista, a city of 250,000 is the first urban center. Having done their best to receive the newcomers, they are now desperately trying to figure out how to attend to them. The state’s governor has declared a state of emergency.

In this environment, all forms of human exploitation is thriving. Abuse is rampant and so is victimization of those who escape a desperate situation to another where their worth is treated with disdain.

In the other hand, being designated “ Refugees” can be problematic because such immigrants can’t return to Venezuela; President Nicolás Maduro has called them “traitors” of the state yet many say that as long as Mr. Maduro is in power they have no reason to return.

On top of all of these challenges, diseases like Malaria and Yellow Fever which were under control are now thriving. A recent report from the Venezuelan Health Department revealed 275,000 cases of Malaria. Our partners in LivFul have the product that can contain insect borne diseases but we need funding to get the product over there.

At the moment, together with Nexus, our partners in Venezuela, we are working on ways to support groups of churches that are stretching their resources to serve Venezuelans.

These Venezuelans continue to swell the 65 million around the world who wander, seeking a place to live in safety and decency.