By Maria Paez Victor

The present day “Bolivarian Revolution” of Venezuela is faithful to its revolutionary past in more ways than one. Sensitivity to animals was evident even in the 19th Century wars of independence for example, an officer in Bolívar’s British Legion, Major Richard Vowell, observed that the Patriots fighting against Spanish empire felt disgust at the Spanish practice of bullfighting and credited the Venezuelan-Colombian governments of abolishing it as soon as they controlled territories.[1] As well, Captain Basil Hall of the British Navy who was sailing in South America at that time, wrote in his log that “In every instance in South America, where the cause of independence has succeeded, two measures have been invariably adopted: one, the abolition of slave trade, and as far as possible, of slavery; the other, the relinquishment of bull fights.” [2]

Amongst the many Venezuelan anti-poverty social programs -called “misiones”- perhaps the most endearing is Misión Nevado, created in 2013. [3]It is named “Nevado” after Simón Bolívar’s faithful dog. The puppy was given to him in 1813 and thereafter was always at his side but died heroically in battle in 1821.[4] Misión Nevado was created as “collective, revolutionary, ecosocialist and animalist project to rescue and protect homeless dogs and cats”. [5] Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution considers ecosocialism to include the defense of animal rights and the rights of Mother Earth. Misión Nevado is a public, free-of–charge, system of holistic veterinarian care, giving priority to cats and dogs that are homeless, abused or abandoned. The Bolivarian Revolution proclaims the Universal Rights of Animals and Mother Earth, and although it may not have reached fully its lofty goals, it is a start that these principles are upheld.

Misión Nevado is following in the steps of the successful public health care system -Barrio Adentro- that providing good, free medical care, has substantially reduced mortality and morbidity indicators and has saved more than 1.7 million lives.[6] For pets, there are now 8 Misión Nevado free veterinarian clinics in the country that have given 213,000 consultations to date. They regularly go on mobile mode to visit the more remote towns and villages to provide vaccinations and care. In the two years that it has been operating, Misión Nevado has sterilized thousands of pets. The organization does not practice euthanasia of animals in their care, but finds homes for them and, up to now, has arranged the adoption of 5,600 pets. With the help of the Venezuelan Central Bank and scientists at the University of Zulia, Misión Nevado carried out research that produced the best balanced diet for pets, affordable at low cost, with available domestic ingredients and they distribute this information widely.[7]

When the president of Misión Nevado, Ms. Maigualida Vargas, was recently asked what were the greatest impacts the organization has had in these two years, she pointed out the thousands of free vet consultations provided when previously this kind of service has never been available to Venezuelans, but also she said that equally it has been their work in sensitizing people to the need for animals to be respected as part of respecting life on earth. [8]To this effect they carry out hundreds of workshops, fairs, teaching sessions and meetings in which citizens are encouraged and taught how to treat well their furry friends. She said that they have received widespread and touching solidarity from the citizens.

There is palpable odium against Venezuela in the international media. It seems that no statement by those opposing the government of President Nicolás Maduro is too outlandish. Their words are never questioned but taken at face value. The opposition is deemed honest, whereas the voices of the government are ipso facto questioned, derided and lumbered with the adjective “alleged”. The latest canard has been the unsubstantiated statements, disguised as news, that there is famine in the country, that desperate citizens are killing horses to eat them and are abandoning their pets.

First of all, there is no famine or widespread hunger in Venezuela. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations rejected the opposition stance and assured that there is no famine in Venezuela and no need of “humanitarian” aid. There is scarcity of some products, especially imported ones, but the FAO attests that Venezuela cut in half the percentage and the total number of people suffering from hunger. In 1990 there were 2.7 million Venezuelans suffering from hunger, today the percentage is below 5% of the population. It is one of the 18 countries that managed to achieve both the Millennium Nutrition Goals and the World Food Summit goals.[9]

Several European countries are in worse economic situation than Venezuela yet the international leaders and media commiserate with them rather than spread wild rumors about them. One key economic indicator is the rate of unemployment. In April 2015, the unemployment rate in Spain was 22.7%, in Greece 25.6%, in Portugal 13% in Italy 12.4%. In Venezuela, in December 2015 the unemployment rate reached a historic low of 6.7% (comparable to that of Canada). [10]

There is a scarcity of products or exorbitant prices for others in Venezuela. Most of the production and distribution of foodstuffs is in hands of the private sector as the country has a mixed economy. The leaders of the private sector have attempted to destabilize the government using their considerable economic power through the illegal warehousing of goods, corporate smuggling and high prices. These ills are in fact, consequences of the actions of the private sector, not the public sector. Yet the government is laid to blame.

Undoubtedly, the economy is suffering due to the dramatic fall of the international petroleum prices, which has had a world-wide effect. It is a moment of real economic weakness for the Venezuelan economy that historically has been too dependent petroleum and has not been sufficiently diversified. The exorbitantly wealthy and powerful elites have taken advantage of the situation to hike prices and hide goods in order bring down the government and take power. They have as yet been unsuccessful at this because the government continues to hold popular backing, despite the economic situation.[11]

However, in Venezuela   -a land of plentiful sun, land and water – there is no scarcity of foodstuff that can be grown there, namely vegetable and fruits. And, it is a rich cattle country where meat also is homegrown and its long coastline provides fish from the sea. The Bolivarian government has deployed a series of policies that have softened the impacts of the fall of oil price to its citizens. First of all, it has not implemented any austerity measures to substantially affect social programs such as Europe and North American governments have done, with the appalling consequences of increasing economic inequality. Secondly, it has promoted and strengthened the agricultural collectives so that they grow more food. Thirdly, it has created a public system of food distribution. Fourthly, the Communal Councils and other grassroots organizations have massively deployed their resources and manpower in bringing food directly to the consumers, missing out the rapacious middlemen. If you believe Venezuelans are hungry, how is it then that 38% of them are overweight?[12]

As to eating horses, that is an anathema to the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans who would find it loathsome. The horse is a national symbol emblazoned on the National Shield, and an important traditional inspiration in music and the arts. It is not part of the Venezuelan culture to eat horsemeat. This malicious “news item” sprung up when vandals killed a horse at one of the country’s zoos and the authorities were investigating this heinous crime. From this one horrible act, the world press made a show of it to further malign the country.

Whether the domestic opposition, international media and powerful countries like it or not, there is a new Venezuela with a socialist revolution that is democratic, participatory, humanist, ecosocialist and “animalist”. These are hard times, but Venezuelans are facing it with popular organization, pride and a government that, despite internal and external hurdles, is on their side (and their pet’s side too).

Notes.

[1] Richard Longfield Vowell, “Campaigns and Cruises in Venezuela and New Grenada…” London, Longman & Co, 1831

[2] María Páez Victor, “Liberty of Death! The Life and Campaigns of Richard L. Vowell, British Legionnaire and Commander, Patriot of the Americas”, Tattered Flag, UK, 2013, p.88-89

[3] These anti-poverty social programs include literacy and education programs, daycare, health and medical care programs, work training, public housing, food distribution, dentistry services,cultural and scientific programs, indigenous rights programs and environmental programs. 20 million Venezuelans (60%) have benefitted from them. «20 millones de venezolanos han sido beneficiados por las misiones sociales». AVN. República Bolivariana de Venezuela. 28 March 2015. http://guyana.embajada.gob.ve/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=606:20-millones-de-venezolanos-han-sido-beneficiados-por-las-misiones-sociales&catid=3:noticias-de-venezuela-en-el-mundo&Itemid=19&lang=es

[4] Nevado was a Mucuchíes dog, a race of dogs original to the Venezuelan Andes.

[5] http://www.misionnevado.gob.ve/sitio/que-es-la-mision-nevado-valores-mision-vision/

[6] 15 Years of the Cuba-Venezuela Agreement, TELESUR, 30 Oct. 2015 http://www.telesurtv.net/english/telesuragenda/15-Years-of-the-Cuba-Venezuela-Agreement-20151030-0019.html; C. Muntaner, J. Benach, R.M. Guerra Salazar, F. Armada, “Venezuela’s Barrio Adentro: an alternative to Neoliberalism in Health Care” International Journal of Health Services, 36(4) 803-11, Feb. 2006

[7] www.aporrea.org/actualidaades/n293521.html

[8] Interview of Maigualida Vargas, President of Misión Nevado on the program Venezuela Viva, Radio Voces Latinas, CHCHA 1610 AM, Toronto, Canada, September 15, 2016, www.ustream.tv/channel/chcha-tx

[9] http://www.telesurtv.net/bloggers/La-FAO-desmiente-las-falsedades-sobre-Venezuela-20160721-0006.html | http://www.fao.org/americas/noticias/ver/en/c/230150/

[10] “Venezuelan Unemployment rate drops nearly to historic low: 6.7%”, TELESUR, 1 Dec. 2015, http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Venezuela-Unemployment-Rate-Drops-Nearing-Historic-Low-20151201-0038.html

[11] Professional pollsters Hinterlaces reported on Oct. 5, 2016 that between 62% and 75% of the population feels hopeful and optimistic for the future. www.hinterlaces.com/monitor-pais-72-esta-preocupado-por-la-situacion-del-pais

[12]“El 38% de los venezolanos sufre de sobrepeso y obesidad,” PANORAMA, 17 septiembre 2015http://www.panorama.com.ve/ciudad/El-38-de-los-venezolanos-sufre-de-sobrepeso-y-obesidad-20140824-0020.html

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