1703953347 GoFundMe land

GoFundMe land

GoFundMe land

Every day, social networks reach us with requests for support for the major concerns of today. Everyone may or may not feel challenged by the wounded and orphans of a cruel war on the other side of the world or by the victims of a natural disaster. But there are misfortunes that, because they are geographically distant, do not lose the power to reach and shock us. For example, asking for help with chemotherapy for a friend who is suffering from cancer, or for the operation of a fellow photographer who suddenly has a medical emergency. And the same goes for the mother of another childhood friend who has Covid-19.

All these cries for help come from a country tortured by an autocratic government that has plunged it into an abyss of misery: Venezuela. The first people to hear them are family and close friends. From then on, they spread through the networks in concentric circles until they reach known and unknown people living in other latitudes with foreign currencies. The requests usually include a link to a microphilanthropy and crowdfunding platform. GoFundMe is the most popular, but there are others. Help is also delivered through money transfer applications such as Zelle or PayPal.

In mid-2022, Venezuelan journalist Erick Lezama, a cancer survivor, selected a sample of 500 Venezuela-related fundraising campaigns, nearly a thousand of which were active at the time, and found that 373, or 74.6%, were dedicated to disease treatment. “GoFundMe is the sounding board for the health crisis in Venezuela,” he wrote in Gatopardo magazine. So simple and dramatic.

In reality, it doesn't matter what the application is called or whether the tools are aimed at resolving a medical or other emergency. There are collections to finance college tuition, immigration procedures, funerals, home and vehicle repairs, or kindergarten teaching materials. Not to mention the food. A donation, no matter how small, can save a life. The most shocking thing about these campaigns, however, is that they indirectly scream the descent of not just a person, but a society and a country into economic abyss.

Venezuela has overcome hyperinflation with informal dollarization and is beginning to emerge from the crisis after an economic contraction of around 45% between 2017 and 2021, the years of hyperinflation. The supermarkets and stores that have been empty for years are filled with imported foods and dollar-labeled products. But if we imagine the place that Lezama describes, we will understand that for the vast majority of people living there, visiting a shopping center or a tavern is a cruel exercise in voyeurism, a kind of stroll through a gallery of unattainable goods. Only a minority with access to the all-powerful U.S. currency can buy it, widening the already wide gap between the haves and have-nots. This is the general reality of a country with a poverty rate of 81.5%, where being middle class can only imagine a ghostly habit, like nostalgia for an amputated limb – this country that no longer exists. The problem that this aid shows is that Venezuelan society can no longer support itself. To survive, it needs the support of the 8 million Venezuelans now living abroad.

To verify this, it is enough to consider two of the above cases. My photographer friend was run over on a street in Caracas in August. The goal of the campaign on his behalf was to raise $15,000 to cover the cost of surgery to save mobility in his shoulder and prevent necrosis of some tissues. When I met him in 2007, he was a young, adventurous photojournalist firmly established in the middle class of a country experiencing an economic boom. Now he was forced to raise a sum that is astronomical in the Venezuelan context. The trouble was worth it. The operation was a success and today he has regained 60% mobility in his shoulder.

On the other hand, my childhood friend's mother was a university employee and as such enjoyed one of the best health insurance plans in the country for decades. But when he became infected with Covid-19 and his lungs and kidneys began to fail, the insurance failed too. He died in a private clinic in Caracas as his relatives appealed for blood and monetary donations.

The Venezuelan economic crisis has wiped out insurance coverage and left millions of people at the mercy of public health. “Only 3% of the population paid directly into private health insurance. A further 17% are covered by company insurance and the remaining almost 80% have to rely on public health insurance, the conditions of which are more than precarious. If you go to a public hospital, you must bring with you absolutely everything you need, from gauze to medicines, not excluding syringes. Everything except the operating room and the medical staff. The Venezuelan state has collapsed as a provider of public goods and services. That doesn't take into account dollar inflation in private medicine, where a cesarean section can cost $16,000, in a country where the average salary in the private sector is about $150 a month and only about $75 in the public sector. “This is a plan for each individual for themselves,” says Asdrúbal Oliveros, director of the company Ecoanalítico.

The collection campaigns reflect the profound health crisis, but the wild thing about the situation Oliveros alludes to is that a third of Venezuelan households rely on remittances and collections. Without this oxygen balloon, it is impossible to cope with the countless contingencies that life brings, starting with putting food on the table.

It touched me personally this December when I held a fundraiser in my own home so that close relatives could enjoy a real Christmas meal: hallacas, the typical Venezuelan dish during the holidays. I never thought I would have to raise money for my own family.

For all the hype that the Miraflores autocrat has tried to sell that “Venezuela is fixed” and that 2024 will be a year of growth, it is rhetoric made of smoke. According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Finance, inflation will reach 286% in 2023, compared to 234% in 2022, and the economy will contract by 1.7%. This is despite the increase in oil production and the gradual lifting of economic sanctions by the United States. A number to round things out: 80% of Venezuelan workers cannot purchase a basic grocery basket that costs $387. So Venezuela remains the GoFundMe country until further notice.

Meanwhile, a little gem of magical Chavista cynicism: the government assures that the rise of the Zamuros in Las Mayas, the main waste transfer station in western Caracas, “testifies to the country's economic recovery.” An outrageous, brutal and insane nonsense, like so much in Venezuela under the Chavista boot.

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