Deaf in Venezuela

CALLIE FRYE: Did you know that Venezuela was once one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America?

Now there is a severe economic and political crisis. The world want to know what is happening in Venezuela.

The former president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, had a mentor who wanted to assume the presidency. He is Mr. Maduro. When Hugo Chavez died in 2013, Maduro became Venezuela’s leader. He has overseen a drastic unraveling of Venezuela’s economy. While he has blamed sanctions imposed by the United States, others have attributed it to Maduro’s mismanagement and corruption.

Maduro’s administration has suppressed dissent through violence and intimidation. He has jailed prominent members of the opposition, and won the loyalty of the military by giving it control of lucrative industries.

Mr. Maduro recently won re-election as the president of Venezuela, but many countries did not recognize the legitimacy of his new term. Venezuela is in an economic collapse that has persisted. Consumer prices have skyrocketed. Food shortages have reached new highs in recent months. Grocery store shelves are bare.

Severely malnourished children have gone to hospitals, but they have struggled to treat them.

The migration of Venezuelans out of the country has reached levels not seen before in modern history.

I’ve wondered how Deaf people are doing and if they are okay. I asked what their experiences were like and if they could share it with you. I’ve interviewed several Deaf Venezuelans.

Text: Callie did interviews with Gabriel Fleary in New York and Ariana Rivas in Venezuela. (Images of both).

Text: Lisbeth Romero, Henry Uviedo, and Raymel Bencomo provided Gabriel with information using Venezuelan Sign Language and Spanish. Gabriel will share in ASL. (Images of the three)

CALLIE: How does the crisis in your country and unsafe conditions affect you as a Deaf person? Are you doing okay?

ARIANA RIVAS: I live with my mother at our house. Most Deaf people live with their family, who support one another. Most don’t have their own apartment or house because of economic problems that have persisted for the past two years.

GABRIEL FLEARY: For example, 1 kilogram of cheese costs 2 bolivares, which is the name of Venezuelan currency. This is the sign for it. It now costs 2 bolivares, but next week the cost goes up to 4 bolivares and in two weeks, it costs 6 bolivares. Then 8.

RIVAS: Every week prices go up and it’s really crazy. That’s why the majority of people are frustrated and angry.

FLEARY: Many Deaf people have fled the country, but for some it is challenging because they don’t have a passport or the resources to afford tickets to leave. They don’t have opportunities. Some families are trapped.

CALLIE: What about the food and water shortages?

FLEARY: They survive with CLAP, which is a box of food provided by the government. The government have trucks that make stops at different cities to distribute it to consumers. But people complain of the bad quality and taste of the products. Some come rotten or expired. It is nasty.

Lentils, brown beans, have become the Venezuelan diet because is the most affordable and easier to get. Not a lot people can afford to eat meat, or at least daily. It’s become a privilege, not like in the past, when we could eat meat daily. Chicken and fish were normal once staples.

About water, the government has been rationing water and electricity. Some people suffer from water and electricity shortage for days or weeks, or sometimes for months. They have to figure out how to ration water themselves when the water comes to their homes by using tanks and filling them as much as they can, so when water runs out, they can cook, shower, clean, and do other things.

CALLIE: Are there any Deaf services that can assist? Are they still running despite the crisis?

RIVAS: There are offices and agencies for Deaf people, but they are small and are not well-established because of the political crisis. There are many problems. It’s not working out. .

FLEARY: Deaf support is nonexistent.

CALLIE: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experiences living in Venezuela?

RIVAS: We want to get rid of the Maduro regime. He is still a dictator. We are fighting and standing up, expressing our voices.

I was surprised two days in an unexpected incident. There were many soldiers who clashed with one other. My family and I were not close to them, we always kept a safe distance. Then there was a gust of wind. There was a lachrymal bomb, which is used to irritate people and disperse them. The wind carried the scent, which caused us to have respiratory issues. I ran into a mall.

[Images of Rivas at the protest]

It was my first time experiencing painful reactions on my face. I couldn’t see and my eyes welled up. I had anxiety. It was shocking and my first time. I went to the restroom and splashed water on my face. I didn’t touch it and allowed it to recede. Wow, this was unexpected. It made me empathize with other groups of deaf youths who usually engaged in battles against the military. They must be exhausted and injured from non lethal bullets… and lachrymatory bombs. It causes injuries. It’s a horrible life. I’m very impressed by the bravery of others.

FLEARY: One of the challenges of being Deaf in a march is that you can’t hear the bombs or gunfire or people shouting. If her family was not with her and protecting her, she could have been injured. She’s always with her hearing family members to protect herself.

CALLIE: Thank you for sharing your experiences. I am deeply touched.

Juan Guaidó is 35 years old and has long been a critic of Mr. Maduro and Mr. Chávez. He also said his intention now is to serve as the interim president of Venezuela.

There are two men, Maduro and Guaidó, who have both proclaimed themselves president. Both are on the opposite sides of the political spectrum.

Guaidó said he will be the interim president until new national elections can be held — that are fair and true. He wants the Venezuelan people to decide who is their president.

About 50 countries, including much of Latin America and Europe, have joined the United States in supporting Guaidó.

Russia, Cuba, and Bolivia backs Maduro.

I couldn’t do this without Gabriel Fleary’s help in translating their responses in ASL and English. Thank you!