Venezuela in Tuscany

“Many grains of sand can make a pyramid”

Francesca Cetta
February 14, 2019 - 12:32

During my Spanish class at the International School of Florence, we often discuss the current situation in our Venezuelan teacher’s home country. Political turmoil exacerbated by rapid hyperinflation, shortages of food, medicine, and everyday products has led more than three million Venezuelans to abandon their homeland. Many Venezuelan associations have been created around the world, including in Florence, in part to facilitate aid.

The Associazione Culturale Venezuela in Toscana is a Florence-based organization that promotes Venezuelan culture, uniting Venezuelan residents and supporters in Tuscany in their hope for a better future. Longtime member of the association Virginia Freites offered perspective on the bigger picture and helped those of us in Florence further understand the origins of the current issues, while also providing ideas on how to help.





Francesca Cetta: How and why was the Associazione Culturale Venezuela in Toscana created?
Virginia Freites: Peaceful protests against the Venezuelan government began in February of 2014, and received a negative response from the government that involved violent and armed repression. Students were murdered, while others were sequestered and taken to jail to be tortured; {human rights were put at risk}. Facing the dramatic emergence of such injustices, and feeling a terrible sense of powerlessness, the few Venezuelans who lived in Tuscany decided to gather in piazza del Duomo in Florence on February 22, 2014. After that meeting, we understood that it was our moral duty to help and that we needed to band together to denounce the situation in Venezuela.

We decided that the best way to do so was by using culture as a communication tool. We created the exhibition Venezuela Umorismo e Dolore (Venezuela, humor and pain). The language used in the cartoons, as well as in the photographs displayed, showed the harsh realities of Venezuela. Subsequently, year after year, our country’s situation worsened on every level, and our efforts increased to match that. In Venezuela uncertainty reigns, and the population has been paying a heavy price for the years of misrule. In just five years, the GDP has fallen from 480 billion dollars to 93, the hyperinflation has reached one million per cent, and the minimum monthly salary is about the price of a hamburger (about 6 euro per month). The crisis turned into a socio-sanitary emergency and, in that moment, we began offering humanitarian aid along with denouncing the poor living conditions.

FC: What is your role in the organization?
VM: I primarily focus on institutional relations. We work as a team and, when a new project arises, we all contribute and combine our strengths in order to take it from dream to reality. Working as a collective is crucial, whether we’re raising money for the shipment of medicines, or just enjoying convivial cultural experiences.

FC: The Associazione Culturale Venezuela in Toscana’s campaign “Corazon Contento” focuses on providing food to Venezuelan communities. Has the initiative been successful so far?
VF: The campaign “Corazon Contento” focuses on three Venezuelan regions, and involves providing food and medicines to children with little time left. Our members in Venezuela update us daily on all the work carried out, and we are very pleased with the results, as we can see how our contribution has helped improve the lives of these kids. “If you don’t eat, you don’t heal”; “a child who is not nourished has no future.” Nutrition is part of medical treatment and sometimes, with our help, lives get saved. We are aware that our contribution is only a grain of sand amid the larger disgrace happening, but we know that many grains of sand can create a pyramid!


Children who've benefitted from the Corazon Contento campaign


FC: What are the future aims for the association?
VF: Our aims for the future are to continue spreading Venezuelan culture and values of peace and solidarity. We are ready to take part in our country’s reconstruction.

FC: As a native Venezuelan, how do you feel about the current situation? How have things changed from the time you lived in Venezuela until now?
VF: I am overwhelmed with different feelings regarding everything that is happening. On one hand, I am full of hope and joy, as I feel that the nightmare of this dictatorship is about to end; however, on the other, I am concerned about the lives that are being ended pending the process of liberalization. In fact, the longer the negotiations go on, the more lives are being lost due to lack of food or medicine. There is a need for immediate intervention with humanitarian aid.

I have been living in Florence for almost twenty years and, during that time, I have watched my country go from being one of the richest and most prosperous, to one of the poorest and dangerous in the world.

FC: What can we in Florence and Tuscany do in order to help?
VF: It would be of great help to continue discussing the great suffering that Venezuela is currently going through, as, unfortunately, there is not enough awareness of the conditions in our country. Another useful thing would be helping us find other funds for the shipment of medicines and for providing food to children. I urge you to visit our website, and also to follow us on social media: Instagram, Facebook and our YouTube channel, which all have more information about our projects and present various ways to make donations. Last, but not least, never forget the importance of keeping watch, and defending democracy.

 

 



This interview has been condensed.  

 

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