Photo: María Gracia Inglessis

The Ten Plagues of Venezuela

Poisoned waters, babies dying, ruined crops, fire from above… describing our country today is increasingly similar to the Book of Exodus

We’ve all heard the phrase “a catastrophe of biblical proportions.” It’s often used in hyperbole, to signal when something is very, very wrong. But there are instances when the shoe fits, when the catastrophe is such that it really mirrors situations in the Bible. Venezuela has reached a point where almost every book in the Bible can have a special meaning, and it’s not even that hard to make comparisons and find the resemblance.

Let’s look at the Book of Exodus, the second book in the Bible. For those unfamiliar with it, it basically tells the story of the Israelites escaping from slavery in Egypt, and God punishing the Pharaoh (and every Egyptian with him) for his treatment of the Israelites. At first glance, it seems Egypt has a horrible time in Exodus, but Moses and company are also miserable for much of the book. When trying to figure if Venezuelans were the Egyptians or the Israelites in Exodus, I realized they’re both. All the hardship in Exodus seems apropos of the Venezuelan case.

God tried to get the Israelites released from Egyptian rule, so that they could worship him. This proved quite the task, because the Pharaoh (a godlike character, too), was not the negotiating type at all. God’s tactic was to send Egypt an escalating series of plagues to make the Pharaoh relent. He usually used the phrase “release my people so that they may serve me.”

The first blow was turning water to blood.

Exodus 7:17

Thus says the Lord: “By this you will know that I am the Lord: I am going to strike the water of the Nile with the staff that is in my hand, and it will be turned into blood…”

This first nugget from God to Egypt left a thirsty nation. All the Egyptians were digging holes trying to find water, because the Nile was turned into blood…. and the similarities begin to emerge. Venezuelans search for water every day of their lives, wasting time and energy to vanquish their thirst, and, most of the time, they’re unsuccessful in their hunt. Actually, we’re literally digging for water in cities like Caracas and, regarding strange colors in the water, Zulians, at the west of the nation, are used to seeing the magnificent Maracaibo Lake polluted by oil that makes it black (or algae that turns it green). In cities like Valencia, water tends to be not red but brown, and stinks when it finally appears through the faucets.

Then came the frogs, the second plague. 

At first glance, plaguing a whole country with frogs striked me more as a college prank than a plague. Then I remembered that I used to find funny “Aló Presidente,” Hugo Chávez’s weekly program of rambling propaganda, and there’s the connection. Propaganda is a huge deal that seems innocuous in the beginning. I mean, if you don’t listen to it, there’s no problem, right? But, what if there’s nothing else to listen to? Progressively, chavista propaganda started drowning other voices. It began taking over every medium, and now the country is at such a point that the frogs have overwhelmed the discourse with their croaking, and rendered critical thinking an endangered species. The amount of propaganda is such that citizens have become frogs themselves, in a muddle of tepid water that slowly started boiling with lies. 

The third plague was lice, on people and animals. 

When trying to figure if Venezuelans were the Egyptians or the Israelites in Exodus, I realized we’re both.

It reminded me of an old disease, especially because, if we get lice, it’s usually at school when we’re kids. Old diseases are a thing in Venezuela. Believe it or not, ailments like malaria and tuberculosis (long eradicated almost everywhere in the world) have made a remarkable comeback in this country. Even lice are a huge problem in a place where there’s hardly any water to keep ourselves clean enough to fight what should be preventable. Venezuela, like ancient Egypt, is also in no condition to care for the sick. From HIV patients to lack of vaccines, there’s no infrastructure in place to handle a humanitarian crisis that’s threatening to spread to the rest of the region, as seamlessly as lice spread in the classroom.  

In fourth place, we have wild animals, creatures capable of harming people. 

These wild animals or flies ruined the land of Egypt, not unlike the animals that have emerged in the new corruption that Venezuela suffers. Corruption isn’t a new phenomenon, but the levels of scheming and thievery have been really unprecedented in our history. This “new corruption” is easily one the nation’s greatest plagues, one of the main ingredients that ruined the land, a myriad of wild animals whose sole purpose is to take advantage of others. We have rats in the streets charging for a place in line to get gas, parasites, and leeches exacerbating bureaucracy, and vultures circling those in dire straits to eat their carcasses, as the military steals products from Las Pulgas merchants after closing the market down.    

The fifth plague is the pestilence of livestock.

Exodus 9:1-3

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and tell him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, release my people that they may serve me! For if you refuse to release them and continue holding them, then the hand of the Lord will surely bring a very terrible plague on your livestock in the field, on the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks…”

To me, this is clearly like the death of the Venezuelan industry. Horses, donkeys, camels, herds and flocks represent every company that has perished under the regime in the last twenty years, to the point where they’re not even close to any form of self-sufficiency. This has sentenced Venezuelans to become beggars, considering how the destiny of their production is not in their hands. At this point, the numbers of milk and beef production are in a steady decline and aren’t even a shadow of what was once a mighty producer of goods in the region. This pestilence of livestock extends to every industry you can imagine, construction, manufacturing, oil; you name it, it’s dying. 

Festering boils was the sixth plague, and this time, it’s not a common disease that will ravage Egypt (or Venezuela), but a pandemic for which they’re not prepared. First world nations were clearly caught off-guard by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Venezuela, if they can’t deal with lice, we’re certainly not equipped to deal with boils (coronavirus). 

Darkness for three days is the ninth plague. This time I found another comic relief. Three days of darkness? Why not five? How about fifteen?

The seventh plague is a thunderstorm of hail and fire.

Exodus 9: 13-14

“Release my people so that they may serve me! For this time I will send all my plagues on your very self and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the Earth…” 

We can also see this show of power in Venezuela in the form of repression. The regime has made its citizens feel like “there’s no one like me in all the Earth”, using tactics that go as far as state-sponsored terrorism to make people submit to them. Thunderstorm of hail and fire is a concept very familiar to anyone who protested in the last years, just by virtue of being exposed to tear gas and rubber bullets falling from the sky. Protesters who dealt with repression are even on the mild side of this thunderstorm. In the mighty Helicoide, were many of the political prisoners are or have been locked up, the tales of torture past and ongoing are worthy of their own books. And if you go to the barrios, mothers are grappling with the notion of their sons killed in extrajudicial executions at the hands of (what I will call) government terror groups like FAES or SEBIN, shooting first and not even bothering to ask questions later, a situation mirrored in border states like and Táchira and Zulia with guerrillas and paramilitaries.   

Then the Lord sent locust to Egypt for its eighth plague. 

God said that the locust “will devour what little you have,” and this sentence made me think of the foreign hand in Venezuela. Examples range from the Cuban government, taking oil for free (with the complicity of Maduro’s regime of course), to the Russians and Chinese taking over what little is left of our oil industry. You also have private entrepreneurs from Mexico and Colombia making fortunes with spiked prices on imported foods for CLAP (the government-subsidized food boxes), and Turkish and Iranian “looting” gold reserves in Guayana. All these instances of “locust” from everywhere leave the people that rightly own those resources in an even more precarious situation. 

Darkness for three days is the ninth plague. 

The people of Venezuela have New Testament expectations in an Old Testament scenario.

This time I found another comic relief. Three days of darkness? Why not five? How about fifteen? Venezuela’s been dealing with literal darkness for years now, especially since the nationwide blackout in 2019. Even as I’m writing this, huge sections of my hometown haven’t had electrical service for hours, a daily occurrence that makes three days seem quite ordinary to be honest.

The tenth blow: Death.

Exodus 11: 4-5

“… I will go throughout Egypt, and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle.”  

The tenth plague, death of the firstborn, got to me the most. The waste of an entire generation. I thought of everyone born in Venezuela over the past 25 years, and how they hadn’t really been able to develop properly, because of a band of crooks. All those hearts and minds that really haven’t had viable options, and I don’t mean just political options, but the option to develop the proper tools for human growth. Death is not just the physical disappearance of a being. Death, to me, is not being able to live, which is where we stand, in a place where children don’t have enough food, meaning that they’re vulnerable to manageable diseases, meaning that they can’t get a proper education, meaning that (if they survive childhood) they won’t have the proper tools to succeed in life, meaning that they are a lost generation.

In Exodus, the Israelites didn’t suffer God’s plagues, but they were slaves of the oppressive Pharaoh. Slaves to a regime that needed them but mistreated them. Even when the Israelites were freed, they wandered for 40 years in the desert to get to what we know today as Israel. I can imagine, after 16 years, someone saying “you know what, I don’t think Moses knows where he’s going. I’ll give him one more decade and that’s it, I’m gonna have to say something.” Venezuelans are wandering in their desert, and I fear that 40 years is not out of the question at this point. They don’t have a Moses figure leading them through this desert in search of the promised land. The country is wandering leaderless, suffering the inclemencies of a journey filled with doubts, feeding on dwindling hopes and going through the motions. I fear that all this aimless walking is leading Venezuelans over and over again to the starting point, with the little gains made by the opposition erased by the force of nature that is the regime, or even by its own wrongdoing. These Venezuelan “Israelites” are currently on a road to nowhere.

The people of Venezuela have New Testament expectations in an Old Testament scenario. The point of Exodus is the return of humanity to the State of Eden. Right now all I want is for Venezuela to return to some state of humanity.