I was in Guatemala on Feb. 15 when I first received the news that Venezuela — my home for the past three decades — was on the brink of civil war. My inbox flooded with questions from friends and journalists asking what was happening in my adopted country. “Pray for Venezuela,” said numerous other email messages from people in the U.S.
I had just returned from the Mayan Ixil community of Cocop, in the state of Quiche, in the western highlands of Guatemala, where I met with survivors of the 1981 massacre there. The 58 victims of Cocop were among 1,700 Ixils murdered by the army under the leadership of Gen. Jose Efrain Rios Montt, the former Guatemalan president who was recently convicted for genocide, although the conviction was overturned by the Constitutional Court and will be retried. All told, approximately 200,000 were killed in Guatemala’s 1981–96 civil war.
At Cocop’s small cemetery, the president of the town’s survivors’ committee, Jacinto de Paz, turned to me and said, “I’d like to introduce you to my parents.” His hand then sweptto two tombs. As he shared the story of how the army gunned down nine family members, his body trembled and tears fell. He was 13 at the time. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “It still hurts so much.”
Back at the hotel, I learned that two Venezuelan students and a government supporter had been gunned down at a demonstration in Caracas. There were “only” three victims at that point. (The death toll would climb to 17 by the end of the month.) But, having just embraced a sobbing Jacinto 30 years after his parents’ massacre, I knew that the pain of one loss is enough to rip apart your world forever. For the families of the Venezuelan victims, it makes no difference if their loved one shared that fate with two or 199,999 others. Their pain is just as real.
Still, I couldn’t help but wonder: Would I have received the same heartfelt international outpouring of concern during Guatemala’s time of troubles, when 200,000 people were slaughtered, 93 percent by the country’s own military forces and more than 80 percent of the victims indigenous?
Every news article about Venezuela seemed to reshuffle the same storyline. Over and over again I read the same dozen or so words and phrases: chaos, civil war, 54 percent inflation, crime, exit Maduro, government responsibility, peaceful students, Lopez, Harvard Business graduate, toilet paper, etc.
Worse, most news sources referred to social media messages and images as their source. Some were even accompanied by bizarre photos showing protesters in Caracas wearing turtlenecks, jackets and sweaters, when the average temperature is about 80 degrees. Others showed toppled buildings. As it turned out, some of those images were from crackdowns on student protesters in Chile two years ago and the 2011 earthquake in Japan.
As the media hype grew daily, I began to sense that the call to“pray for Venezuela” was not heartfelt concern for those suffering but actually a demand for regime change.
(Read more of Lisa Sullivan’s article here)