My original intention was to write a cheery little blog about how lucky I am to be living in the tropics where I’ll never freeze or starve to death. Imagine: Here at River Ridge fruit is literally falling from trees, food is constantly sprouting up from the soil, and sparkling clear water is ever-flowing. The proposed post was to go something like this: ‘As a person who grew up in Ohio where outdoor gardening possibilities were limited to three or four months a year and the rest of the time fruits and vegetables were canned or frozen, the ongoing parade of fresh produce in the marketplace of Dominica never ceases to amaze me. Unless there’s a natural disaster, when one crop is finished there is always another one coming on. I guess that’s why no one worries much about the waste. Ripe bananas are often left to rot in the field, unwanted mangoes litter the roadside, and enough breadfruit to feed an army lies splattered on the ground.’
Blah, blah, blah. But when I recently read an article by Nicholas Casey in the New York Times about the appalling conditions in a country that is Dominica’s southern neighbor and comrade in ALBA, I was shocked. ‘…In the last two weeks alone more than 50 food riots, protests and mass lootings have erupted around the country. With delivery trucks under constant attack, the nation’s food is now transported under armed guard. Hundreds of people screaming for food forced open a large metal gate at a storeroom and poured inside snatching flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, potatoes, and bottled water. But while the riots are cause for great alarm, it’s hunger that’s the trigger…’
Sadly there are many countries in the world that are facing severe food shortages due to political unrest, climate change, and overpopulation. But who would have thought that Venezuela, an emerging global presence with a tropical climate and the largest oil reserves in the world, would ever reach such a state?
‘…Soldiers stand guard over bakeries, grocery stores, pharmacies and butcher shops. Still scores of businesses have been stripped bare or destroyed. At least five people have been killed including a four –year- old girl as gangs fight over food…’
It seems just yesterday that Hugo Chavez was sharing his vision of socialist revolution and Venezuela’s oil wealth with any country in the Pan-American region that would listen. (Dominica included.) But low oil prices, a fallow agricultural sector, and cuts in US subsidies left the home population impoverished. A staggering 87% of Venezuelans say they do not have enough money to buy food. Ask people when they ate their last meal, and most will say ‘not today.’ “During Carnival we used to throw eggs at one another. Now we are living on President Maduro’s diet: No food, no nothing unless you agree with his politics,” said one hungry citizen.
Supermarkets only offer up smashed shelves, broken bottles, and empty boxes. The fact that China has lent billions of dollars to prop up the economy doesn’t seem to matter much. Angry residents hack open the doors and pillage Chinese shops with the same ruthlessness they vent on Syrians and any other business people who don’t have Spanish names. “It’s a mixture of hunger, crime, and politics now,” said a man standing in line with a hundred other people to buy a pound of bread.
Dominica has close historic, political, economic, and sociological ties with Venezuela. Amerindian people sailed up from the Orinoco delta and settled here thousands of years ago. Nowadays we have a Venezuelan embassy and ambassador. They built us a national abattoir (slaughterhouse) and Petro Carib stores its oil and propane gas offshore. Every Monday night from 7 to 8 PM on DBS radio we learn Spanish on a program called “Hola Venezuela, Hola Dominica.” Therefore no one should be surprised when hungry Venezuelans show up on our doorstep. As far as I’m concerned they’re welcome, but a word to the wise: Dominicans say, ‘When your friends beard catches fire, take water and wet your own.’ When a country neglects its agriculture in favor of resources that people cannot eat or drink and the global market place fails them, expect serious trouble.