Venezuelan Refugee, Former Ambassador Talk Venezuelan Crisis in Traverse City

American planes will no longer be allowed to go in or out of Venezuela.

This week, the Department of Homeland Security said political tensions and chaos in the country threaten security.

The political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela has been escalating during an attempt to oust President Nicolas Maduro, whose authority is not recognized by the United States.

The country is battling an economic recession twice as big as the United States’ Great Recession. The gross domestic product has declined 60% since 2013 and the inflation rate has exceed 1 million percent this year. Experts predict inflation will reach 10 million percent in a few months.

Thousands of Venezuelans are starving and have intermittent power and running, potable water. Food supplies are price-controlled and farmers are losing money on products. Food shortages force people to wait in lines for up to days at a time for food.

Thursday, the former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, Charles Shapiro, spoke about the crisis at the International Affairs forum in Traverse City. Shapiro served as an ambassador from 2002 to 2004 during the reign of Hugo Chavez.

He says society was deeply polarized and government was becoming more authoritarian, and things have only gotten worse.

“It is a failed state both politically and economically,” said Shapiro. “The average monthly salary is now worth 5 dollars a month, 6 dollars a month.”

Supplies are scarce. He says 7 million people are in need of aid.

“There’s no medicine. They’ve got no money to reinvest in their infrastructure,” said Shapiro. “You see doctors performing surgery with the assistants holding a flashlight from their cellphones to do surgery!”

10% of the population has left the country, and more than 1 million people have fled to neighboring Colombia. Others are in Ecuador, Chile, Argentina and the United States.

Luiz Marquez-Teruel, 17, left Venezuela and his family for an opportunity to play bassoon at Interlochen Fine Arts Academy. His parents and siblings moved to Argentina to start over after the chaos got worse in Venezuela.

“They left everything in Venezuela. They didn’t sell their house or anything. They just came to Argentina with a few suitcases that was all,” said Marquez-Teruel. “Right now, my mother and my father try to work on anything they [can] cashier[ing] at supermarkets and what not.”

Marquez-Teruel comes from a bloodline of musicians. His mother and father were full-time musicians in a national orchestra. They had to relocate when his parents pulled in monthly pay checks that added up to less than $15.

“It was difficult for them to get food and a few years later, it was difficult for them to find food because all the private sector was expropriated by the government and Maduro and Chavez,” said Marquez-Teruel. “There were huge lines to get food. You could be standing in a line for a whole day, two days, to get food.”

Marquez-Teruel will graduate soon. He plans on going to Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia to continue his career as a bassoonist.

He’s thankful for the opportunities and he wants to help educate people about the problems in Venezuela.

“I want people to be aware of the whole situation,” said Marquez-Teruel.