- Gianni Mastrangioli Salazar
From Orphanages to Refugees: Glancing through Venezuela's Demise
©️ Venezuela now faces a major humanitarian crisis - Photography by Pexels
Venezuelan babies continue to prove that silence is the key ingredient in the perpetuation of social injustice.
Submitted by Venezuelan Journalist Gianni Mastrangioli, UK
As I hastily packed up my belongings from my mother’s house, I came across a collection of albums and cassettes on VHS. At this moment I began to reminisce. There is a video that I particularly love; my birthday, 1996. I was hitting a piñata and blowing out candles, I had a nice cake, colourful clowns, and pepitos – a local salty sweet treat. I remember mum dressing me up like a collection doll dolly for my outdoor party at which I was meant to be everyone’s attention.
I felt so happy on that day; in fact, happiness was always surrounding me. Unfortunately, for the people of Venezuela it is an unusual occurrence to find happiness these days, especially for children. Every Sunday, the little toddlers, who occupy the bunk beds of the house of "Las Villas de los Chiquiticos" – The Village of the Little ones –, look like they are ready to take a picture at their first day at school; however, this is not the case, it is not their first day at school, nor their birthday party, but the official visit day.
The official visit day is the only occasion where they are treated as proper human beings. "Las Villas de los Chiquiticos" house is an orphanage located in the western part of Caracas city, and staff make both boys and girls wear fancy shirts for their weekly meeting with their biological parents.
©️ Caracas - Photography by Pexels
One of the social workers I spoke with sent me a letter claiming “we try to make them as happy as possible”. I decided to contact her after finding these headlines while having breakfast. Safe to say my appetite vanished: “Eight babies were left behind in several hospital and public places at Sucre District in Caracas”, newspapers said. I read it approximately three times, then went to prepare some coffee. Unbelievable.
Words such as "babies" and "behind" were reflected on my glasses as I confirmed that my hometown’s moral integrity is currently under threat. I served my cup of coffee while asking myself: "which of these new-borns will govern us in the future? Which of these babies will truly be able to overcome resentment? Who is going to help us?"
I washed my face and read it again. “Left behind”. “Babies”. I did not feel longing for the present, but for a future of unaccomplished hopes.
Which of these new-borns will govern us in the future?
Which of them will be able to put resentment aside?
Which of them will forgive us as a society?
Which of them will help us?
Who is responsible for the consequences?
Yes. We are a country of orphan citizens, all living in adoption to our own murderers and executioners. It should be noted that "Las Villas de los Chiquiticos" is one of the largest orphanages in Venezuela. Until recently, their rooms had been partially empty, with only the odd report of sexual abuse, as if this wasn’t bad enough. The cases that are now being reported are of extreme starvation. Parents are unable to feed their children. Can you imagine?
“When I think of the little innocent bony bodies arriving with empty stomachs, I weep in despair. My blood boils up. I lose control”, the social worker said.
What’s more alarming is the fact that those infants who don’t make it to orphanages are being trafficked through clandestine channels which connect Latin America to Europe. Legal investigations have been launched by Colombian authorities to apprehend those responsible for transporting Venezuelan infants to countries such as Spain, France, and Portugal, to then be sold in the black market. But the world's focus is primarily on the covid-19 outbreak; politicians are yet to realise that diseases aren't the only cause of mass killing, but indifference.
Criminal organisations based in Cucuta – one of Colombia’s first cities to encounter after crossing over from the Venezuelan border – are often seen on the hunt for pregnant women; that is, to offer them money in exchange of their soon new-born babies. Dismantling such a lucrative market should include the intervention of multiregional military forces as well as the cooperation of international human right charities; however, and sadly, little improvement has been achieved.
These babies aren't only weeping for the bizarre world they've entered but from the realisation that they'd probably never, ever, ever be able to make a live for themselves.
My mother was a fan of parks. Near the date of my birthday, she put crossed knives in the window to keep it from raining that day. She wanted to make me happy: give me everything, to be the number one in face painting, in winning the raffles, in knocking down the piñata and in cutting and eating the piece of cake. The case is that the world looks so perfect in some moments of life, so affable. As it should be at that age.
©️ Every child should have access to safety - Photography by Pexels
But the cassette jams; there is a good trace of the video that is lost, which has deteriorated over the years. From the moment the candies fall to the floor until when I blew the candle and people are hugging me, they are just spots. And the recording goes off. It is the end. The television is black, black as the later times, as security, as the full acceptance of who we are today.
The last letter I received from the social worker was a series of photographs, and from then on, she did not write to me again. I had pleaded with her to send me some photographs so I could begin to imagine the conditions. In this mission I succeeded, although on reflection I wish these images had never entered my mind. I can only try to begin to explain them.
The first one I downloaded was that of a brick house with a cement patio, in the middle sat a dirty and worn slide. Nobody playing, laughing or having fun. In the second, a pair of white shoes arranged on a wooden ledge, polished, a little whiter than normal.
As if someone had scrubbed them with soap until they appeared newly purchased. It was in the third photo where I concentrated all my attention, for hours. It was the portrait of a female teenager with dark skin and swollen cheekbones; with faded clothes, no combination. She was holding her baby, so strong that it showed in the expression on her face. Suddenly, it was as if she were turning around, facing me, and talking to me:
“What else can I do? What will happen now that I have separated from my little girl? Who will give me work? Will I eat when I arrive home? Can I Scream?”
I did not know what to answer her. I felt selfish. Selfish because I have a video of happy memories which I turn to every time that insatiable thirst for affection comes to me. I apologised, but I do not think she heard me.
Then I turned off the laptop and went to make another coffee. To continue reflecting, until the thoughts turned into spots, just like the recording.