Helena Paneyko was the guest speaker at the CCRP dinner meeting held on Sept. 12, 2017 at Joshua’s Restaurant.  The meeting began at 6 p.m., with approximately 30 people present.  Chair Matthew Rainwater opened the meeting.  He introduced the speaker from Venezuela, who has been in the U.S. for 10 years. 

Helena earned a degree in veterinary medicine at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, and is a published author, columnist and interpreter.  Most recently, she taught Spanish in Jefferson County, WA. She was removed from her position as she was telling the students about life in Venezuela, she said.

We have to be aware of the role of the U.S. regarding the situation in Venezuela, she began.  She said, “I’m a survivor.”  She talked about three types of power – financial, religious and political.  Her talk was to focus on the political aspects.

Venezuela is a 3-hour plane ride from the United States.  It sits at the northern portion of South America, with a population of approximately 30 million.  Caracus has a population of approximately 3 million.

According to Helena, Venezuela became a “paradise” to Russia, China and Iran.  Russia used Cuba to get to Venezuela.   Chavez came to power by “promising it all” to the people.  The country was corrupted in part because of the government-controlled oil.  Chavez started taking property.  He told farms what to grow; when they refused, the owners would be executed and the property became the State’s.  Chavez went to Cuba for advice.  Fidel Castro convinced Chavez to get Russian intelligence to protect him.  This was given “free”, in exchange for “free oil”, which in turn, they would sell to the U.S. at half price.   Also, Venezuela would welcome doctors, teachers, and other professionals from Cuba.  Russia was given the right to issue passports and ID’s, by way of Cuba.

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Helena continued her story about her homeland. The president of Iran became a “brother” of Chavez.  There were (are) ghost flights from Iran to Venezuela every week.  They closed the international airport once a week, and brought in trained terrorists. Venezuela sent uranium and other materials to Iran for making bombs, she affirmed.

Hezbollah was also in Venezuela.  Columbians were there, too.  Venezuela has camps – sections where the citizens can’t go.  The U.S. used to have military bases, but don’t have them anymore; now, Russia has military bases there, and they are expanding. 

North Korea is opening an embassy in Venezuela.

There is no free speech, newspapers, radio, etc.  Opposition – those speaking out against Chavez – would be put in jail or “disappear.”

Oil priced dropped.  Venezuela began exporting drugs – and is now first in drug distribution to Europe.  The Vice President is from Syria.

Venezuelan people are dying – there’s no food, no medicines.  Her sister is an eye doctor. There is no money to pay for doctors, Helena stated.  The only exceptions are those who are working with the dictatorship.

Helena said that growing up, Venezuela was a beautiful and happy country.  University was free to everyone.  She studied veterinary medicine, and became a vet. Now, more than 200 million people have fled the country.

We (the US) need to stop them sooner rather than later, she said.

Caracus has some of the highest rate of crime in the world.  People are killed for such things as their cell phones.  People have died for lack of insulin.

There is terrible inflation.  It was once an American dollar to 4.6 bolivars; now, it is 15,000 bolivars to one American dollar, and quickly getting worse.  Hyperinflation has begun.

Chavez has changed the name of the country; changed the national seal, the currency, everything, she said.

They bought two satellites from China so they can spy, in exchange for China having deals with all the mines (gold, etc.)  They are contaminating the rivers; indigenous people are dying; China doesn’t care about them.

Now, Venezuela is not going to use the US dollar as an exchange any longer. US currency is forbidden.  In its place, they are using the currency of the Russian ruble, the Chinese yen and the Indian rupee.

Human rights are nonexistent.  When a country tries to send medicine or other aid, it is returned. 

Russia now owns the company that owns Citgo Gas, which is distributed in the US.  “When you buy Citgo Gas, you are supporting the Russians to continue their stronghold in Venezuela,” she said.

Now the government wants to keep the people from fleeing the country.  They increased the tax rates so that it’s almost impossible to pay to get out by air.  People trying to leave are told their passports are not valid, and they must get a government ID in order to obtain a new passport – both of which are issued by the Cubans and costs a lot of money.

She cited examples of human rights abuses.  Anyone who goes or speaks against the government goes to jail or disappears.

Children can be removed from their homes at age 3, to be raised by the government.  During the final two years of high school, military training is mandatory.

Iranians have Venezuela passport, and are coming to the US through Canada, posing at Venezuelans.

We need stronger economic sanctions.

Interpol has a list of Venezuelan people they would capture if they leave the country, among which is the vice president.

After he became ill with cancer, he died in Cuba.  Despite the fact that he died in December, (and by the way, the doctors who treated him died shortly thereafter), Venezuela didn’t learn of his death until the following March.  He apparently appointed a successor (while he was in a coma) to replace him.  The new president, Nicolas Maduro, is a Columbian – a Cuban puppet, according to Helena.

She said the U.S. needs to find common ground – create a block with help from the United Nations.

Helena said there is a new law to change the Constitution.  No private property will be allowed; all property belongs to the state.  A census is being taken, and homes are being counted for rooms; if a house has a bedroom not being used, the government will place a homeless person in the house to live there.

One section, she said, states that at three years old, children belong to the state.  They will come and take them from the parents to “educate” them, and the parents won’t see their children again.

To get to this point in Venezuelan history, we “never thought that would happen in Venezula”, she said.  When asked, she said she sees parallels to what happened there, to what is happening here in the U.S.

She stated that she is neither Republican nor Democrat, but an independent. “Bernie Sanders scared me because of the support he had – with no clue as to the consequences,” she said. 

Chavez had all the support when he came to power, she said.  If you want to know what it’s like to live under communism, “go live in Venezuela”, then come back here to appreciate what we have in the US.