Interview with Gerardo Lombardi, Director of the Jesuit Radio Fe y Alegría
Director Lombardi, what is the mission of Radio Fe y Alegría?
Fe y Alegría is an educational institution founded by the Jesuits in Venezuela. Its mission is to educate people in remote areas of the country, as well as adults that did not have the chance to finish their education. Our ‘Instituto Radiofónico Fe y Alegría’ operates through 25 radio broadcasters, which are located in different sites, mostly at the border and in big cities. We, at the radio, assist more than 10 thousand students in the entire country in the process of school and labour reinsertion. In addition, we also offer an informative radio service. In order to bring all the voices to the public, we incorporate all kinds of thinking, including those positions that are different and contrary to ours, while always searching for bridges to reconcile the polarized parties.
Not all Jesuits in Venezuela support the same side, they also have different political ideas. What is the formal position?
The Society of Jesus in Venezuela has a very clear institutional position. This is the position established by the Episcopal Conference of Venezuela, which condemns the regime of President Nicolás Maduro because it is violating human rights and is not democratic. This position is coherent with what has been said by Pope Francis. Father General Arturo Sosa stated that his position is no different from the institutional position of the Pope. Some Jesuits think that the failure of Maduro has external causes. At our Radio we respect all opinions and give freedom of speech to everybody.
You know Father General Arturo Sosa personally: how much is he suffering due to the situation in Venezuela, his home country, and the fact that he cannot be there to help?
I think Arturo is a very smart person, he has a positive disposition and he listens a lot. Arturo now has a highly important role in his personal and institutional mission. I think that, from Rome, he has a more global vision of the crisis in Venezuela and he is safely guiding the Society of Jesus in Venezuela towards a more necessary role in the reconciliation of the Venezuelan people.
What is the background context of the Venezuelan crisis?
The background context is control over the oil revenue, over the mineral wealth, and over handling all the money that mining produces in Venezuela. This has been the context for the last 100 years.
What has happened in the last years?
The military, economic, political and social elite which governed the same oil revenue during the last 30 years has been substituted by another elite. From my point of view, this oil revenue was for some time redirected with good intentions, but poor execution. Today, this poor execution has resulted in an economically bankrupt country, a socially divided country, a sick country in terms of health, and a hungry country in terms of food.
Considering this background context, what strategy do you use?
At Fe y Alegría we position ourselves on the side of the poorest by asking the citizens 5 questions on the radio: 1) Is your health better today than 5 years ago? 2) Is your nutrition better today than 5 years ago? 3) Is your personal economy better today than 5 years ago? 4) Is your housing better today than 5 years ago? 5) Is your safety in the streets better today than 5 years ago?
People always reply “No”, and it is this repeated negative answer that pushes us to be on the side of the poorest, sticking with the aid plan set up by the Catholic organizations in Latin America, and in coherence with the Episcopal Conference of Venezuela.
If you had the opportunity to go to Brussels and talk at the European institutions, what would you say?
First of all, I would say thank you, because Venezuela is a topic in the agenda. Secondly, I would explain that the Venezuelan issue is made up of many pieces and nothing is exactly as the Government nor the opposition state. Therefore, Fe y Alegría, as an independent media outlet, has the task to talk more and better about what is happening in Venezuela. Thirdly, I would ask Europe that, aside from trying to understand what is happening with all the voices, they also try to help us look through its paradigms where the elements are, what has to be conserved or needs reforms, or how to orient and manage certain aspects. Many criticize Europe, but it has very good integration policies among different states. Lastly I would address the migration of Venezuelans to Europe and its consequences.
Are many Venezuelans trying to flee to Europe due to the crisis?
Yes, and I would ask the Europeans to see Venezuelans as chances to help and not as threats. Venezuela has always been a receiving country, welcoming mostly European migrants. In fact, the country was formed in the last 50 years by Spaniards, Italians and Portuguese, predominantly. I myself am the child of a post-war Italian migrant. We received them all with open arms, and we are now the result of this immigration. However, history comes and goes, and today, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who went to Venezuela are now going to Europe in search of the same shelter their grandparents and great-grandparents received.
Member States of the European Union do not have a shared view in recognizing Juan Guaidó as the legitimate democratically elected president. What do you think about this?
Obviously, those countries that are doing well in terms of trade due to what is happening in Venezuela will choose to save their businesses and economic relationships. Democracy and the poor are the interest of only a few.
Imagine that tomorrow the United States and Europe decide to support Juan Guaidó, what would it happen? A civil war or just a power transition?
There is already a civil war in Venezuela.
What does the situation look like on the streets of Caracas?
The people are armed, under the guardianship of three powers: the Government, the drug trafficking mafia and the Colombian guerrilla. In a classical dictatorship, the dictator establishes a curfew and demands that no one can go out after 8-9 pm. In Venezuela, there is no need to establish a curfew, as the organized crime pushes you to stay at home. This is social control.
Is it too early to talk about reconciliation?
We should not wait for the end of the conflict to start talking about reconciliation: every act has to be reconciling, no matter how different our ways of thinking are. First of all, we have to stimulate and love what identifies us as a country, what makes us different and diverse, but we must also stimulate and love what unites us. For me, the combination of these two acts, constitutes the act of reconciliation.
By Susan Dabbous,
Translation by Loreto Machés Blázquez