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Surviving in a Repressive Foreign Country

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In December 2007, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez suffered his first defeat at the election polls.

Although he was popular among the working class that had jolted him to power, voters rejected a referendum that would have enabled him to run for re-election repeatedly.

After his defeat, Chávez turned to a close confidant for advice, Fidel Castro.

The Cuban leader had mentored Chávez years before he became president.

Being that the nations had close economic ties, Castro was eager to help Chávez maintain power.

Castro’s advice at the time was very simple: Maintain absolute control of the country’s military.

A few months after Chávez loss at the polls, Cuba and Venezuela drew up agreements that gave Cuba deep access to Venezuela’s military, including the authority to spy on it.

The agreements led to strict surveillance of Venezuelan troops through a Venezuelan intelligence service known as the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence or DGCIM.

Under the watch of Cuban military advisors, Venezuela created the intelligence unit to spy on its own armed forces, instilling fear, paranoia and repelling dissent.

Once Cuba began training Venezuela’s military, the DGCIM unit embedded secret agents within military barracks. Some agents pretended to be regular soldiers.

In fact, soldiers were often threatened with being turned over to the DGCIM if they were causing any trouble.

In short time, stories of detentions and torture by DGCIM agents wearing skeleton masks spread through the military ranks.

In addition, hunger and other shortages hit the armed forces with many enlisted soldiers reportedly underweight, eating primarily pasta and lentils.

As a growing numbers of troops sought to desert, the DGCIM grew more aggressive and expanded surveillance, including wiretapping senior officers.

The goal of the DGCIM was to document information on perceived troublemakers and report any signs of disloyalty.

This crackdown led to hundreds of arrests. Reportedly, over 200 military officials are currently detained in Venezuelan prisons.

Essentially, the repression intimidated the armed forces enough that no one dared challenge the President.

The reality is, leaders of nations such as Cuba and Venezuela maintain their power by fear and repression.

While most of us will (thankfully) never serve in the military of these nations there is no question their citizens and even tourists are regulated to the same treatment and repression.

Taking this into account, here are some recommendations to consider if you ever plan on traveling, working, or living in a nation where you will face government repression.

Stay out of politics. The governments of countries such as Cuba and Venezuela attempt to quash any political adversary. The last thing you want to do is to be seen at any anti-government protest.

Oftentimes, you may be targeted will false allegations or charges that could land you in jail.

Personal space. When a repressive government controls most aspects of everyday life, there is a greater chance for chronic housing shortages.

More often you will see shared rooms and beds since a home or apartment may be home to multiple families. The thing is, sharing among strangers isn’t unheard of either.

So, if you are visiting or moving to a country such as Cuba you may have no choice but to live or share space with strangers.

For this reason, you need to take extra steps to protect yourself from unknown people and be careful what you say since they could be spies.

Travel elsewhere for healthcare. Between 2012 and 2017, over 22,000 doctors left Venezuela. Several transmissible diseases that were once rare in the country have re-emerged in large numbers.

Many hospitals lack even basic necessities, including soap. In countries where governments control hospitals, these institutions are often the first to suffer from economic struggles.

If you are visiting one such country, make sure you have a backup plan if you need healthcare.

It’s also a good idea to research medical transports from the specific country in case you need emergency care.

Build food storage. In many repressive countries, economic struggles can create food shortages. Imagine having to wait in line for hours to get simple things such as bread or fruit.

This is not uncommon in many countries. The problem is, most food shortages aren’t because of drought or loss of crops, they are tied to politics.

In 2016, 74% of Venezuelan’s lost on average 19 lbs. My point is, as you travel to other countries be prepared to sustain yourself. You need to preserve a much food as possible, for those days when supermarkets simply don’t have any food.

Several dozen nations around the world are highly repressive towards their citizens. Many of these countries restrict freedoms by use of force.

While you may not ever live in one of these countries you may travel to one for work.

If you happen to do so, remember these tips that can help you survive or to be the “gray man,” so you can simply blend in, conduct your business, and leave before it’s too late.

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