Star Trek’s popularity outside of the United States has strengthened steadily over the past 53 years, allowing its various series and films to reach and inspire fans all around the globe. While every fan can relay their own unique tale about how they fell in love with the franchise, each person’s introduction to Star Trek is heavily influenced by the political, economic, and cultural factors that permeate society in their native country. Venezuela, which has recently dealt with crippling sanctions and governmental instability, represents a nation where embracing Star Trek and its utopian ideals lies on a difficult and potentially hazardous path. One Venezuelan fan courageously agreed to speak with StarTrek.com under the alias John Smith so that he could report on his fandom and how it has been affected by the latest developments in his home country.
Describing the political situation in Venezuela as “complicated” would not adequately encompass the true extent of the country’s present predicament. President Nicolás Maduro barely won his election following the death of his close ally President Hugo Chávez in 2013, but the nation’s ongoing economic hardships only intensified after the leadership change. Plagued by hyperinflation and shortages of vital goods and services, the Maduro administration’s popularity declined throughout the president’s first six-year term in office.
Maduro sought re-election in 2018, but a lack of public support prompted the president to tip the scale in his favor by preventing his rivals from running, even going so far as to imprison certain candidates. Although Maduro proved victorious, Venezuela’s National Assembly refused to validate the election results and instead allowed National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó to declare himself the acting president in January 2019. While the population appeared to back Guaidó’s claim and large demonstrations have condemned Maduro, the military’s loyalty to Maduro has prevented Guaidó from assuming office.
Russia and China rank as key allies for Maduro, but over 50 nations stand behind Guaidó. Since 2018, the United States has broadcast its support for Guaidó by enacting waves of sanctions that have done little to improve the economic situation for the average Venezuelan citizen. A 2018 report from the International Monetary Fund predicted that hyperinflation would reach an astounding 10 million percent in 2019. These troubles, which trace their origins back to Chávez’s rule, caused millions of Venezuelans to flee to other countries in the region. The remaining population continues to struggle to get by on a daily basis.
The past year has been quite brutal for John Smith, who has experienced the adversity firsthand. “I expected a difficult situation, but I never anticipated how hard it would be,” states Smith.“When we try to explain it — even to other Venezuelans who no longer live here — they find it difficult to understand how the whole scenario has changed in such a short time.” In the true spirit of Star Trek, Smith nevertheless focuses on the plight of others and wishes that he had the ability to improve conditions for Venezuelan society as a whole.
As someone who grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation in the 1980s, Smith recalls that the episodes aired sporadically, which made taking in the entire series quite challenging. The fan’s perseverance paid off, as he eventually caught up on The Original Series, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. In order to procure the series for his home, Smith sought out and purchased the official VHS/DVD collections that were sold in other Spanish-speaking nations so that he could consume the shows in his native language.
“As a child, I had to build my own ships with cardboard and make my own drawings,” says Smith. “There was not much to buy in the local market.” Hoping to connect with other fans, the Venezuelan youth utilized the internet to locate others who shared his passion for Star Trek and ultimately became involved in the unofficial fanclub “Star Trek Club Venezuela.” The group organizes Star Trek viewing parties, forums to discuss philosophical issues, and community events that encourage children to learn about science. These accomplishments serve as a source of pride for Smith. “Growing as an organization… to achieve these goals has demonstrated — on a small scale — that we can move forward as a society.”
Unfortunately, the fanclub has not been immune to Venezuela’s political climate. Several members have emigrated to other nations, and economic issues have hampered the group’s capacity to host some of its annual activities. Of course, Smith and his friends have responded in true Star Trek fashion and created a live podcast called “Cuadrante Trek” that is intended to unite Venezuelan fans regardless of their location. “We have always said that being a Star Trek fan in Venezuela is a true miracle,” observes Smith.
Episodes related to scientific discoveries and time travel tend to rate as Smith’s favorite entries, but he also has an affinity for Deep Space Nine’s “In The Pale Moonlight.” Captain Sisko’s decision to deceive the Romulans for what he considered to be noble reasons intrigued Smith, who poses a formidable question of his own. The fan asks, “After watching this episode one wonders: How many people like Sisko have existed in the world and done wrong things for the right reasons?”
Prior to 2009, Smith had not witnessed a Star Trek film in theaters since the release of Star Trek: Generations. This probably comes as a sobering realization for many American fans, most of whom have had the luxury of heading out to catch the latest movie as soon as it premieres. The debut of J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek (2009) proved to be a major attraction for Smith and Star Trek Club Venezuela. “Seeing the franchise of our lifetime in the cinema was a dream come true.”
Despite all of the uncertainty they face, Smith and his club have found solace by gathering to watch Star Trek: Discovery and discuss the episodes in their weekly podcast. When a large-scale blackout left the area without water and electricity for four days, the group employed a portable back-up battery so that they could access the Netflix app and immerse themselves in Star Trek. “Having new episodes has certainly been an escape valve for the Trekkies in my country,” explains Smith.
Star Trek offers certain stories that Smith believes resonate especially well with Venezuelan fans. Smith cites the manner in which humanity emerged as a peaceful and united society after first contact with the Vulcans as a particularly hopeful vision. “The conscience of the world citizen was created and the majority began to work for the common good,” he says. “There are times when I would like that future to arrive faster than Star Trek predicts, because I see people taking advantage of others in Venezuela.”
Smith perceives Starfleet’s dedication to conflict resolution among its constituents, as well as its benevolence toward other interstellar powers, as something that brings a sense of steadiness to the Federation’s government. Considering the numerous producers and writers who have been involved with Star Trek since it first aired, Smith argues that such a consistent set of ideals is impressive from a real-world perspective, as well. “That continuity and stability is something that I would like to have as a Venezuelan citizen,” details the fan.
The Original Series’s “The City on the Edge of Forever” holds an important appeal for Smith, who keeps an image featuring the following quote from the episode on his phone:
“I don't pretend to tell you how to find happiness and love when every day is just a struggle to survive, but I do insist that you do survive, because the days and the years ahead are worth living for.” - Edith Keeler
Smith appraises Keeler’s uplifting message as one that is relevant to the plight of Venezuela’s people and a source of optimism. “It is the real reason why many of us are still here; the days and years to come will be worth it,” opines the fan.
Star Trek’s philosophy of inclusion has not been lost on Smith, as the fan stresses that his club concentrates on tolerance and welcomes all people regardless of their personal views about Venezuela’s government. “We want our work as a group to maintain that line, because it does not discriminate against anyone because of their political position,” declares Smith. Rather than divide an already fractured nation, the fanclub sets its sights on discussing Star Trek and promoting an appreciation for science.
John Smith faces adversity while looking toward an optimistic horizon. The fan seeks a peaceful resolution to Venezuela’s political uncertainty and better lives for his fellow citizens. In the meantime, Smith endures the trying times and remains buoyed by the prospect of Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery’s upcoming seasons. Uncertainty fractures the world around him, yet Smith seems to refer to both his homeland and his beloved franchise when he confidently declares, “The future of Star Trek is promising.”
Jay Stobie (he/him) is a freelance science fiction writer who contributes articles to the official Star Trek website and Star Trek Magazine. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @StobiesGalaxy.