Venezuelans are starving, prompting desperate people to ransack grocery stores and raid school cafeterias in search of food. The government’s failed policies are directly responsible for the nation’s misery. On top of that, gangs, militias and guerrillas have contributed to a murder rate that is 14.5 times higher than that in the United States.
North of this brutalized mainland, in the azure waters of the Caribbean Sea, lies Margarita Island, whose seemingly endless pristine beaches punctuated by palm trees draw sun-seeking tourists annually. Although this scenic isle is not immune to the nation’s troubles, one brave, impressive man has helped reverse the island’s humanitarian decline.
Edgar Salazar is the commander of the Control Directorate for Meetings and Demonstrations, the tactical unit on Margarita Island responsible for riot control and other high-risk situations. “I can tell you that the riots and crime are better here than the rest of Venezuela,” he says, adding, “but in itself it’s bad.”
Decades ago, Salazar was shocked when he witnessed Margarita Island police officers attacking protesters and tourists. Subsequently, this man of action began to teach police officers the non-violent martial art of aikido, which he calls “a survival tool.”
Salazar has risen through the ranks and weathered his island’s political storms. When he was the commander of a poor neighborhood called Cardboard City, some junior officers protecting two drug dealers told him to leave the criminals alone. He put them in jail instead. Community members then gathered 900 signatures on a petition to fire him “because the drug dealers were part of the economy of the town and they wanted me gone,” he says. But he managed to hold on to his job.
Before long, Salazar was introduced to L. Ron Hubbard’s The Way to Happiness (TWTH), a booklet and corresponding book-on-film featuring 21 common-sense precepts that help people lead more prosperous, fulfilling lives. He was so touched by the film that he cried. TWTH was exactly what he was looking for. “Not just for me, but for the people—to get respect and ethics back to them,” he explains. He shared the film with some 500 people, including his colleagues and 130 who were locked up in the local jail. Many of the inmates were likewise moved to tears. “If we had seen this when we were kids, we wouldn’t be here,” Salazar quoted some of them as saying.
Having seen the transformative powers of Mr. Hubbard’s words, Salazar continued to distribute TWTH material. About 1,000 people received the booklets in Cardboard City in one year, which he noted dramatically reduced the factional wars for which the area is notorious.
During a riot in a particularly brutal juvenile prison, Salazar proved to the prisoners that for all his humanitarianism, he was no pushover. Not only did he put an end to the violence, but he made the inmates clean up the mess they had created. And then he showed them the TWTH film and read out the booklet.
Salazar and his officers have distributed 150,000 TWTH booklets so far, helping make Margarita Island a much better place.