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Venezuela’s crisis hits home for students

By Sunday, the people of Venezuela had been though four political upheavals-the overthrow of President Hugo Chavez from power, the instatement of Pedro Carmona, head of the country’s largest business association as president, Carmona’s resignation and Chavez’ reinstatement into power.

Back to square one and all in the space of three days.

With all of the realized and potential unrest going on in their home country, the sizeable Venezuelan student population at the University of Miami is on tenterhooks, waiting in anticipation to see what’s going to happen next.

Cristina Vanessa Vila is a freshman who has lived in Anzoatequi, Venezuela for most of her life. Her parents and little sister still reside there. They say the situation is just getting worse.

“People are locked up in their houses and they’re afraid. There are riots and civil war and they’re just killing people. It’s affecting the people in every possible way,” Vila said.

“All my family is there. It’s not good,” said freshman engineering student, Silvana Mateo, who is from Caracas.

“There is no safe place right now,” said freshman engineering student and Valencia resident Irene Rojas.

Chavez, a vowed proponent of the poor, managed to incite his non-supporters to strikes, protests and demonstrations ending with his removal from office by military leaders last Friday, because of what they called his authoritarian regime, according to a CNN.com article posted on April 14, and his replacement of top officials at the state oil company in February.

“There is not a soul in the streets. My brother said that CNN shows only about 20 percent of what is going on,” Rojas said. “Nobody knows. There are no channels [of information]; only the government channel and they are not allowing expression of any kind.”

“He pretended to be anti-corruption, anti-poverty. Then he started to show his communist ways, passing laws that made no sense. Things began to deteriorate slowly,” she added.

“From the day he was elected everyone knew that this was going to happen. The poor population in Venezuela is very large and he promises them the world for their support,” Vila said. “Meanwhile he is deteriorating the country.”

Chavez regained power with the help of three thousand members of the National Honor Guard-which protects the presidential palace and has remained loyal to Chavez, according to CNN.com.

“There are a lot of urgent things to take care of now,” Chavez said. “We must fix that light that has been broken. I call for peace. I call for strength within all Venezuelans.”

But UM Venezuelan students are not expecting peace anytime soon.

“My mother says that it doesn’t seem to be getting any better, just worse,” Vila said. “Now that he’s back in power he’s bitter. He’s going to be doing things directly to those who put him out of power.”

“Everything is just going to be worse. It’s like living through the whole Cuba situation, Vila said.

“Everyone I’ve talked to is down, sad. It is so ironic after thinking that he was off the presidency that he just bounces back,” Rojas said. “He killed who knows how many hundreds of people when he allowed the military to open fire on our citizens. It’s scary.”

The biggest concern, of course, is for the students’ families still in Venezuela.

Vila had already bought her airline ticket to return home at the end of the semester but now, it is unsure what her summer plans will be.

“Get my parents out of there. They’re getting everything in order to get back here. I am happy to be in Miami but my parents and my little sister are in Venezuela and I am worried constantly,” Vila said. “I mean, I don’t care what the situation is, I want to be there right now.”

“My concern is for my family’s well-being. Economically, my parents are both doctors and no one knows what’s happening. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue my studies,” Rojas said. “It is affecting me directly.”

April 16, 2002

Reporters

The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami


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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.