Venezuelan future unclear, fear rises

Recently, a fellow classmate not-so-kindly reminded me that my Venezuelan experience differs from that of recently arrived Venezuelans.
Venezuela has been under the rule of Hugo Chavez since 1999. Chavez became a dictator who changed the Venezuelan constitution for his own personal gain, severely upset relations with the U.S. and nationalized much of the state’s important industries. Chavez died March 5, and the world began to speculate what would come next.
I have lived Chavismo from abroad. I was born in Venezuela. My mother and I emigrated to the United States 21 years ago. My father, one of my sisters, my brother, my aunts and uncles, my cousins and friends all remain in Venezuela.
My experience with the Chavez regime has been lived through weekly Skype calls, daily email exchanges and an almost fanatical perusing of the news. Each time my cell phone rings with a 001 exchange, my stomach turns at the intense fear that someone close to me has been a victim to the violence. The fear is very real.
In the last 15 years, my family and friends have succumbed to the effects of a failing infrastructure. My father’s best friend was brutally murdered just blocks from our home. Last fall, my sister was mugged at gunpoint.
A piece of my heart lives in Venezuela. To be called an outsider by my classmate ignores the reality lived each day in my household. Venezuela’s future is unclear. Chavez left a successor, and his ideas have a strong following. The opposition is loosely organized and lacks a strong leader. My biggest fear is that the situation in Venezuela will escalate before Venezuelans see real change.
Now, the real work begins. I look forward to the return of democracy, while it may not be overnight.
I can only hope that one day Venezuela will have the same allure as the U.S. does, welcoming immigrants from around the globe who wish to pursue their dreams.
One can hope, right?

Stephanie Pavolini is a graduate student majoring in international administration.