Fires blaze in the streets. Newborn babies sit in cardboard boxes. Thousands of Venezuelans march shoulder-to-shoulder protesting the government. Food is rationed, schools are closed due to lack of financial support, and corruption is commonplace.
To many students at the University of Miami, Venezuela’s turmoil is lost in the day-to-day shuffle of homework assignments, class schedules and nightlife. But for some, it is something they have to live with every day. After China, the 172 Venezuelan students at UM make up the largest number of international students at the University.
Geraldine Orlando, a senior majoring in Marine Science/Biology and president of UNIVEN, the Venezuelan Student Association at UM, was able to escape Venezuela in 2013 following her last year in high school.
“A lot of times I want to go home but my dad won’t let me because it is still too dangerous,” she said in a recent interview.
According to a 2015 report by the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, there were an estimated 27,875 killings in Venezuela in 2015; a rate of approximately 90 homicides per every 100,000 residents. In contrast, in the United States, a country with more than ten times the population of Venezuela, there were 15,696 homicides in 2015. The violence and homicide rate in Venezuela is expected to climb in 2016.
The federal republic has been spiraling out of control for years, impacted greatly by the collapse of oil prices, inflation, increased violence, riots, and shortages of foods and supplies.
These kind of dangers has led to a mass exodus of people in search of a better life. Many Venezuelans are fleeing to nearby South American countries, while others have found a home in South Florida.
Victoria van Eerdewijk, co-president of UNIVEN, was forced to leave her family and friends in Venezuela in search of a better life and education, but she doesn’t see the move as permanent.
“Venezuela is my place, it’s my home. Everything I’m doing here [in Miami] is so I can be ready to go back and fight again and win my country back.”
van Eerdewijk’s powerful sentiments are felt by other Venezuelan students at UM. Many of them have left everything they know and love to avoid a country in chaos.
The rest of this year could be a turning point in the country’s history. Demonstrators have taken to the streets to demand that a proposed referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro be passed by the end of the year. If the referendum passes before January 10, 2017, Venezuelans will have the opportunity to re-elect a new president and perhaps move in a new direction.
However, if it passes after January 10, Maduro’s vice president would assume power and this, Venezuelans argue, would result in a continuation of the same failed policies.
UM alumna and current Telemundo reporter Arianne Alcorta, who was born in Venezuela, has been covering the crisis since she was an undergraduate journalism student in 2014. She has made multiple informational videos chronicling the events and trying to shed light on the injustices in her native country.
While researching the crisis, Alcorta found that “It's getting harder for Venezuelans to find the food and medicine that they need and to afford them."
Alcorta still has family and friends in the oil-rich South American nation. “My grandmother tells me her doctor gives her prescriptions for multiple pharmacies in the hopes that at least one will have her medication in stock.”
Alcorta and her immediate family were fortunate to make it out of Venezuela before the current crisis but she still fights to bring awareness to the country’s current state.
If the current vice president is brought into power, Alcorta said, there would be “no change” in the way Venezuela is run. “The vice president is basically an extension of President Maduro and would keep the same policies in place,” Alcorta said. He would even be able to appoint Maduro to the vice presidency and the party’s rule would continue.
Andrea Igliozzi, a freshman and member of UNIVEN, said: “the best thing you can do is spread the word of what is happening because Venezuela is facing an economic, social and political crisis.”