Local Venezuelan students talk situation in home country
As a struggle for control of the government continues in Venezuela, some Venezuelans have made their way to Central Iowa. While they come from the same country, their goals and feelings vary considerably about what is happening now and what to do next.
“I try to go back as much as I can because my family is still there,” said Marshalltown Community College business student Isabel Perez. “My journey in Venezuela, we have had, on many occasions, social movements such as marches, protests. I’ve been involved in all of them except for the ones that are happening this year because I am here.”
She said she has only known authoritarian leaders in her country since she was born in the late 1990s.
For fellow student Yamilet Cachan, the situation in Venezuela was enough to drive her, her husband and three children out of the country about three years ago.
“The corruption in the country was strangling,” she said.
Perez hails from the large city of Valencia. Cachan is from that area, too, having left her hometown of Tocuyito.
The political situation in Venezuela is chaotic. When late President Hugo Chavez died in 2013, then-Vice President Nicolas Maduro took his place.
From then until present, Maduro’s government has been criticized by opposition leaders, as well as many in the international community, as fraudulent. After the opposition took control of the country’s legislature, the National Assembly, in 2015, Maduro worked to create a separate legislature in 2017, according to Reuters.
A presidential election was held in 2018 amid further accusations of fraud and vote-buying by Maduro’s government. Nonetheless, he was inaugurated for a second six-year term.
National Assembly leader Juan Guaido swore himself in as interim president earlier this year while saying Maduro’s presidency is illegitimate under the Venezuelan constitution. Guaido has received backing from much of the international community, including the United States.
Perez said her parents are politically active and she has followed in those footsteps. While she and her family strive for a better future in Venezuela, she said the worry sometimes gets to be too much.
“In 2014, I remember every night hearing the shots from the guns at night. I remember I couldn’t sleep. People were dying, they were killing us,” Perez said. “People are really suffering, and I’ve already tried to do my best to do what I’m able to do to help do something.”
The worst is when the power goes down where her parents live, she said. Perez said that happened just weeks ago, and she could not stop worrying about how her family was because she could not communicate with them for several days.
She said the country is suffering because of authoritarian leadership that bullies citizens. Hyperinflation is rampant.
“For someone to buy a Big Mac from McDonald’s in Venezuela, they have to work one month and two days,” Perez said. “Everyday everything is more expensive.”
Cachan said she and her husband owned businesses back home. She focused on photography while her husband created large billboards for advertisers. Eight years ago, they employed about 140 people and had no desire to live anywhere else.
“Now, I have my two brothers in Peru, I have five nephews in Peru, one in Ecuador, I don’t remember I have already in Colombia,” Cachan said.
She managed to escape an increasingly threatening government and economic situation because her husband had been an exchange student in 1992. The family was friends with a family in Nevada, Iowa, and moved there, and then later to State Center.
Perez said her family, too, is largely spread around the globe to avoid the situation in their country.
“My sister is in Colombia, my cousins are in Miami, I have family in Mexico, I have family in Europe,” she said. “Right now, we’re really thankful and grateful for the United States because they have been very supportive. They sent thousands of humanitarian aid. To this point, I think there’s no other solution than an intervention.”
Perez said she wants the violence to stop in her country.
Student impact, dreaming of the future
With all of the history, strife, violence and worry weighing on their minds, both Perez and Cachan continue to attend classes, do homework, work and live their lives.
Cachan said class is a welcome distraction.
“I have an hour when I’m in class when I’m completely focused on class,” she said. “I want to study to be a social worker. I want to work for the people, I want to help the people, I want to help the children.”
Perez saw it very differently. She said the situation in Venezuela makes classwork harder because her thoughts dwell on her family there.
“When I said we have protests and everything, my parents go to all of those, and I’m always scared that something will happen to them,” Perez said. “Some days are harder than others, but yeah, when I’m in class and something is going on, I need to watch the news because that’s the thing that’s affecting me directly. My life depends on what happens there.”
While she is studying business at the college, Perez said she would likely be studying to be a doctor if she were able to go to college in Venezuela. Her mother is a doctor, and Perez said she wanted to follow in her footsteps.
However, when she is done studying business in the U.S., she said she wants to return home to help her dad with his publishing business.
“I would like to help him with that, but I would like to start a restaurant,” she said with a smile.
Cachan said she has different plans.
“I’ve decided to stay here,” she said. “I want my kids to study here, too. My kids love to stay here because of the freedom.”
Cachan said it would never have been her choice to come to the U.S. permanently if things were better in her country. She said she misses her home sorely, describing the feeling like being divorced against her will.
“It’s hard. You don’t want it but you need it,” Cachan said.
She said she sees Iowa as her home now. To that, Perez said “But home is home.”
Cachan nodded in agreement.
For her part, Perez said she wants to go back home as soon as possible.
“I wish that if things change, I could just take my stuff and go back, that’s what I want. But I have to complete my education, of course,” she said. “My dad has been spending money so I can have a good education, so I’m not going to give up now, but what I want is to go back.”