It’s more than just something covered in the news. For senior Mariana Inciarte-Balza, the crisis in Venezuela hits home. “My entire extended family is down there,” Inciarte-Balza said. “Thankfully, they haven’t been affected as much as others have, but they still have struggles getting gas and basic necessities like food and toilet paper. The biggest thing is the electricity aspect of it. They didn’t have light and couldn’t cook,” she said.
They are not the only ones. More than 88 percent of households in Venezuela don’t have sufficient food and vaccine-preventable diseases, like measles, break out routinely.
“It’s always good to know what’s going on outside the U.S., and to be educated about what’s going on around us” Inciarte-Balza said. According to BBC News, the start of this humanitarian crisis can be traced back to Hugo Chávez who served as Venezuela’s president from 1999 to 2013. Chávez began the nation’s experiment with socialism. High global oil prices and his charismatic personality made him popular amongst the working class.
Since Nicolás Maduro’s narrow presidential win in an emergency election after Chávez’s death in 2013, Maduro has tried to continue the socialist agenda of his predecessor. However, he lacks the favorable economic situation and charming personality that gained the people’s support.
According to a PEW Research Center poll released in January, only 33 percent of Venezuelans trust their government. Their economy is struggling and inflation is skyrocketing. One U.S. dollar exchanges for approximately 3,291 Venezuela bolívares.
Maduro was re-elected in May in a race that most nations would consider to be fraudulent due to boycotting and low turnout by opposition parties. When he was sworn in for his second term in January, Juan Guaidó, his opponent, declared himself to be interim president. Guaidó is the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, the country’s opposition-run congress.
The United States, Canada and several Latin American countries are recognizing Guaidó as the legitimate leader. Meanwhile China, Russia and Cuba support Maduro. The Venezuelan military also claims their allegiance to Maduro, but Colonel José Luis Silva, Venezuela’s military attaché in Washington, D.C., supports Guaidó.
“It’s really hard because it is a governmental issue, and we, as the Marian community, feel kind of helpless. But I do feel that we can find a way to send humanitarian aid to Venezuela,” Inciarte-Balza said. At least 3.4 million people, roughly 13 percent of the population, have fled the country as of Feb. 19, according to the United Nation Refugee Agency. They estimate that if the trend continues, 5.3 million Venezuelans will have left by the end of this year. The U.S. Department of State has partnered with Brazil to provide food and humanitarian aid to Venezuelan migrants near the Venezuela-Brazil border. The U.S. government has taken to coordinating with bordering countries, like Colombia and Brazil, to provide shelter, food and medical care to those who have fled Venezuela as a result of its economic and political crisis.
The U.S. Department of State has also issued a travel advisory earlier this month urging Americans not to travel to Venezuela. “I am affected by it. I haven’t been able to go to Venezuela for the past two years, and I used to [visit] there every single year,” Inciarte-Balza said. “This is real, and it’s happening, yet not a lot of people are talking about it.”