Venezuela natives joyful over political change, worry about relatives

Published 2:11 am Friday, January 25, 2019

Andalusians Maria Smith and her mother, Edilia Rodriguez, have hope for their home country of Venezuela, but still worry about family members after Juan Guaido swore himself in as interim president on Wednesday.

The escalating showdown between Guaido and current president Nicolas Maduro began with Guaido’s declaration to an enormous crowd of supporters in a downtown square in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, on Wednesday.

As demonstrators sang the national anthem, Mr. Guaido announced: “Today, January 23, 2019, I swear to formally assume the powers of the national executive as president in charge of Venezuela,” The New York Times reported.

Andalusia’s Edilia Rodriguez phones her sisters in Venezuela daily to monitor both the political situation, and their safety.
Christopher Smith/Star-News

He told Venezuelans to raise their right hands as he said: “Let’s swear as brothers that we won’t rest until we gain freedom.”

The years of Maduro’s leadership have been marked by violence, hunger, inflation, and the migration of Venezuelans out of the country at unprecedented levels.

Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, presided over the free fall of what was once Latin America’s wealthiest nation. The country’s economy continues to unravel at an alarming rate and Maduro’s re-election last year was widely denounced by other countries as fraudulent.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump tweeted:

“The citizens of Venezuela have suffered too long at the hands of the illegitimate Maduro Regime. Today I have officially recognized the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela.”

To Smith, this is a step towards freedom for Venezuela.

“With this being done it hopefully means that we will be moving towards a different government,” Smith said. “It makes me feel hopeful that they are going to be better, but at the same time I am scared because the situation has gotten so bad. They are just going to have to be patient.”

All of Smith’s family is anti-Maduro, so she said that they are all very happy with what is going on.

“The family that I still have there are very happy,” Smith said. “They all went on the streets to support the new government.”

Smith has three aunts with two having their respective families with them in Venezuela. She said that everyone else has fled the country with the hope of better living.

“A lot of my cousins have left Venezuela,” Smith said. “But they still feel it. They sold everything they owned to try and get out of the country, because crime rate is so high, there is no education, food is rationalized and it is just not safe there.”

Smith came to Andalusia on January 3, 1989, when she was 21 years old. What she remembers from Venezuela is not what is going on today.

“I felt safe when I walked down the streets in Venezuela,” Smith said. “There were no violent riots, we had food and there was just a general sense of happiness.”

She said that right now, Venezuelan government is in a scary stage.

“One president hasn’t left and then another one is trying to take his place,” Smith said. “So it is very unstable.”

Rodriguez, Smith’s mother, talks with her sisters in Venezuela daily.

“All of them were out on the streets, Wednesday,” Rodriguez said. “The streets were full of people protesting because they don’t want to be under President Maduro anymore.”

She said that her sisters and nephews were walking the street during the protest and then had to start running away because the police starting throwing bombs at them.

“They always protest nonviolently,” Rodriguez said. “Then the police come in and cause a riot.”

Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala and the Organization of American States have also recognized Guaido as the country’s leader.

“All of the South American states and even some of Europe have recognized the new president,” Rodriguez said. “Because the current one has caused so much poverty.”

Rodriguez said that by talking with her sisters in Venezuela and watching the news every day, she is able to know what is going on in her home country.

“Right now, they don’t have food,” Rodriguez said. “The salary per month in Venezuela is only six dollars. There’s no medicine, the children are dying from starvation and there are problems with electricity. My sisters bought a back-up generator just so they could have power during the designated times the government turns the power off.”

Rodriguez said that Guiado does not want to take over the government.

“Guiado is only the interim president,” Rodriguez said. “That way he can hold fair elections.”

Nine years ago, Rodriguez, who is now an American citizen, traveled to Venezuela and realized that the country was not the same as it was when she was growing up.

“I went there about nine years ago, and everyone told me that I shouldn’t walk the streets alone,” Rodriguez said. “Well one day I went out alone and someone grabbed me, tried to take my purse and I fell. I called my doctor and she told me to leave immediately, because I would not be safe in Venezuela. When I was growing up there were no problems.”

Rodriguez said that she doesn’t know what is going to happen, but something has to be done.

“Honestly I don’t know what will happen,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know if the U.S. will bomb Venezuela or what, but something needs to be done. Maduro has ruined the country.”