Crisis in Venezuela

September 25, 2019

The crisis in Venezuela was born during the presidency of Hugo Chávez, but it did not end with his reign. More than six years after Chávez’s death, the situation in Venezuela is worse than ever, and the economic fallout is considered by many to be more severe than that of the United States during the Great Depression, or that of Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Marked by hyperinflation, escalating starvation, disease, crime, political persecution, and rising mortality rates, there appears to be no immediate solution in sight, and this has resulted in massive emigration from the country.

Isabella Martinez was one of the many that fled Venezuela while the country continued to unravel.

“After Chávez died,” she explains, “the political situation got even worse. Things started to go bad for anyone who didn’t support the ruling party.”

The ruling party she speaks of is the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), or in English, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. The party was formed during the Bolivarian Revolution in 1999, and until 2015, was the majority party in Venezuela’s National Assembly.

Back in Venezuela, Isabella and her husband were engineers that worked for a state-run company. While working there, they were pressured into voting for PSUV officials, both nationally and locally. The undue pressure was constant and suffocating, and after some time, Isabella’s husband decided that he could take the abuse no more. As a way to voice his displeasure with the current state of government, he joined an opposition party and began actively protesting the regime under Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro.

During his time as a member of the opposition party, Isabella’s husband attended an event to protest the electoral commissions that had refused a referendum against Maduro, despite such a referendum being allowed under the Venezuelan constitution. While standing in solidarity with his fellow protestors, Isabella’s husband was shot by supporters of Maduro and the Bolivarian government, known locally as colectivos.

Isabella’s husband survived the shooting, but his life in Venezuela was over. Rather than die at the hands of the colectivos, or face unjust imprisonment for their political opinions, Isabella and her husband decided it was time to take their two young daughters, ages two and nine, and seek safety in the United States.

And so, life for Isabella and her family begins anew. Upon arriving in the United States, Isabella took a job as a gas station cashier, but thanks to her tireless determination, as well as World Relief’s employment team, she now works as an engineer for a Chicago construction company. Her husband, meanwhile, is learning English with World Relief, and hopes to land a job once his language skills improve. Their eldest daughter is also learning English. She is still reeling from the traumatic effects of her father’s shooting and her family’s forced displacement, but she is determined to succeed.

Voicing an opinion against Maduro and the Bolivarian government is a right Venezuelan citizens living in the country still do not have. And because of the political persecution they face, some Venezuelans qualify for asylum in the U.S. – a status equal to that of refugees. Over the past few years, in fact, increasing numbers of political asylees from Venezuela and other Latin American countries who have fled life-threatening oppression and institutionalized violence have been coming to World Relief for assistance.  

Now that Isabella and her family are safe, they can lead a healthy and fulfilling life.

“We miss our home,” Isabella admits. “But we are happy to be here. We can talk about our problems and voice our opinions without having to worry.”