Scores of Miami Dade College students recently held an event at the school’s Koubek Center to raise awareness about the current humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.
There were food trucks, live music, art, a documentary and a discussion from members of the student-led initiative known as Venexodo, a combo of the country’s name and “exodus.”
“We are all born with the right to have a life with dignity and freedom,” said Venezuelan immigrant Patricia Camacho in Spanish. “God doesn’t ask us for a passport or our nationality, only to be happy.”
The initiative was started by two students – Antonio Bonaduce and Luis Martin – due to what they called a moral obligation to their friends and family back home.
They said the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela cannot be seen only by watching civilian protesters fight on TV against tear gas and rubber bullets shot by the government that was sworn to protect them.
Instead, it looks like 13-year-olds getting shot at point-blank with assault rifles, family members being kidnapped for ransom and standing by your best friend’s corpse waiting two hours for the police to show up.
As the situation has progressively worsened, State Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) has asked fellow legislators to urge Congress and the White House to grant temporary protected status for Venezuelans.
The bill outlines the depth of the crisis. It cites an International Monetary Fund report that notes inflation in Venezuela reached 265,000 percent in July of 2019 and a shortage of nearly 85 percent of essential medicines in pharmacies across five major cities.
“I am grateful for not having experienced the cruel Venezuela,” said 19-year-old MDC student Cynthia Castellano in Spanish. “I was robbed on the street, but there are some people whose family members have been killed during a robbery.”
Although political asylum grants them the ability to stay in the country without fear of deportation, it is essentially a legal purgatory. According to Castellano, asylees have difficulty leaving the country or receiving financial aid.
“We only exist here under the condition that we’re here so they don’t kill us in our country,” said Wolfang Rugeles, an 18-year-old Venezuelan immigrant.
Both Rugeles and Castellano were volunteering at Venexodo Fest 2020. The goal of the event was to raise funds for different aid organizations during the crisis.
Members of the club and volunteers shared their personal stories.
Ana Gutierrez is an MDC student from Colombia and a member of the group. She is 19 and has lived here with her mother for five years. Although she is not Venezuelan, she is still affected by the overall political instability in South America.
Latin America accounts for a third of global murders, and Colombia and Venezuela are among the most dangerous nations.
“My country went through the same situation with violence,” said Gutierrez in Spanish.
Gutierrez said she was forced to leave Colombia at 13 when her best friend was killed in a drive-by shooting.
“He was a spectacular person, he just needed a little guidance,” said Gutierrez. “He had a lot of problems with drugs because he didn’t have education or the resources to go to school.”
She said she waited next to his body for two hours before the police finally arrived. After his death, the drug dealers expected her to pay for his debts, which was impossible. She and her mother were eventually forced to flee.
Rugeles has been here for five years with his family.
His family owned a cybercafe in Venezuela, a business that provided a room full of computers to those who needed access to the internet.
Their problems began approximately five years ago after they aided protesters following a violent encounter with the Venezuelan National Guard. Rugeles’ family allowed the protesters into the cybercafe. This made them a target for the government.
“A month after that, they started appearing outside my school,” said Rugeles. “My dad started to worry a lot.”
Increased military presence at his school made it almost impossible for him to attend regularly. So he enrolled in a private school.
“One day we were in class, and we went outside to protest because the National Guard was trying to get into our school that was private,” said Rugeles in Spanish. “The National Guard would confront the students and the students, in turn, would defend themselves, asking them not to enter the school and harm the students.”
One of the students exiting the building was hit by a rock that was thrown by another student. When he picked up the rock, the National Guard thought he had thrown rocks. They shot him point-blank in the head with an assault rifle.
“They blew off half his head,” said Rugeles. “He was in the seventh grade, so he was about 12 or 13.”
Rugeles’ family also fell victim to kidnapping. Members of his immediate family, including his older brother and father, were abducted, beaten and left on the street. Rugeles’ uncle was murdered as a result of one of these ransom attempts.
Rugeles’ greatest fear is being forced to return to Venezuela.
“I am incapable of going back to Venezuela,” said Rugeles. “If we go back, they’ll know we’re back, and they’ll kill us.”
Juan Guaidó’s recent visit to Miami attracted some U.S. politicians and gave Venezuelans a platform to express their support for his presidency.
“With education, ignorance ends,” said Gutierrez. “Without ignorance, there is no hate.”