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Native Venezuelans in Pittsburgh reflect on the uncertainty back home

By: Emma Federkeil, Point Park News Service

Venezuelan native, Janina Kvedaras, watches the turmoil in her home country unravel from her house in Aspinwall and worries for her friends and family still there.

Kvedaras moved to the United States with her husband 10 years ago from Maracaibo, in northwest Venezuela. She said they could have remained in Venezuela a little longer, but it was time for her to leave due to the high crime rates and corrupt government.

“I was ready to leave the country,” Kvedaras said. “I just wanted to get out of all the situations. There was a lot of crime. People were not safe.”

Conditions in Venezuela have been on a rapid decline since President Nicolas Maduro took office in 2013. Venezuelans in Pittsburgh watch as their home country is currently facing triple-digit inflation, starvation, sanctions, an unprecedented emigration of workers and an economic depression. The ruling Socialists United of Venezuela party defeated the opposition in Sunday’s election.

According to a statement released by the U.S. Department of State on Oct. 12, “The United States is concerned that a series of actions by the National Electoral Council calls into question the fairness of the electoral process.”

The concerns of the U.S. consist of closing polling centers and using a variety of other means in order to control the election outcome.

Luis Granes moved to America with his wife in 1996 from Caracas for work and now resides in Fox Chapel.

“When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, Venezuela was a nice place to be,” Granes said. “I used to be a middle-class kind of kid. We used to play baseball, we used to play soccer, we used to do everything like any normal American kid.”

Both Granes and Kvedaras hope the current citizens of Venezuela can return to easier times.

“I think that that’s the biggest thing about Venezuela,” Kvedaras said. “It’s really, really horrible to live in that constant state of look out of something is going to happen. I’m going to get killed I’m going to get mugged. And that is every single day. How can you live with that? The whole involvement in politics on an everyday basis which is what is happening in America today.”

Kvedaras, who works as the children’s librarian at the Northern Tier Regional Library, said it took her time to adjust to living in the United States.

“When I first moved the U.S., if I went out for a walk with my dog, I would still look around and be scared of being in the street because somebody could come and mug me,” Kvedaras said. “And that happened all the time. That’s the reality that people have to live within Venezuela every day.”  

Granes also said that the people of Venezuela were fed up with the political abolishment, the corruption, and the poor management of money when Hugo Chavez took power in 1999. Granes said the United Socialist Party of Venezuela just tells the people what they want to hear.

“Chavez, out of the blue, told the people that he was going to thrive in oil and get rid of the corrupt people to clean the country,” Granes said. “Based on that political statement, he gained the support of the people and the people voted for him under the promise of giving a change to the country for the good.”

The year 2013 was a turning point when Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela since 1999, died. That year, the election was a close call with Chavez’s former vice president, Nicolas Maduro, won office.

“As soon as the guy won the election, he turned it to the other side,” Granes said. “He changed the constitution, he changed the rules, and he declared himself as president forever.”

Many were concerned with the July 30 referendum vote to reject Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution. On August 2, the citizens in opposition to the Socialist Party voiced their opinions against more than one million “ghost” votes discovered in the results. A majority of the voters boycotted the polls, yet government officials reported a record high voter participation.

Today, protests are occurring daily with law enforcement turning against the people and siding with the government by violently attacking protesters.

“The problem is today, that the crime frequency is so high and it is promoted and protected by the Venezuelan government,” Granes said. “Yes, the government is the one giving weapons to the delinquents.”

With empty grocery store shelves, resources like diapers and toilet paper, to milk and eggs are virtually unattainable Kvedaras said.

“A lot of people’s lives revolve around finding the next pound of chicken or finding milk or oil,” Kvedaras said.

Kvedaras said that corrupt law enforcement is a major part of the supply problem.

“They are taking this food and supplies that are supposed to be going to the Venezuelans to meet their basic needs and they are stealing these trucks and taking them across the border to Columbia or Brazil and selling them for nothing,” Kvedaras said.

Venezuela could, potentially, be one of the strongest economies in the world with its vast amount of oil reserves.

“The problem we have is that we have the resources, but we don’t have a clean politician to put that money in good use for the country,” Granes said.

Kvedaras said her brother was recently mugged in Venezuela and she continues to worry about the family members she left behind.

“Don’t call attention to yourself,” Kvedaras said. “Don’t wear anything fancy or anything like that but it’s hard sometimes because regular class, middle-class people are getting mugged.”

She said she would love to be able to visit the friends and family she left behind.

“I haven’t been back in like 8 years,” Kvedaras said. “And now it’s like I don’t want to because I feel I will be in trouble if I go back and I won’t be able to deal with the reality of being there. It sucks because I really loved my country I thought it was beautiful it has some of the best beaches in the world I believe are there. People there are super nice the food is amazing, and I miss it.”

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