Part 3 of a 3-part interview
International students in Ireland have had a rough time of it in recent years. A major stressor was Department of Education withdrawal of accreditation for more than a dozen private colleges, which ultimately led to their closure due to bankruptcy or related issues. Students arrived to start courses that never materialised, many students lost hundreds or even thousands of euros in fees, and some were left with half of a useless qualification.
But spare a thought for the Venezuelan students who were also refused their own funds from the Venezuelan government during this period. The students had been forced to take part in a currency exchange regime imposed by the Venezuelan government, under which their expected student funds were ultimately withheld.
The Venezuelan Community in Ireland was established to provide orientation support and various other services to newly-arrived Venezuelans to Ireland. We spoke to Marianella, a member of the group. A question we raised with Marianella was how Chavez was embraced internationally.
Hugo Chavez called George W. Bush a donkey ten or fifteen years ago. Many in the international community would have applauded Chavez’s clownmanship! But with US and “western” interference in Latin American politics over the last century or more – encouraging or supporting fascist regimes, funding anti-communist paramilitaries, Reagan floating mines into Nicaraguan ports, Bush threatening Chavez with assassination, and leaders like Pinochet and Noriega springing to mind, just in terms of such interventionism – isn’t the Bolivarian, pink tide of socialism – and the “Chavismo” – a response to all that? And perhaps it’s just gone too far?
It’s difficult to discuss this topic. I am sure that all Latin American politics has been influenced by United States foreign policy, for sure. But even today, the US is the second biggest buyer of Venezuelan oil. Diplomatic ties are in some senses strong. Many people sympathise with Chavez and his criticisms of US influence around the world. In one way, you can sympathise. But you can’t be blind to the fact that the state of our democracy is destroyed and our economy even worse. You can enjoy the media show, but meanwhile there is suffering of millions of Venezuelans dying every year from starvation, and preventable or treatable diseases or from violence.
Every initiative that takes place in the Congress has been taken over by the Supreme Court and the government has created parallel institutions every time they lose an election. You cannot deny the fact that Venezuelan democracy is gone.
Raising awareness of these issues is a concern for the Venezuelan community here.
Are you and others here still being personally affected, beyond not having any funds since 2014?
Well, what’s happening at the moment, it’s the responsibility of the government to issue passports. In many countries, you get a passport within two weeks or a month. We are waiting for such a long time for our papers. Many of us are staying abroad with no papers at all. I applied for a passport nine months ago – knowing what the situation was like back home – and my current passport will expire in a month. But I still don’t have the new one. The Venezuelan consulates around the world are trying to pass responsibility to the Immigration Department in Venezuela and the Immigration department in Venezuela only say “You have to wait” meanwhile people is without papers, losing job opportunities and in legal stress. Venezuela is a failed state and that affects every Venezuelan wherever they are.
In three weeks I will have to go to immigration office here in Ireland and explain the predicament to them and ask them for a solution or extension because I have a valid visa for Ireland. I tried to get it renewed in April but they said “Whenever you get your new passport, you can get the stamp.” I don’t have the passport yet, just a letter from the Venezuelan embassy in London acknowledging my situation.
Some – who lose their jobs, for example – can get into a very delicate situation here. You may have the right to work, for instance, to seek another job somewhere, but without the paperwork, employers might be reluctant to hire.
But the issues faced by Venezuelans back home are far more pressing. There is violence at student demonstrations, but the sticks and stones of the students are no match for the bullets and guns of the state. Certain groups and police forces within Venezuela undertake violent acts in the name of the government. We need to let the world know. Although we intend to extend our remit to providing support of all kinds to Venezuelans in Ireland, raising awareness is the primary current reason for the existence of the Venezuelan Community in Ireland.