Few countries have experienced more turmoil in recent years than Venezuela, and UNM students and faculty from the South American country are voicing their opinion on the matter.

Venezuela has recently made international headlines because of a contested struggle for leadership.

According to the New York Times, Juan Guaidó — the opposition party leader — has declared himself interim-President. This came directly after Nicolás Maduro was sworn in for his second term as President. Guaidó was previously the President of the National Assembly of Venezuela, which led him to challenge Maduro for leadership of the country.

However, Venezuela has been experiencing political turmoil for years. Maduro was the President in power during the dramatic fall of the nation’s economy. Previous to Maduro’s presidency, Venezuela prosperous economy based off a large oil supply.

As a petrostate, Venezuela is highly dependant on the revenue brought in by oil exportation. Between 2014 and 2016 when oil prices dropped from $98 a barrel in 2014 to only $35 a barrel by 2016 sending the economy into a spiral, according to statistics by ABSCBN. The country’s hyperinflation (now at 80,000 percent) has drastically impacted everyday people’s ability to provide for their families. Thousands of Venezuelans have fled to neighboring countries to find work — where they are often underemployed.

UNM professor of computer science in the engineering department, Soraya Abad-Mota, moved from Venezuela to New Mexico with her husband and two children. According to Abad-Mota, she was a tenured professor in computer science in Venezuela, but was forced to leave to the U.S. because of the economic crash and political situation.

“We came here because the situation there became impossible, so we decided to come here in 2013,” Abad-Mota said.

Abad-Mota said Maduro has been in power since 2013 and has held favor with the military. In 2017, when the National Assembly (the legislative branch of Venezuela’s government) opposed Maduro policies he hand-picked a new and parallel legislative body called the Constituent Assembly, with the purpose of altering the Constitution.

In February of 2014, students began to protest. Abad-Mota said 150 people were killed by Maduro’s regime during these protests, including academics and journalists.

“In 2016 there was an international movement to revoke Maduro’s term. In our constitution the people can revoke presidency term through petition — I did that process here in July of 2016,” Abad-Mota said. “The majority of people all over (the world) said please give us what the constitution allows us to do, which is the process of asking the people if they want to revoke the term. Maduro said ‘no we are not doing that.’ ”

In 2017 the new Constituent Assembly was created in order to avoid this and their first order of business was to instate a parallel supreme court. This effectively ended the removal process and invalidated the National Assembly, she added.

“People began to protest again when our right to the National Assembly was taken away. He killed many people again. He was responsible for torcherings and political prisoners. In 2019 almost 800 people have been detained and kept in jail without due process,” Abad-Mota said.

Iliana Briceno is a first year UNM student in the architecture department. Briceno is Venezuelan, with her father originally from Caracas. Briceno said Maduro is a corrupt leader who supports narco-traffickers and her family living there are in a very unfortunate situation.

“The people of Venezuela have suffered greatly by losing all necessary resources to live healthy lives. There are few medical resources, there is very minimal food accessibility, and the people have lost the right to freedom of speech,” Briceno said.

Most recently when Maduro ran for reelection he purposefully eliminated opposing parties by banning them, Abad-Mota said. Venezuelan elections are done electronically. Maduro claimed he received 5 million votes, a claim disputed by the organization who counts them.

Smartmatic — the Venezuelan owned company now based in London — countered that Maduro’s claim was wrong by “at least a million votes” Abad-Mota said. This election was pushed up by six months in May of 2018; usually, Venezuelan elections are always held the December before the new term begins.

Briceno and Abad-Mota emphasized that Guaidó does have the right to declare himself as the interim-President. Many countries do not recognize Maduro as the President but now recognize Guaidó.

Abad-Mota described the situation as “an absolute vacuum,” due to constitutional provisions that require the president to take oaths in from of the National Assembly, and the Assembly’s right to not recognize the President and nominate an interim-president.

Briceno said it was a step in the right direction when the U.S. declared recognition of Guaidó as the interim-President.

The European Union, most central and South American countries have endorsed the interim-president, while China, Russia, Cuba, Bolivia and South Africa are backing Maduro.

“He has the constitutional right to declare himself President as an educated politician and he has a lot more promise than Maduro ever has,” Briceno said. “I am somewhat relieved that the United States has decided to back him.”

Abad-Mota said the situation in Venezuela has been incredibly difficult on her friends and family. They do not have enough to eat and they have lost weight — it's really horrible, she said. She said her family and friends are telling her people eat from the garbage because there is no food. Maduro does not permit humanitarian aid groups to enter Venezuela and provide medical aid or food.

“I have a very close friend who is a diabetic. She lost her sight because she cannot get insulin. The poverty is in 85 percent right now. People have lost everything,” Abad-Mota said.

There is no way of repairing cars, no way of getting food or medications. Venezuela because newspapers do not have paper and journalists are persecuted, she added.

Briceno said she is hopeful for the feature of Venezuela and her friends and family there. Venezuela was once a flourishing country she added. Abad-Mota hopes the new leadership will bring better times.

“The people of Venezuela are tired, it is time to finally put an end to the Maduro dictatorship and narco-traffickers who have destroyed such a beautiful country,” Briceno said.

Danielle Prokop contributed to this report.

Megan Holmen is the assistant news editor for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted by email at assistant-news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @megan_holmen.