Since former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s death March 5, the country has been preparing for elections April 14 to elect a new leader after Chavez’s 14-year rule. The election will present opportunities for change in U.S.-Venezuelan relations, and some Venezuelan students and scholars said these broader political changes could also affect Venezuelan students at Brown.
Venezuela at Brown
One possible impact could be an increase in Venezuelan international interest in attending Brown, said Maria Victoria Moreno ’16, a student from Venezuela. More people might want to leave the country, and one way they could pursue that is through higher education in the United States, she said.
Some Venezuelan students said Chavez’s death will not affect who comes to Brown as much as it will affect the prospects for Venezuelan students at Brown after graduation.
“The people who come to study in the (United States) have always been part of a more privileged class,” said Rafael Contreras ’15, a student from Venezuela. “People who can apply to Brown and afford it will continue to do so,” he said, adding that Chavez’s death might lead students to think there are more opportunities back home in Venezuela.
“I didn’t see myself working with the (Venezuelan) government because of ideological differences. Now, I might consider it,” he said.
‘The only president you know’
Many Venezuelan students said they were personally affected by Chavez’s death.
Contreras said he was both sad at the prospect of someone dying and happy because the former president’s death will allow the country to move forward. Before, the country was “paralyzed” trying to determine what to do with a president sick from cancer, Contreras said.
Despite his health struggles, Chavez’s death still felt sudden and surprising, Moreno said, adding that this is not “something you can be prepared for.”
The length of Chavez’s rule also added to their surprise in accepting the situation, Moreno and Contreras said.
“(Chavez) was the person that I knew for most of my life. Imagine having Obama as the only president you know and (the) only political figure you have seen in power,” Contreras said.
There is also the possibility that Chavez will become a sort of “popular cult figure,” said Guy Edwards, research fellow at the Center for Environmental Studies and co-founder of a climate change website targeted toward Latin American countries.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you could buy a Hugo Chavez t-shirt in the next 10 years despite the good or bad things he might have done,” he said.
The change in the Venezuelan government is also an opportunity for the country to reevaluate its position on climate change, Edwards said.
“Venezuela is in a position to do a lot more itself on climate change at the national level,” Edwards said.
An uncertain future
President Obama issued a statement offering the federal government’s “support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government,” according to a March 5 White House press release. The April 14 elections in Venezuela could allow the United States and Venezuela to repair a currently weak relationship, wrote Mark Sullivan in a report for the Congressional Research Service.
“(Chavez’s) administration and socialist agenda has been vehemently anti-U.S. from the outset,” Edwards said, adding that despite this tension, there is a history of trade between Venezuela and the United States.
The future depends on the outcome of the upcoming elections, Sullivan wrote in the report.
Contreras said Chavez’s 14 years in power leaves him wondering what the policies of Venezuela’s next president will be. “There’s a lot of concern of how this will affect the country long term. Is someone going to come and fix our problems?”