By Irla Atanda (’21)
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an estimated 6 million Venezuelans have fled their home country since 2014, after Nicolás Maduro succeeded longtime Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez as president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. For the past six years, the Maduro regime has been responsible for violating human rights, contributing to the economy’s hyperinflation, inducing widespread food insecurity throughout the country, and causing the societal and political collapse of democratic institutions. Venezuelans living outside of the country account for approximately ten percent of the country’s population, a majority of them seeking protection in neighboring countries. According to the Regional Inter-Agency Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V), Colombia hosts some 1.8 million displaced Venezuelans. (1)
As a part of the Notre Dame International’s Insider Project, I had the opportunity to visit Cali, Colombia in January 2019 and serve lunch at a soup kitchen to about a hundred Venezuelan migrants at the Archdiocese’s Centro de Orientación y Atención Para Migrantes y Refugiados (COAMIR) (2). At the soup kitchen, I spoke with a Venezuelan migrant mother who at the time worked for COAMIR but was previously a high school physics teacher in Venezuela. She talked about the hardships she experienced as a migrant, specifically with being separated from her family members, finding reliable employment, and maintaining hope for an end to her country’s turmoil. Her migratory experiences, and the emotions and opinions resulting from them, helped form her political views on the Venezuelan situation. Her opinions went beyond the information circulated by the traditional intellectuals, those dominating the political stage that reinforced the unjust power structures perpetuating the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis. She, along with the other 6 million displaced Venezuelans, had become, as Antonio Gramsci would attribute, an organic intellectual, an individual whose ideas have been shaped by historical memory and personal experiences. Often, these ideas are counter-hegemonic and challenge the dominant group of traditional intellectuals.
In this independent research, I examine general sentiments of displaced Venezuelans in Cali, Colombia on their perspectives on the Venezuelan crisis and the United States’ involvement. I argue that they provide a useful perspective for scholars and policy makers tasked with solving this humanitarian and political crisis. These interviewed Venezuelans are organic intellectuals capable of raising their voices and engaging in the political conversation regarding their country’s future.
I. Methodology – Cali, Colombia (Summer 2019)
In order to understand public opinions regarding the role the United States should play in Venezuela’s current politics, I conducted interviews and focus groups with 36 Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Cali, Colombia (Table 1). These semi-structured interviews and focus groups took place over the course of six weeks from July to August 2019 in various locations in Cali with approximately 60 percent of them occurring in the participants’ homes or neighborhoods, 35 percent in the Archdiocese’s COAMIR, and the remaining five percent in miscellaneous locations such as coffee shops or workplaces. These interactions lasted between twenty and ninety minutes and were all conducted in Spanish. (Since this project was originally conducted for my International Development Studies (IDS) capstone, the questions asked in this interview, in addition to those about the United States’ role in Venezuela, were about shifts in familial structure as a result of migration, integration into Colombian society, and access to education for migrant children. These questions can be found in the Appendix.) Given my fluency in Spanish, I did not have an interpreter, however, I had multiple native Spanish speakers review my proposed questions as well as inform me on Venezuelan and Colombian Spanish variations and slang.
|Type of Research Method||Number Conducted|
|Individual Interview||19 (n=19)|
|Focus Group – Couples||5 (n=10)|
|Focus Group – Family Members (not couples)||2 (n=5)|
|Focus Group – Non-related Migrants||2 (n=4)|
Table 1. Classification of interviews and focus groups conducted.
I recruited the first series of participants in my study through my partnership with COAMIR. COAMIR’s contacts consisted mostly of other Venezuelan migrants involved with the Archdiocese’s mission or religious life and Venezuelans connected to other organizations dedicated to meeting the needs of the displaced Venezuelan community in Cali, including Afuera de la Caja, and Colonia de Venezolanos en Colombia (ColVenz). I recruited the remaining participants through snowball sampling. This sampling technique resulted in interviews with Venezuelan migrants who had lived in Cali for varying lengths of time and had different documentation statuses. These deviations may have also reduced the cohesiveness of the results given that documentation status is can greatly affect access—or perception to access—to various needs and therefore influences the process of integration into a host society.
Though I had a list of questions that guided the interviews and focus groups, these discussions had a less restrictive structure so the participants could freely express their experience and opinions. Because this is an ongoing crisis, statistics and quantitative data regarding many facets of the Venezuelan crisis are constantly changing. This quantitative limitation, in addition to the fact that experiences with migration and integration are highly personal, necessitated the qualitative nature of my study, which helped provide a more holistic picture of the migrant experience. Though interviews and focus groups are not as generalizable as other quantitative methods such as surveys, they provided illuminating details that other methods fail to capture.
The structure of the qualitative research questions proceeded as follows: introductions, personal migration narratives, familial relations and access to education, social integration, U.S. involvement in Venezuela, and hopes for the future. In addition to discussing these previously mentioned topics, every participant was asked about their documentation status in Colombia in order to have a constant factor to compare the different migrants’ experience. Each interview and focus group was audio recorded once I was given verbal consent. All respondents were briefed before the start of each interview on the purpose of my study (Each respondent verbally consented to their participation in accordance with the International Review Board’s (IRB) approval guidelines. [University of Notre Dame Protocol ID: 19-02-5184]). All interviews were transcribed and analyzed through NVivo, a qualitative data analysis software. I formed codes to compare across the different interviews and focus groups based on: (1) positive and negative sentiments regarding U.S. involvement in Venezuela, (2) the type of intervention called for, if the interviewee desired U.S. intervention, and (3) mentions of politicians, specifically Hugo Chávez, Nicolas Maduro, and Juan Guaidó.
Of the 36 Venezuelans interviewed, 19 of the respondents were interviewed together because they were either couples (n=10), family members (n=5), or non-related migrants that left Venezuela together (n=4). Though a majority of the Venezuelan interview respondents (n=26) were female, they widely varied across age range, documentation, and length of time in Colombia (Table 2).
|Demographic Variable||Interview and Focus Group Participants|
|Sex: Male Female|
|Age: 20-29 years old 30-39 years old 40-49 years old Over 50 years old|
16 11 6 3
|Legal Status: Has Documentation Does Not Have Documentation Colombian Nationality|
13 17 6
|Time Spent in Colombia: Less than 6 months 6-12 months 12-24 months 2 or more years Unspecified|
9 14 6 6 1
Table 2. Breakdown of general demographic information. Age of participants varied widely, ranging from 20 to 72 years—a majority of respondents were under the age of 50; Legal status in this case refers to legal entry into Colombia. The documentation required for this legal status consisted of either the Permiso Especial de Permanencia (PEP), a sealed passport, or some sort of entrance visa; All Venezuelan migrants interviewed in this research had been in Cali for less than 3 years. The time spent in Colombia refers to the time they had spent in the country at the time of the interview.
B. Intervention as a Spectrum
Between the years 1898 and 1994, the U.S. government intervened in Latin America a total of at least 41 times. Seventeen of those cases involved direct intervention such as the use of U.S. military forces, intelligence agents, or local citizens employed by U.S. government agencies; in another 24 cases, the U.S. government played an indirect role by supporting local actors (3).
Although direct U.S. involvement in Latin American regime changes appear to have decreased since the end of the Cold War, discourse on the Trump Administrations’ involvement in providing a peaceful transition of power in Venezuela resurged in 2019 when the United States, and over 50 other nations, recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as president after Maduro’s illegitimate reelection. This discourse has not only been present at the governmental level, but at the local level by the people most affected by the current situation. These voices, specifically the 36 Venezuelan migrants in this study, called for a spectrum of U.S. intervention, from the use of military force to sanctions to no involvement at all. Table 3 demonstrates the responses given by the 36 Venezuelan interviewees when asked, “What do you think the United States’ role should be in Venezuela’s current crisis?”
The data shows overwhelming support for military intervention. Eighty-three percent of Venezuelans interviewed claimed they wanted some form of intervention— with a majority of those calling for a military intervention. A close analysis of 4 interviewees’ quotes and personal background provides information on what influenced some Venezuelans to call for U.S. military involvement while others developed opposing sentiments towards U.S. intervention and Guaidó. The quotes selected in this chapter come from migrants of diverse backgrounds that are unified by the experience of migrating as caminantes across the Colombia Venezuela border. Caminantes are Venezuelan migrants who make their journey on foot.
|Response – Type of Intervention||Number of Respondents|
|Multilateral Intervention/ Involvement from the International Community||4|
|Humanitarian Aid Intervention||2|
|Calls for U.S. Intervention (but unsure of intervention method)||3|
|Supporting Local Opposition (no direct intervention)||2|
|No U.S. involvement||4|
|Unsure of Intervention||1|
|Abstained from Answering||1|
Table 3. Breakdown of type of intervention called for by the Venezuelan respondents. Interviews answered the question: What do you think the United States’ role should be in Venezuela’s current crisis? The definition for these forms of intervention can be found in the Appendix.
C. A Close Reading: Direct Quotes from 4 Venezuelan Migrants
In this section, I will analyze the reasoning behind select Venezuelan migrants’ justification for the use of U.S. military force as the solution for Venezuela’s political crisis. The following migrants, whose responses I have translated and interpreted, have been given pseudonyms to protect their identities. I selected the following interviewees and their responses because they offered a unique perspective on how their personal migratory experiences influenced their public opinions on Venezuela’s current situation and their proposed solutions to the crisis.
1. Francisco Velez
Francisco Velez is a 20-year-old male migrant who arrived in Cali in April 2019, 3 months before this interview was conducted. He entered Colombia without legal documentation. Before meeting Francisco, a Colombian Red Cross volunteer told me that he was a “troubled youth” who lived in a small two-bedroom house with 17 non-related Venezuelan migrants and refugees (including children). The house, provided by Cali’s local government, is located in the Barrio Siloé, a massive hillside neighborhood that resembles a Brazilian favela and is one of the most dangerous places in the city. Prior to migrating, Francisco worked as a taxi driver with a 33-year-old male migrant with whom he currently lives and migrated with. (I conducted a focus group with Francisco and this 33-year-old migrant. They are not related.) After speaking with Francisco, I inferred where the Red Cross volunteer’s assumptions came from. Francisco’s body language appeared to be very laid-back, but edgy and hardened by life. He had intense eye-contact and was often the first to respond to my questions. He spoke with a broken Spanish and often used slang in his responses. He wore all black and sported many tattoos on his arms.
Prior to asking him about his opinions on U.S. involvement in Venezuela, he told me about his migratory journey. He knew no one in Cali, but he also understood that it would not be safe for him to stay in his country. Though his entire family remained in Venezuela, the cost of living in a new place with nobody outweighed the cost of staying in Venezuela with his loved ones. He described crossing the border as the most difficult task he has ever embarked on: He crossed under the Venezuelan-Colombian border bridge illegally, hitchhiked his way from the border town of Cúcuta to Cali, walked through the cold climate in Bogotá, and worked odd jobs in construction to generate enough income to simultaneously sustain himself in Colombia and send remittances back to Venezuela. Francisco expressed resentment towards his Colombian employers who took advantage of his undocumented state and exploited his labor. He expressed his disdain towards Maduro’s administration and explained why the use of force is necessary to restore Venezuela’s damaged economy:
What [the United States] has to do is get Maduro from the Miraflores Palace and send a drone to kill him. That man is finishing with the country and is not doing anything. Venezuela is a country rich in minerals and resources and that is all being damaged. We are worse off than all other countries. I would prefer that the United States intervene in Venezuela and dollarize the economy.
Francisco’s call for action is forceful and specific. His personal experience with forced displacement, exploitation, and economic and emotional hardships contributed to his desire for the United States to send orders to kill Maduro. In his mind, the United States has proven itself capable of defeating any country with its armed forces and advanced weapons, but what he does not necessarily understand is that the U.S. government will do as much as it can as to change the situation in Venezuela, short of violently storming Maduro’s Palace. “Since the United States currently finds itself in a sincere partnership phase with Latin American governments, so violently removing a dictator is not in U.S. interests.” (4)
Additionally, Francisco’s language towards Maduro is full of animosity. He emphasizes how little respect he has for Maduro by calling him “that man.” He never said “president” when talking about Maduro throughout the interview. He is so fed up with his personal situation and his crippled resource-rich nation that he would “prefer” to get it all over with and have the United States assassinate Maduro. The thought of having some immediate relief to the current dictatorship weighs heavier than the probable negative outcomes that can come as a result of a violent U.S. intervention.
As a migrant, Francisco belongs to a new group of organic intellectuals who have formed their own political opinions in opposition to the dominant ruling forces. His day-to-day reality of belonging to the “worst” country shaped his understanding of the ruling class, in this case Maduro’s Administration, and his opinion regarding how regime change can be achieved in his country. Not only has this oppressive regime influenced his political thought, but so have the traditional intellectuals of the opposition, these members consisting of Juan Guaidó and his allies in the National Assembly. Francisco does not listen to Guaidó because he believes that “every politician is corrupt.” In fact, he does not hold the dominant narrative of Guaidó’s being Venezuela’s savior since he thinks there exists the possibility that his presidency could only further decimate the country. For now, he feels as if all they, the displaced Venezuelans, can do is “wait and see and hope the country doesn’t die” as they raise their voices against Maduro’s oppressive regime. He specifically wants the United States to hear that a potential intervention and economic stabilization through dollarization could revive Venezuela. In a way, Francisco sees the United States as the “doctor that can save Venezuela,” perpetuating the dominant narrative of the United States as the protector of the Western Hemisphere, originally inspired by the Monroe Doctrine. The school of thought claimed by the traditional intellectuals in the 20th century has become the organic intellectuals’ current plea.
2. Linda Guzman
Like Francisco, Linda, a 46-year-old female migrant who has been living in Colombia for two years, also expressed positive sentiments that welcomed U.S. military intervention to assist in a peaceful governmental transition and oversee the execution of President Maduro. Linda, however, comes from a different standpoint than Francisco. She did not face the many legal issues Venezuelans have experienced when entering other South American countries. She obtained Colombian citizenship through her Colombian father who is originally from Cali. However, she still endured the same arduous migratory journey Francisco faced when he made his way to Cali from the border town of Cúcuta. She recounted the horrors of having to flee her country with four small children as a single mother. Though she did not walk like Francisco and the other thousands of caminantes did, tears welled up in her eyes as she talked about seeing her 1- and 3-year-old children at the time become ill and vomit as their bus traversed Colombia’s Andean Mountains.
Though Linda had some time to become adjusted to her new home, her inability to find steady employment at her age, her children’s exposure to xenophobia from their Colombian classmates, and separation from some family members continually remind her, in spite of her Colombian nationality, of her societal displacement. Not only does Linda feel the pressures of caring for herself and displaced children, but she is also plagued by the stress of sending money to her eldest son and elderly mother who stayed back in her home of Isla Margarita, Venezuela. This burden contributed to her feelings regarding how U.S. involvement could help “fix” her country:
Venezuelans who are still in the country are surviving because they have family on the outside supporting them. For now, my hope is first in God and then in U.S. intervention. Venezuela is not going to fix itself with dialogue. These peace talks are a lie. Right now, the United States is avoiding an intervention, but there will come a time in which Mr. Trump will need to bring military force to Venezuela and anyone who opposes this force or continues supporting Maduro’s regime will have to die.
Linda’s geographical standpoint— referring to the fact that she finds herself 2,202.6 kilometers away from home— prompted her forceful language to become resolved on an impending, unavoidable intervention. Watching her country collapse from the outside proved to her that the current peaceful intervention options could not lead to a successful expulsion of Maduro’s dictatorship. Because of this reality, the United States, specifically President Trump, would reach a breaking point that would lead him to deploy U.S. military force to Venezuela. Not only did she allude to this imminent intervention, but she has processed the fact that everyone stands vulnerable to the use of force, noting that death will come to anyone supporting Maduro and opposing the United States. When asked about her hope for the future, she spoke on behalf of all displaced Venezuelans by stating that all their greatest desire is “to be reunited with [their] family” and the “salvation of [their] beautiful country so [they] can return home.” Linda firmly believed that the only way this dream could become a reality is if the United States implemented military force in Venezuela to bring their country’s economic, political, and humanitarian turmoil to an end.
Linda ended the interview by thanking the United States for its continued involvement in the region, explicitly naming President Trump, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), and the U.S. armed forces. In fact, she mentioned how the United States has historically been characterized as a global power interested in absorbing smaller countries, but in the case of Venezuela, she would make an exception to this mentality. She firmly supports Juan Guaidó, who has been “prepared mentally, psychologically, and strategically by the U.S. government.” Linda was one of the few interviewees who still held exceptionally positive opinions towards Guaidó, compared to the majority whose hopes in Guaidó waned as 2019 progressed and the situation remained the same (Table 4). While 83 percent of the interviewees mentioned they welcomed some form of intervention, and 57 percent of those who wanted U.S. involvement called for U.S. military forces, only 4 of the 36 respondents still had hope in the U.S.-backed Venezuelan opposition politician. It is important to recognize this seemingly contradictory trend between the overwhelming majority of Venezuelan interviewees who did not support the opposition leader endorsed by the United States yet believed that U.S. involvement was necessary (Table 3). This interesting finding suggests the complexities found in the personal formation of political thought and public opinion.
|Response – Opinions on Guaidó||Number of Respondents|
|Believe Guaidó’s involvement will be successful; Holds positive sentiments||4|
|Positive opinions have waned (still remaining hopeful)||17|
|No longer believe Guaidó will be successful in overthrowing Maduro’s regime||13|
|Abstained from answering||2|
Table 4. Breakdown of general opinions regarding interim president Juan Guiadó. Interviews answered the question: What are your opinions on interim president Juan Guaidó?
3. Andrew Hernandez
Before migrating to Cali, Andrew worked as a systems technician. Now, his employment consists of any odd jobs he can find from carpentry to construction. After speaking with Andrew, I realized that he was a passionate individual who highly valued education. In fact, he blames the Venezuelan population’s lack of social and cultural education for their country’s collapsed state, flagging that “Venezuelans have become too dependent on government hand-me-downs, so they got used to mediocrity.” This dependency and lack of initiative aided his distrust towards the opposition, believing that the general Venezuelan population had “become accustomed to a savior that will disappoint.” He, like Emilio and Armando, Venezuelan expats residing in Doral, Florida, believed that these false saviors were Hugo Chávez in the 1990s and Juan Guaidó today:
I agree with Trump’s support for the Venezuelan opposition, but there are many things I don’t like about the opposition… I am very disappointed by the opposition’s efforts based on my experiences with Venezuelan politics, specifically participating in marches and elections. I think Guaidó has had many opportunities to get the country out of its current situation, but he has wasted his time trying to negotiate with Maduro and his cabinet. I have expressed my opinions on Facebook, and I imagine that someone from his team has read my complaints.
Though Andrew was critical of Guaidó, he still agreed with Donald Trump’s efforts in Venezuela, in spite of the fact that the United States’ efforts consisted of recognizing Guaidó as the interim president. It can be assumed then that Andrew must really only support the economic sanctions placed on Venezuela’s state oil company (PDVSA), government, and central bank. But surprisingly, Andrew also strongly criticized the effectiveness of these sanctions, stating that these sanctions only brought “hunger and misery to the poor,” mirroring Maduro’s claims that U.S. sanctions constitute a new form of “economic and political terrorism.” (5) Andrew’s support for the United States seems contradictory, but in reality, his varied opinions highlight the complexities of not only the Venezuelan crisis, but of all political attitudes. A recent experiment demonstrated the impact individuals’ social and political worlds have on shaping political attitudes and the flexibility of certain political attitudes when faced with false feedback that opposes these people’s previously held beliefs. (6) Political divides and contradictions regarding the Venezuelan crisis inflate as a result of information bubbles, fake news, and political acrimony. Andrew has been exposed to countless narratives about Maduro, Guiadó, and Trump. This spectrum of political ideas and personal experiences have influenced Andrew’s identity as a political theorist because his opinions appear to coincide and contradict one another (i.e., his support for the United States’ involvement in Venezuela, but disagreement towards the U.S.- backed opposition). Life is not linear, and any crisis affects political thinking. Andrew is just another example of how a single standpoint has the potential to influence an individual’s intellect and identity as a political and vernacular theorist.
These opinions regarding U.S. involvement and disappointment regarding the current state raises new questions: Why do these Venezuelan migrants believe U.S. intervention will solve their country’s political and economic demise while they do not have faith in the political entity the United States supports? These seemingly opposing stances also prompt the question: If not Guaidó then who? Though Linda still held positive feelings towards opposition leader Guaidó, it must be questioned why her views toward Guaidó have remained so hopeful since she claims peaceful dialogues, the opposition leader’s primary method for regime change, do not work. In fact, her apprehensions towards the effectiveness of peace talks have been validated by previous attempts at peaceful discussions mediated by the Norwegian government. Originally Maduro complied with Norway’s mediation efforts and acknowledged that his delegation was “ready to work on a comprehensive agenda and move towards the signing of agreements.” (7) Three months later, Maduro pulled out of these peace talks with the Venezuelan opposition, stating that he could not “dialogue with people who have tried to assassinate, overthrow and fill the country with violence.” (8) His sentiments parallel those of migrants like Francisco who desire his death at the hands of U.S. drones. These migrants’ political stances reaffirm the idea of them being organic intellectuals since the traditional intellectuals, primarily Maduro, have counteracted upon their call for intervention.
4. Esteban Lopez
These individuals’ migratory and political experiences shaped their positive sentiments toward U.S. involvement in Venezuela, specifically by using military force, but similar migratory experience and media exposure led a couple of migrants to believe U.S. military force should not be the answer to solving the crisis. Esteban, a Venezuelan- Colombian who has lived in Cali for three years with his wife and three sons, also expressed discontent toward the general state of Venezuela’s cultural education. He blamed Venezuelans themselves for their country’s downfall. He compared their Venezuela to a holocaust in which the population was being destroyed on a mass scale in order to be rebuilt again. He described this mass exodus as a punishment since Venezuelans needed to learn how to respect their country and realize their privilege as a nation (i.e., Venezuela’s natural resources). This intense image reflects the unprecedented scale of the migration crisis. As someone experiencing this “holocaust,” Esteban believed that all Venezuelans residing outside of their country would have to survive this crisis in order to return home and “bring all the things learned abroad so that [they] can become a better nation.”
In addition to creating a climate of respect and education in Venezuela, Esteban advocated for a less extreme intervention in Venezuela. In fact, he was one of 3 interviewees to admonish the right-wing political party and mention some form of middle ground. He stated how he saw no difference between Maduro and Guaidó’s bureaucratic positions:
Guaidó is just another politician from the extreme right. In fact, I’ve realized that governments from the right or left do not work- there needs to be some middle ground. His extremism is why I see Guaidó as a television actor who talks but does nothing. I criticize him, and right-winged people, because they always ask for intervention, but they don’t know the consequences of a U.S. military intervention. It is extremely brutal. These soldiers are trained to kill and take power away at all costs. Imagine how crazy this would all be! Remember Chile in the Pinochet era? I don’t want that for my country. No— this all needs to end in a pacific manner.
Esteban’s lived experience of circulation of neoliberal ideology in Latin America and the privatization of national industries in the 1980s, along with his historical knowledge influenced his negative opinion towards not only Guiadó, but all politicians. Left-wing dictatorships crumbled throughout the region from Peru to Brazil to Chile and were replaced by authoritarian rulers that maintained their power structures for the decade. With the exception of Cuba, all twenty countries conventionally counted as part of Latin America “were either governed by a democratic regime or experienced major political changes involving expanded political competition and oppositional rights.”(9) This political transition resulted in the painful economic restructuring of the state and market in the economy. Specifically, in Venezuela in 1989, Esteban experienced the first direct elections of provincial governors, mayor, and local councilors resulting from this ideological shift. Despite these free elections, confidence in political parties dwindled as the neoliberal ideology disproportionately affected the poor, which brought Hugo Chávez and his promises “to solve national problems virtually single- handedly and without political parties” to the public eye. (10)
From the very beginning, Esteban saw the rise of Chávez as something to consider with caution. This skepticism proved correct as the beneficiaries of Chávez’s Bolivarian socialist revolution disproportionately impacted the poor and as President Maduro’s administration continued to mismanage Venezuela’s economy. Esteban’s suspicions regarding politicians’ rhetoric from the onset of “Chavismo” influenced his opinions regarding the current leader whose pompous words once brought hope to Venezuela’s dire situation but has now left them disillusioned and displaced around the Western Hemisphere. He saw no difference between Guaidó’s right-wing political campaign and the established left-wing government. Guaidó’s policy goals consist of neoliberal inspired plans to privatize services, like telecommunications, electricity, cement, and, most importantly, Venezuela’s oil (which was nationalized as part of the Bolivarian revolution).
The fear of an extreme right-wing government take-over through military intervention influenced Esteban’s opinions of Guaidó as a U.S.-controlled puppet who has the potential to become the “New Pinochet.” General Augusto Pinochet assumed power in Chile following a U.S.-backed military coup d’etat on September 11, 1973, that overthrew socialist President Salvador Allende. Pinochet ended civilian rule and established a military dictatorship characterized by the privatization of state-owned companies and human rights violations. His use of history demonstrates how the possibility of repeating it influenced his intellectual political opinions. Pinochet became a symbol of human rights violations and corruption throughout the Americas. During Pinochet’s rule, more than 3,200 people were executed or disappeared, and thousands more were detained, tortured, and exiled. A Chilean commission on human rights recognized a total of 40,108 victims. Though both of these situations are unique and cannot be simply compared by the number of people affected, the images of torture from Chile’s military dictatorship— originally backed by the United States— has influenced the way Esteban views the results of any additional U.S.-sponsored intervention.
Esteban was not the only person to mention the lethal power of the U.S. military. Maria, a 46-year-old Venezuelan mother who migrated to Cali in July 2018, a few months after her husband managed to acquire some economic stability, also raised some concerns. She now lives in Cali with her 3 children and husband, who all have the Permiso de Permanencia (PEP). She spoke about how seeing her children face hunger prompted her and her husband to make the journey across the border. The entirety of the interview consisted of her speaking about the food and medicine shortages in Venezuela, her hopes for her children, and her longing to return to Venezuela. In spite of these intense desires and opinions, she still could not bring herself to believe that sending U.S. military forces to Venezuela could be the solution to the crisis. In fact, she feared the outcome of this kind of intervention, praying to God that the “American Marines do not intervene because they are trained to kill anyone as mandated.” The thought of having American Marines on the ground in South America was enough to help Maria and Esteban form political opinions that oppose the use of U.S. armed forces in Venezuela.
Though U.S. involvement in Chile in the 1970s looks differently than its current involvement in Venezuela, Esteban fears the worst when it comes to the United States’ military forces meddling with its neighbors in the South. He described these forces as “extremely brutal” and trained to kill at all costs. The image of the United States as a global superpower with the most powerful military has become ingrained in the social fabric of the Western Hemisphere. This depiction of U.S. military exceptionalism has not only led to over half of the interviewees in this study to call for this superpower’s military intervention, but also a few of them to fear its power.
It is clear that even within a small sample of voices, the process of political formation and vernacular activism and theorization is a personal endeavor characterized by many seemingly contradictory stances. In spite of the fact that the words these voices are saying may not be in line with the opinions shared by the right or left, it is necessary to include their opinions in the larger conversation since often these people are the ones drastically impacted by the decision-making process. In this case, the Venezuelan migrants need to be recognized as independent beings who have the power to enlighten the conversation surrounding the potential solutions to their country’s crisis.
Even within the small sample of Venezuelan migrants living in Cali, Colombia, there existed diverse opinions on the role of the United States in their country’s political and economic crisis. Politicians and academics often envision migrants and refugees as a unified group of vulnerable bodies instead of unique individuals experiencing the collective trauma of displacement. As the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis continues to unfold into one of the largest refugee crises in modern history, it can be helpful to see the 4.6 million Venezuelans living outside their country as organic intellectuals who voice their experientially-formed political opinions. This small subset of displaced Venezuelans shared the experience of crossing the Venezuela-Colombia border, family separation, and learning the history behind U.S. exceptionalism and their Venezuelan economic mismanagement. These experiences have influenced a majority of their political cry for U.S. involvement in their country. Despite the migrants’ diversity of thought, there exists a unifying force created by the trauma inflicted on people forced to leave their home.
These opinions regarding U.S. military intervention were not confined to the Southern Hemisphere. The same cry is being echoed 1,560 miles away from Cali. José Antonio Colina has called Doral, Florida his “temporary home” since entering the United States in December 2003. Today, Colina serves as a political activist who openly condemns Maduro’s current presidency and the Chavista ideology as a whole. Prior to seeking protection in the United States, Colina served as a lieutenant in Venezuela’s National Bolivarian Armed Forces for five years before Chávez came to power. He later joined the Military of Plaza Altamira, a group of soldiers who opposed Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution and called for his resignation as president. He joined these soldiers because he did not think it appropriate for Chávez, then a military official, to use military forces to remove the established government. Colina also condemned the presence of Cuban politicians and Colombia guerillas in Venezuela, as well as the human rights violations inflicted by the National Guard. His military group led the coup against Chávez on October 24, 2002. Chávez’s government accused Colina of planting bombs in the Spanish Embassy in Venezuela which led to an arrest warrant issued against him in February 2003, forcing him to flee his country. He remained in Colombia for a few months before arriving in the United States.
Following his arrival in the States, Colina requested political asylum, but was denied his plea after fourteen months of hearings since he had existing accusations against him by the Venezuela government. However, he did find protection under the Convention of the United Nations against Torture, which meant he could not be deported back to Venezuela, since he would be at risk of becoming a victim of torture under Chávez’s government. He was detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE) for an additional fourteen months and then released but denied extradition to Venezuela. Colina is still a “principal enemy outside of Venezuela,” but his inability to live in his own country has not stopped him from being vocal against Venezuela’s current political, economic, and social state:
Venezuela is a failed state and has become a threat to regional stability. The severity of this threat cannot simply be treated by diplomacy and sanctions. Eventually, military force will need to be used. The United States and other allies need to contemplate the use of a multilateral force. The U.S. government has to consider why this force is necessary: Venezuela is run by narcotrafficking, corrupt leaders who are allied with Russia, China, Iran, and Cuba… Of course, Trump is not going to invade now. He’s about to enter an election year and his reelection campaign would be over if any U.S. soldiers are killed in Venezuela. But once he is reelected, he can reevaluate U.S. military force… And once Maduro falls, I will go back home.
As someone who served in the Venezuelan military and participated in the 2002 coup, Colina’s personal experience led him to call for U.S. intervention. He is ardent about the threat the socialist presence in Venezuela has for the greater Latin American region and demands the U.S. government consider the use of force. Though Colina does not explicitly call for a drone to kill Maduro like Francisco did, he believed that force would resolve the crisis. Colina’s geographical positionality within the United States, the country being called upon to initiate the intervention, must also be considered when analyzing his call for intervention since he has additional information regarding the complexities that come with the timing of U.S. interventions that Francisco did not possess back in Colombia. Colina took into account the upcoming 2020 presidential elections and noted that no forceful intervention would come from the United States. The immediacy of this call for military intervention present in Francisco’s interview was absent from Colina’s interview since Colina understood how domestic issues influence foreign policy. In spite of this additional understanding, Colina still longed for the day in which the United States would help with regime change. Both of these men, regardless of where they found themselves geographically believed that one day U.S. intervention would come. And on that day, Colina, and the millions of Venezuelans across the globe, could start to find their way back home.
As 82.470.8 million people currently find themselves forcibly displaced, it is important to ensure that the voices of the people most affected by diasporas are heard. The traditional way of peacebuilding and conflict resolution have excluded these voices. But in order to inspire real, effective change in the myriad of complex humanitarian crises around the world, the voices of those found at the grassroot level need to be uplifted. In this case, the voices of the Venezuelan pueblo need to be added to the conversation. Many Venezuelans from el pueblo believe that that bulk of change in Venezuela will come once the Americans forcefully change the government. Though the probability that the United States sends a drone to Plaza Altamira seems low, a culture of sincere partnership between Latin America and the United States can be cultivated with the incorporation of the vernacular theorizing of the millions of organic intellectuals currently displaced and longing to go home.
- Interagency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela, “R4V Latin America and the Caribbean, Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants in the Region – February 2022,” accessed April 4, https://www.r4v.info/en/document/r4v-latin-america-and-caribbean-venezuelan-refugees-and-migrants-region-february-2022.
- University of Notre Dame, “Transformación,” https://www.nd.edu/stories/transformacion/.
- John Coatsworth, “United States Interventions,” ReVista, Harvard Review of Latin America, accessed March 25, 2020, https://revista.drclas.harvard.edu/book/united-states-interventions.
- Prof. Brian Fonseca, University of Miami, from interview.
- Jennifer Hansle, “US claims latest Venezuela sanctions put Maduro ‘on notice,’” CNN, August 6, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/06/politics/us-venezuela-sanctions-executive-order/index.html.
- Thomas Strandberg, David Sivén, Lars Hall, Petter Johansson, and Philip Pärnamets. “False beliefs and confabulation can lead to lasting changes in political attitudes.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 147, no. 9 (2018): 1382.
- Nicólas Maduro, Twitter post on May 25, 2019, https://twitter.com/NicolasMaduro/status/1132447898346631169.
- Rachelle Krygier, “Maduro’s government pulls out of talks with Venezuelan opposition over U.S. sanctions,” The Washington Post, August 8, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/maduro-government-decides-to-pull out-of-talks-with-venezuela-opposition/2019/08/07/81e0f2d6-b97f-11e9-bad6-609f75bfd97f_story.html.
- Karen Remmer, “The process of democratization in Latin America,” Studies in comparative international development 27, no. 4 (1992), 5.
- Omar Encarnación, “The Strange Persistence of Latin American Democracy,” World Policy Journal 20, no. 4 (2003), 35.
Irla Atanda graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2021 as an American Studies major. She wrote her senior thesis in the American Studies department, this is a chapter from that thesis.
In-Depth Interview Questions in Cali, Colombia (Translated)
Can you please introduce yourself?
What is your name? How long have you been in Colombia?
When did you leave Venezuela?
Immigration Narrative/ Identity
Can you tell me about your life in Venezuela prior to migrating?
Occupation, Education, etc.
When did you start your migration journey?
Why did you decide to leave and why is Colombia your final destination? Who did you migrate with?
Did you know anyone already in Colombia prior to leaving Venezuela?
Are your children currently enrolled in school here in Colombia?
How are your children liking school?
What do they say about their school, teacher, friends?
How long have they been out of school?
What have been your plans in terms of enrolling them in school?
Do your children feel accepted in schools?
Do you feel welcomed in Colombia? How come?
Can you describe the most important role you play in your family?
For people who migrated as a family unit: How has your family dealt with this migratory period?
For people who migrated alone: How have you dealt with migrating alone? Where is most of your family now?
Hopes for the Future
As time has passed, how does your experience compare to what you expected? Did you expect anything different?
What has been your greatest source of joy?
Can you tell me about something that has happened to you since you’ve arrived in Colombia?
U.S. Involvement in Venezuela
What do you think the United States’ role should be in Venezuela’s current crisis? What are your opinions on interim president Juan Guiadó?
Interview Questions in Doral, Florida
Can you tell me a little bit about your life in Venezuela?
What was your childhood like?
What made Venezuela so special?
Opinions on Chavez
What did you think of Chavez’s presidency from when he first came to power to his death?
Opinions on Maduro and Current State
How do you maintain your connection to Venezuela today?
Do you have friends/ family in Venezuela? What are they saying?
Opinions on U.S.- Venezuela Relations
What do you think the United States should do in Venezuela right now? What do you think the outcomes would be of what you suggested?
What do you think of Guido and the support he’s received by the U.S./ other “democratic” countries?