Students collect money, supplies to assist Venezuelans


Hannah Baade

Paola Silva-Perdomo speaks at a Venezuela Suncoast Association rally in support of the Venezuelan people.

By Ivy Bennett-Ford and Hannah Baade

Canned food, medical supplies, reams of copy paper. That’s what Anna Paz asked for of Hillsborough’s students every morning for two weeks. Why? To aid Venezuelans absorbed in a violent military conflict with Nicolas Maduro’s government.

The drive was conducted by SGA’s president, Paz. She admits that she was a little worried for a while. After a week and a half, it seemed as though no one had donated anything, so SGA pitched in supplies. And that was only as much as 22 people could bring in. By the end of the drive, the only supplies donated were from SGA members; the connection to Hillsborough students seemed to be absent.

Student, activist, Venezuelan
The drive was inspired by another student.

When Paola Silva-Perdomo left her home in Venezuela in 2003, she and her family did not experience the American Dream. It was not an adventure, either. Silva-Perdomo’s mother’s name was published on a list of other outspoken anti-Chavez citizens after participating in a general strike; fearing the worst, the small family fled the country to come to America. Yet things have changed, become more violent under Maduro.

I still consider it my home. It has all of my memories, my family and friends in it.”

— Paola Silvia-Perdomo, student activist

“I still consider it my home,” Silva-Perdomo said of Venezuela. “It has all of my memories, my family and friends in it.”

As a result of the cultural shock at the age of 7, she has difficulty identifying with any one place: America or a Venezuela “that doesn’t exist.”

If you do go to visit, Silva-Perdomo said, it is imperative that one does not speak English, or wear American clothes, jewelry, or even take out a cellphone. If she were to, on the few occasions that she’s visited her homeland, Silva-Perdomo would run the risk of kidnap and subsequent ransom. According to Silva-Perdomo, the people of Venezuela live disparate, poverty-stricken lives that the government has not been able to relieve.

Why Venezuela is the way it is
Hugo Chavez, the late former president of Venezuela, came to power in 1999 in order to reallocate the wealth gleaned through oil production. Venezuela is responsible for a huge portion of South America’s oil production; the recent political turmoil has prevented that wealth from being disseminated. Consequently, Venezuelans live in poverty.

To further aggravate the situation, Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s successor, has responded to any call for change with violence. As of March 2014, 28 people had died in street warfare, according to the BBC.

The United States has not been able to alleviate the situation. Relations between it and Venezuela have been volatile at best since the death of Chavez. Venezuela blames the United States for the persistence of the opposition within the South American country, which to some extent is true; the United States funded the opposition as it embarked on this latest coup de etat.

Her voice for those who cannot speak
In addition to poverty, Venezuelans suffer in silence. According to Silva-Perdomo, the recent violence between Maduro’s administration and citizens has forced the people into a kind of global “isolation.” They’re prohibited from having access to the media, and therefore the world. That’s why SGA collected stationary and copy paper: so the protestors could write about what they are experiencing.

It is difficult to try to voice your opinion when you know the consequence is more violent than can be expressed in words.”

— Paola Silvia-Perdomo, student activist

“It is difficult to try to voice your opinion when you know the consequence is more violent than can be expressed in words,” said Silva-Perdomo.

Silva-Perdomo says that the most difficult part is to go to a school where such things as revolution are nearly inconceivable.

Yet there are those, like Paz, who can comprehend a little bit. Paz reasons that “her family experienced the same thing with Castro in Cuba,” and “Paola is a good friend,” so support for Venezuelans as her service project seemed only natural.

On the verge of tears, Silva-Perdomo admits that she feels the situation in Venezuela has reached “rock bottom” and that the “only place to go is up.”

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