Venezuela in distress: LU student recounts kidnapping, others worry about families

Cars line up for gas on Bolivar Avenue in Nueva Esparta, Venezuela, after restrictions were announced by local officials.
Photo by Juan Requena

MIGUEL RINCAND Reporter

Samuel Corrales and his best friend were sitting on a bench in front of his family’s apartment building on a warm June night in 2011 when a dark green Fiat parked nearby.

At the time, the 21-year-old Lindenwood senior was living in Venezuela’s capital during the beginning of the country’s descent into crisis.

Corrales had received a call in his apartment from a friend who was getting dropped off for his birthday party. He had only been outside for about five minutes when three men wearing blue jeans and white unbuttoned shirts approached him with firearms.

I was scared; a lot of things were going through my mind. At a point I thought I was going to die.

Samuel Corrales

Corrales said the men ordered him and his friend into their car and blindfolded them for four hours while the kidnappers came to an agreement with their families.

“I was scared; a lot of things were going through my mind,” Corrales said. “At a point I thought I was going to die.”

A rising number of kidnappings in Venezuela have been gaining international attention, and the U.S. Department of State estimates that 80 percent of victims don’t go to authorities. At one point the Venezuelan government estimated 20 percent of the country’s crimes are committed by police, according to a 2016 NPR article.

The crime Corrales said he experienced is one of many pressing issues currently facing Venezuelans. Business Insider rated Corrales’ hometown, Caracas, as the most dangerous city in the world this year.

Venezuela was once one of the richest countries in Latin America because the country has the biggest oil reserves in the world. But plummeting oil prices over the last eight years have bankrupted the country.

Now inflation has made money nearly useless, while corruption and lack of food ha led to daily protests.

In 2013, 20 U.S. dollars was worth 629 Venezuelan bolivars. This year, 20 U.S. dollars is worth about 196,755 bolivars. According to CNN Money, Venezuelans can only withdraw the equivalent of 98 cents at a time from government-run banks.

Director of International Students and Scholars Emin Hajiyev said there are currently 52 Venezuelan students enrolled at Lindenwood. Last semester there were 70 Venezuelans. Twenty graduated, two did not return and four came as new students this semester.

For sophomore and Legacy/Lindenlink staff member Juan Requena, the situation in his country is out of control. He said Venezuelans are experiencing things many never thought they would.

“People are looking for food in the trash,” Requena said. “I’m not only talking about homeless people; I saw people with blazers and nice clothes looking for food in the trash because there isn’t much food.”

Illustration by Yukiho Nishibayashi

As of June, at least 54 percent of children checked into hospitals showed some signs of malnutrition, according to BBC News. World Health Organization international standards are considering some areas to be in humanitarian crises. Venezuelans are becoming so desperate that many now chase garbage trucks in search for food.

According to a May BBC article, the situation escalated when the Supreme Court announced that it was taking over the country’s National Assembly legislature in March, raising fears that President Nicolas Maduro is on a path toward becoming a dictator.

“When I arrived to Venezuela [over the summer], the people had been in protests for three months already,” Requena said. “Every single day people were protesting in every street. You don’t know how bad it is until you get there.”

According to an article from BBC News in September, daily protests since the takeover have left more than 100 Venezuelans dead.

They also led to a helicopter attack on the country’s Supreme Court on June 27 by a former police officer. Fifteen shots were fired from the helicopter into the interior of the ministry, and four grenades were dropped on the building, according to an article from BBC News in September.

“When I first arrived to Venezuela in August, I couldn’t get out of my house for two weeks because of the protests,” junior Luis Barrios said. “They were too dangerous.”

It is not a place where I would raise my kids. there is no way. At least not in the near future.

Samuel Corrales

In September, President Donald Trump added Venezuela to a new list of countries under a new travel ban list. The ban suspends entry for certain Venezuelan government officials and their immediate relatives.

Barrios said leaving his younger brother and sister in a country where the future is uncertain was the hardest part of coming back to Lindenwood.

For many Venezuelan students, being away from their families is very difficult because some family members are in the protests fighting for their country, and students are afraid something might happen to them.

“I looked at Venezuela as a place where I can come back once I have my family and my career formed,” Corrales said. “It is not a place where I would raise my kids. there is no way. At least not in the near future.”

Venezuelans at Lindenwood can afford the school for now, but many said they are uncertain if they will be able to afford another semester.

Corrales’ family no longer lives in Venezuela; they left the country two years ago because things were already escalating, and it was starting to become very dangerous, Corrales said.

When Corrales was finally released on his birthday in 2011, he said his kidnappers dropped him off four blocks from his apartment.

“This experience, more than traumatic, was a wake-up call that what is happening in Venezuela is no joke,” Corrales said. “It happened to me, and it easily can happen to anyone. In Venezuela there is too much insecurity.”

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