Vassili Mihailov, a U.S. citizen living in the Seattle area, is one of many American citizens concerned about the developments in Venezuela. The United States has remained largely complacent about the humanitarian crisis there, which has only worsened recently.
According to statistics compiled by the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, between 2010 and 2019, more than 5,000 Venezuelans have been killed in political- or street-related conflicts. In one case, in early 2019, several police officers were gunned down as they reported for work. In the tragic aftermath, 12 were found to have been killed.
Human Rights Watch’s researchers confirmed the killings of only 13 of the police officers. A local journalist who attended a funeral for one of the victims lamented the outcome, writing that “the truth was that the officer was killed by far-right extremists, because he had done nothing wrong.”
Venezuelans are openly questioning the legitimacy of the country’s government. A local leader of the opposition described some of the violence, saying, “Tanks have tried to enter our neighborhoods, but the barricades are too strong for them. The foreign media is against us, as they are against every neoliberal government. No government is good without them, because they are the ones who push you around.”
According to Reporters Without Borders, more than 18 journalists have been killed covering the recent protests.
What is clear is that this crisis has severely strained the relationship between the U.S. and Venezuela. The U.S. sanctions have played a pivotal role in exacerbating the situation, and an unwillingness by the U.S. to engage in direct negotiations with the Venezuelan government has only worsened things.
That lack of communication has created a perceived vulnerability for U.S. citizens living in Venezuela, who are frightened that they will be blocked from traveling to the U.S. for medical care, weddings, or other events. Many worry that they will not be able to re-enter the country should they be caught up in a confrontation.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that an estimate by the World Bank indicates that about one-third of Venezuelans live outside the country. (This estimate is based on unofficial government statistics; the official population numbers are higher.)
President Trump has expressed sympathy for the plight of the Venezuelan people, and the United States has appointed a special envoy on the country, who is working to bring aid into the country. However, while it has taken steps to contribute to humanitarian assistance in Venezuela, the U.S. has made very few concrete promises to Venezuelans — and the sanctions against the government have only served to worsen the situation.
Mihailov, a 28-year-old computer engineering student, is concerned about his future. “My father is still trying to find a job. He feels like a useless man in Venezuela now, because he cannot find any employment. As I look out of my apartment window, I see the protests,” he said.
Venezuela’s present instability is a major concern for Mihailov. “I didn’t want to leave Venezuela, but because of the state of the economy, the shortages, everything,” he said. “The best thing would be for my mother to have a job again, and my family to have some money.”
“This life has to go on. Whether it’s in a little house or an apartment with friends and family. And to have a normal life,” Mihailov said.
Vassili Mihailov is a U.S. citizen living in the Seattle area and a student at Evergreen State College.