“People are dying and there are people traveling, coming to campus like this one,” says Phillips Exeter Summer student Alessia, from the capital of Venezuela, Caracas. (We’re using her middle name to spare her and her family any difficulties at home.) She says that there are many things to enjoy about her home country of Venezuela, but most especially the people. She says that they’re close as a community: nice, cozy, friendly, loud, and happy. She goes on to say that Venezuela has everything to offer, including beaches, mountains, and jungles. Overall, Alessia says that Venezuela is a beautiful country.

She has a twin brother who also came to Exeter this summer. She says that his friends are what inspired them to come in the first place. They came two years ago and would tell her and her brother about how they had ice cream every day. “They obviously had a good time because we came,” says Alessia. “Venezuelans always come in groups.” She further explained that it helps her feel at home, considering she didn’t bring anything from home with her. “I might ask my parents to bring down some candy or something.” Alessia said.

There is a difficult economic situation currently in Venezuela, and she is lucky to be able to travel in this situation, explains Alessia. “No food in our supermarkets,” she speaking about the shortages going back years. Almost all of the food was imported. Alessia says it is a privilege to be able to go to Phillips Exeter, let alone travel outside of Venezuela. She says she has traveled to the US before, and many people are unable to do so, that people die because they can’t. “There are people dying and there are people traveling, coming to camps like this one,” says Alessia.

Nicolás Maduro, the successor to Hugo Chávez, refuses to give up his three-year presidential position, despite popular claims that the election was illegitimate. Spearheading these claims was the President of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guadió. Guadió has declared himself president, and more than 60 countries worldwide recognize him as the rightful president.

The Venezuelan constitution does not know how to answer the question of who’s the official president. According to the constitution, if the position of president is vacant then the leader of the National Assembly [Guadió] becomes interim president while elections occur. Venezuela’s military has sided with Maduro and has participated in blocking humanitarian aid.

The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) has been fighting along with grassroots humanitarian organizations against President Maduro to distribute food in Venezuela. As of July 2021, the WFP has been able to distribute food to schoolchildren, amid the economic recession. The program intends to supply food to 185,000 schoolchildren by the end of 2021, 850,000 by 2022, and 1.5 million by 2023. Some 60% of households live in poverty in the country, and seven million require humanitarian assistance.

Venezuela has relied on its oil industry to keep the economy afloat. But according to many observers, the severely corrupt government is destroying the people’s faith in institutions. This leads to severe economic fluctuations, as well as room for dictators like Maduro to take power and keep it via fraudulent elections, or mismanagement and corruption in leading oil companies like state-run PDVSA. Furthermore, more than 200 regime officials are being held for offenses like human rights abuses, drug trafficking, and corruption.

“It’s your people, you know? It’s your country,” said Alessia. She and her friends arrived from a difficult political and economic situation in their home country. Her family worked hard to get her where she is, and she said she is having fun at the summer school and has no regrets about coming here.