Adriana Cisneros Emerson and her parents, Olga and Manuel Cisneros, left their native Venezuela for the United States in November 2017 amid a deteriorating economy and violence.
The situation has gotten worse since then, they said. Most recently, the country has found itself in the middle of a dispute over who is the real president of Venezuela. Nicolas Maduro in May claimed a second term as president in an election widely criticized as being conducted unfairly. Then, in January, Juan Guaidó, the head of Venezuela’s legislature, cited the country’s constitution as he named himself acting president because of the way the election was conducted. At least 50 countries, including the United States, have recognized Guaidó’s claim.
Cisneros said that when her family still was living in Venezuela, college students clashed with police and military forces loyal to President Nicolas Maduro. (She goes by Cisneros because Emerson is her mother’s maiden name.) Military forces killed more than 100 students outside the Universidad Metropolitana in the capital of Caracas in a two-month period in 2017, she said.
Cisneros, who now lives in Longview and is studying journalism at Kilgore College, recalled attending protests off campus, including one in April 2017 where police lobbed tear gas and used other weapons against students.
She said she went with a female friend but lost sight of her.
“Everybody started running, trying to go back into university,” Cisneros said. “I was trying to find my friend. I found myself completely alone.”
Cisneros said police threw tear gas at her. She was breathing hard and passed out in the parking lot of the university. She said her friend woke her up and gave her water.
Cisneros said she decided to remain on campus for a few hours until police left the scene.
A male acquaintance died from cardiac arrest after police struck him in the chest with a tear gas canister, Cisneros said.
She said Maduro gave guns to his supporters, who in turn entered classrooms at the university and took phones, computers, “anything they could get.”
She said her family decided to leave and initially arrived in Miami with visas. They settled in Longview after her mother landed a teaching job at an elementary school. Her father practiced law in Venezuela but is currently not working.
Cisneros, who turns 22 Tuesday, said she is focusing on her studies at Kilgore College, where she serves as editor of The Flare, the student newspaper.
However, she is closely following events in Venezuela, and stays in touch with friends through WhatsApp, a phone messaging app. Her friends advise her not to return because the situation has gotten worse as Maduro is engaged in a power struggle with opposition leader Guaidó.
“People are literally starving to death,” Cisneros said.
Cisneros said the Maduro regime is burning truckloads of food and medicine.
She called Guaidó the “legitimate president” and said she hopes a military intervention will overthrow Maduro, who has been in power since Hugo Chavez died six years ago.
“It’s the only way Maduro will give up power,” Cisneros said.
She acknowledged Maduro draws support from the poor in Venezuela — because he provides them subsidies — and countries such as Cuba, Iran, Russia and China. The United States, several Latin American countries, many European nations and Israel have recognized Guaidó as president.
Her father, who speaks limited English, said the people of Venezuela need the world community to help overthrow the regime and restore democracy.
Adriana Cisneros said she does not plan to return to Venezuela except as a professional journalist. Her plan is to get good grades and transfer to the University of Houston in 2020.
“I have what it means to be a journalist, that I know what I am talking about because of my background in Venezuela,” Cisneros said.
She said her immediate goal after earning a degree in journalism is to move to Boston and work for the Boston Globe. Her career ambition is to become a war correspondent in countries such as Syria, Yemen and Venezuela.
“I want to go to any country that has conflicts where human rights are being violated,” she said.