Venezuela’s Crisis Hits Home

By Andres Tamayo
UM News
venezuelaCORAL GABLES, Fla. (October 20, 2016 —Fires blaze in the streets. Newborn babies sit in cardboard boxes. Thousands of Venezuelans march shoulder-to-shoulder protesting the government. Food is rationed, schools are closed due to lack of financial support, and corruption is commonplace.


To many students at the University of Miami, Venezuela’s turmoil is lost in the day-to-day shuffle of homework assignments, class schedules and nightlife. But for some, it is something they have to live with every day. After China, the 172 Venezuelan students at UM make up the largest number of international students at the University.

Geraldine Orlando, a senior majoring in Marine Science/Biology and president of UNIVEN, the Venezuelan Student Association at UM, was able to escape Venezuela in 2013 following her last year in high school.

“A lot of times I want to go home but my dad won’t let me because it is still too dangerous,” she said in a recent interview.

According to a 2015 report by the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, there were an estimated 27,875 killings in Venezuela in 2015; a rate of approximately 90 homicides per every 100,000 residents. In contrast, in the United States, a country with more than ten times the population of Venezuela, there were 15,696 homicides in 2015. The violence and homicide rate in Venezuela is expected to climb in 2016.

The federal republic has been spiraling out of control for years, impacted greatly by the collapse of oil prices, inflation, increased violence, riots, and shortages of foods and supplies.

These kind of dangers has led to a mass exodus of people in search of a better life. Many Venezuelans are fleeing to nearby South American countries, while others have found a home in South Florida.

Victoria van Eerdewijk, co-president of UNIVEN, was forced to leave her family and friends in Venezuela in search of a better life and education, but she doesn’t see the move as permanent.

“Venezuela is my place, it’s my home. Everything I’m doing here [in Miami] is so I can be ready to go back and fight again and win my country back.”

Van Eerdewijk’s powerful sentiments are felt by other Venezuelan students at UM. Many of them have left everything they know and love to avoid a country in chaos.

The rest of this year could be a turning point in the country’s history. Demonstrators have taken to the streets to demand that a proposed referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro be passed by the end of the year. If the referendum passes before January 10, 2017, Venezuelans will have the opportunity to re-elect a new president and perhaps move in a new direction.

However, if it passes after January 10, Maduro’s vice president would assume power and this, Venezuelans argue, would result in a continuation of the same failed policies.

UM alumna and current Telemundo reporter Arianne Alcorta, who was born in Venezuela, has been covering the crisis since she was an undergraduate journalism student in 2014. She has made multiple informational videos chronicling the events and trying to shed light on the injustices in her native country.

While researching the crisis, Alcorta found that “Venezuelans can’t buy any medicine, they can’t afford any food and the poorest people are eating directly from garbage cans.”

Alcorta still has family and friends in the oil-rich South American nation. “My grandmother tells me her doctor gives her prescriptions for multiple pharmacies in the hopes that at least one will have her medication in stock.”

Alcorta and her immediate family were fortunate to make it out of Venezuela before the current crisis but she still fights to bring awareness to the country’s current state.

If the current vice president is brought into power, Alcorta said, there would be “no change” in the way Venezuela is run. “The vice president is basically an extension of President Maduro and would keep the same policies in place,” Alcorta said. He would even be able to appoint Maduro to the vice presidency and the party’s rule would continue.

Andrea Igliozzi, a freshman and member of UNIVEN, said: “the best thing you can do is spread the word of what is happening because Venezuela is facing an economic, social and political crisis.”

For more information on UNIVEN, visit https://orgsync.com/55473/chapter or www.facebook.com/univenumiami/

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Independent Cuban Journalist Yoani Sánchez Named First Distinguished Presidential Fellow

Sánchez’s appointment makes her one of the 100 Talents, an initiative launched by UM President Julio Frenk at his inauguration.

By Bárbara Gutiérrez
UM News

Yoani Snachez

Yoani Snachez

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (October 18, 2016) – Cuban independent journalist Yoani Sánchez, a brazen defender of free speech and founder of 14ymedio, the island’s first independent daily digital news platform, has been named a Distinguished Presidential Fellow at the University of Miami, making her one of the 100 Talents, an initiative introduced during UM President Julio Frenk’s inauguration.

As part of the 100 endowed talents, an initiative that seeks to enrich the curriculum and enhance the academic reputation of the University, Sánchez will teach a non-credit course in the spring 2017 semester, give academic lectures, and participate in events with members of the faculty and the student body.

“It is an honor to welcome Yoani Sánchez to our University as a Distinguished Presidential Fellow,” said President Frenk. “I am excited that our students will be exposed to this brave champion of press freedom who promotes journalistic principles under very trying circumstances.”

At her first event,  which sold out quickly, Sánchez will launch UM Cuba Forums with a lecture titled “The Power to Tell a Story: Daily life in Cuba through the lens of an independent journalist.”

In the spring, she will offer a non-credit course titled “New Cuban Voices,” which will explore issues related to the current state of Cuban society and how it may continue to develop moving forward, especially as relations between the island nation and the U.S. continue to thaw.

“Since I visited Miami in 2013, I understood that preserved in the city were many traditions, memories and customs of Cuba that had long been forgotten in the island,” said Sánchez. “This opportunity to share experiences and knowledge with UM students and faculty will be enriching for my identity and I also hope to better connect with both realities.”

Sánchez first came to UM in April 2013 when she visited the UM Libraries’ Cuban Heritage Collection to get acquainted with the collection and offer her insights and experiences to a group of student journalists. Later that year, she returned to UM to offer a master class at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban America Studies.

A University of Havana graduate with a degree in philology, Sánchez immigrated to Switzerland in 2002 and returned to Cuba two years later determined to lead an independent life as a Cuban citizen. She launched a blog called “Generación Y” (“Generation Y”) that chronicled daily life in Cuba. President Barack Obama praised her blog in November 2009, writing that the blog “provides the world a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba.”

In 2008, Time magazine listed her as one of the world’s most influential people. Her work has generated many awards, including the Ortega y Gasset Prize, Spain’s highest award for digital journalism, the Maria Moors Cabot Prize from Columbia University, and the World Press Freedom Hero Award from the International Press Institute.

In 2014, Sánchez launched the digital newspaper 14yMedio, which offers a fresh voice in the island with exclusive national news, highlighting not only political and economic developments but also social and cultural activities.

As director of 14ymedio, she oversees editorial operations, leads special features, and writes in-depth pieces about Cuba’s reality. Since Cuba’s government does not allow for a free press and allows only limited internet access, Sánchez has found an ingenious way of distributing 14ymedio. This includes sending it abroad to users who distribute it through email, and a PDF version that is shared once a week as part of a “paquete,” a USB flash drive containing a collection of pirated movies, magazines, music, apps, and news considered illegal in Cuba.

“Students always teach me much more with their questions and life experiences, because they have that necessary dose of curiosity that makes them investigate and dig deeper on issues. I feel younger and dare much more intellectually when I am with them,” she said.












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Love of Language, Literature, Theater Brings First Cuban Student in Decades to UM

By Barbara Gutierrez
UM News

cuban-studentThe first time that Dainerys Machado Vento walked into the University of Miami’s Otto G. Richter library and its Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) to research Cuban literature of the 50s and 60s, she realized that everything she needed was at her fingertips.

“In Cuba many of those documents are either in very bad condition or do not exist at all,” she said. “When I first came to this library and saw how easily I could pick up any book, by a Cuban author or anyone, I cried. Being surrounded by the freedom of ideas, it was beautiful.”

Machado Vento, a doctoral student in the Modern Languages and Literature Department at the College of Arts and Sciences, is the first Cuban citizen in decades to come to UM on an F-1 student visa, a nonimmigrant visa issued to those who want to pursue studies in the U.S. Her enrollment is another sign of the changing relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, which renewed diplomatic relations in July 2015.

The number of students studying at U.S. higher education institutions from Cuba has been steadily climbing. In 2015, the number was 94, a 36 percent increase from 2014, according to Open Doors data supplied by the Institute of International Education.

“It is my hope that we will welcome many more students like Ms. Machado Vento,” said UM President Julio Frenk, who met with her in his office shortly after her matriculation. “As the University of Miami fulfills its aspiration to be the Hemispheric University with a global impact, we will be strengthened by the enriching exchange of talented students and scholars from across the Americas.”

As a child growing up in the bustling Havana neighborhood of El Cerro, a block away from a well-known baseball stadium, Machado Vento was a bookworm, often staying in her room reading rather than joining other friends who were playing baseball or other games.

“People would kid me and say come out and play but I preferred to stay inside,” she said.

She loved writing and theater but decided to study journalism because it offered her the skills and creative freedom to follow her interests. In 2009, she graduated from the University of Havana with a journalism degree and started working at the magazine Bohemia that, like all Cuban publications, is run by the Cuban government’s Ideological Department. At Bohemia, her beat did not mirror her interests. She wrote about construction and tourism. But, she reflects, this allowed her to hone her skills in writing and journalism.

Her interests in theatre led her to work at La Union de Escritores de Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC) and to write for Tablas-Alarcos, an editorial house that published cultural magazines. At the University of Havana, her thesis was on the noted Cuban playwright Virgilio Piñera, who had been ostracized by the Cuban government for his ideological rejection of government censorship, as well as his open homosexuality.

“I looked at the rehabilitation of his image in the Cuban press including the social and economic context going on at the time,” said Machado Vento. Her work and a chance meeting in Cuba with Lillian Manzor, associate professor of UM’s Department of Modern Languages, earned her an invitation to a theatre festival celebrating Piñera’s work held at UM’s Ring Theatre in 2012. It would be her first visit to the United States.

During the festival, Machado Vento presented her work on a panel before Miami friends and colleagues and attended all the plays that the festival offered that weekend.

“I fell in love with the University of Miami,” she said. “Friends wanted to take me to see the buildings downtown or to the supermarkets. I was floored by the UM Library.”

In 2014, she returned to the U.S. to take part in a conference by the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) and visited Miami briefly. In 2014, she took the bold step of applying for a Master’s Program at the Colegio San Luis in Mexico and was accepted as the first Cuban student to ever study at that institution. She would research the connection between literature and the press, two of her major interests.

While there, she met her husband, a Mexican writer named Xalbador García. In 2015, she applied to the doctoral program at UM and for the student visa.

“Everyone told me that it could not be done,” she said. “I said politics has put us in a strait jacket. I am going to choose freedom.”

Three days after she applied she received the visa. She now lives within walking distance to Calle Ocho, in Miami’s famed Little Havana neighborhood, and commutes to Coral Gables four times a week for classes.

For Professor Manzor, having Machado Vento at UM in the doctoral program is a great asset.

“Dainerys comes to us with a B.A. from Cuba and an M.A. from Mexico,” said Manzor. “This means that she comes with an outstanding background as a generalist. She also brings with her the perspective and experience from two different educational systems in Latin America. This is invaluable to our graduate program.”

Machado Vento plans to continue her investigation of Cuban writers, especially contributing women writers who wrote for Cuban magazines in the 1950s. She believes that there is great work to be done in bridging the literary traditions from inside and outside the island.

“We have lived split for so many years,” she said of Cubans on the island and in exile. “But in the end our culture continues to be the same; our art is the same and the literature is the same. Investigating the literature could help to bring unity.”

Machado Vento has learned one other valuable lesson on her journey.

“For many of us in Cuba it is hard to dream,” she said. “But now I can dream.”

Read this story in Spanish

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DiCaprio Screens Climate Change Epic at UM

During a Q&A moderated by the actor, a panel that included UM scientist Kenny Broad warned of the disastrous consequences from climate change.
By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News
dicaprioCORAL GABLES, Fla. (October 5, 2016)–From the White House on one day to a college campus cinema the next, Academy Award-winning actor and eco-activist Leonardo DiCaprio screened his powerful new documentary about the damaging effects of climate change at the University of Miami on Tuesday, moderating a subsequent panel discussion in which he told an audience of hundreds that climate change is “too important” a topic to ignore.
“So many of these issues are going to affect your state directly,” DiCaprio said at UM’s Cosford Cinema, referring to sea level rise, the destruction of coral reef ecosystems, and other climate change-induced conditions that especially imperil Florida and its coastal cities and are highlighted in his 96-minute film Before the Flood.
A day removed from its screening on the White House South Lawn, where DiCaprio talked environmental issues with President Barack Obama, one of the prominent world leaders featured in the film, the documentary will air in 171 countries on the National Geographic channel on October 30, bringing its important message to more than 450 million people.At Cosford on Tuesday, DiCaprio, who picked up the 2016 Best Actor Oscar for his role in The Revenant and has been designated by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as a UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on climate change, shared the stage with the documentary’s director, Fisher Stevens, and two scientists who study how climate change is impacting our planet and its people.
“I’m afraid very much for the people as much as for the ecosystems,” said Kenny Broad, a UM environmental anthropologist, veteran cave diver, and former National Geographic Explorer of the Year, when asked by DiCaprio what frightens him most about climate change.“We think of dramatic flooding, the melting of ice, and losing [the] polar bears, but it’s the ground water beneath our feet” that should be studied more closely, said Broad. “More than 95 percent of the world’s drinking water is from aquifers. It’s out of sight, out of mind, and we tend not to take the steps to protect it. It just takes a tiny bit of sea level rise to really [impact] our groundwater. And who gets affected is gong to be the more vulnerable populations.”
With Florida atop the list of states that will be impacted the most in coming years should sea levels continue to rise at their current clip, Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Miami Waterkeeper, said the state’s critical infrastructure, including nuclear power plants along the coastline, are at particular risk.“We have the most built environment in the world here in Miami-Dade County at risk to sea level rise and not a silver bullet to deal with it,” explained Silverstein, an alumna of UM’s Rosenstiel School of Marine Atmospheric Science. “What we need are new solutions, and we can find those new solutions through research and applying things that we already know work.”

She called for increased awareness of the importance and plight of coral reefs, noting that in Florida over 80 percent of the diverse underwater ecosystems have perished since the 1970s due to the effects of ocean acidification and other climate change-related factors.

As the nation approaches another presidential election, DiCaprio said Florida once again will play a key role as a swing state in the race for the White House. “We can no longer afford to have political leaders out there who do not believe in the science of climate change,” he said.

His statement was an obvious dig at the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, who has called climate change a hoax perpetrated by China.

What frustrates Broad more is not convincing the doubters, but getting people to sustain actions to reverse the effects of climate change.

“But that’s not surprising,” said Broad. “From an anthropological and evolutionary standpoint, we worry about short-term things. We’ve never had this sort of experience. We’ve never had a collapse of our climate system. We don’t need more scientists to convince people—we need more people who know how to touch upon emotions and morals. We need more people working more creatively.”

Still there is hope, Silverstein believes. In Miami-Dade County, political leaders have ramped up their efforts to take action on climate change, rethinking future infrastructure plans with a cautious eye toward sea-level rise. “I think that’s a big victory,” she said.

It will also take the nation’s youth to solve the problem. “I really believe in fighting for certain causes and certain issues, and climate change has been something I’ve been obsessed with for the past eight or nine years, not nearly as long as Leonardo,” said Before the Flood director Stevens. “But we’re here because we believe that the youth, universities, and high schools are the future. We want to try to get people to understand at a very young age that this is important.”

The screening was sponsored by the School of Communication, and the film, financed by the documentary division of Brett Ratner’s RatPac Entertainment, has “already been picking up some Oscar buzz,” said Dean Gregory J. Shepherd, who invited Ratner to the stage to comment on the project.

UM senior Savannah Geary, an ecosystem science and policy major, was one of the students in the audience who plans to take action through the making of documentaries like DiCaprio’s that address the problem.

Said Geary, “I would love to make something that would have even half the benefit that this [Before the Flood] is going to have.”

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Sixth-Grade Students Take ‘Green Tour’ of Gables Campus

By Richard Westlund
Special to UM News


Students from West Lab Elementary display some of the UM green keepsakes they received during a Sustainability at the U walking tour of the Coral Gables campus.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (October 5, 2016) — Sixth-grader Sophia Lemus thinks “solar power is cool.” So does Alexander Sokolov, who is “super-interested” in science. They were among 28 students from West Lab Elementary who got a firsthand look at the University of Miami’s many “green” features on a Sustainability at the U walking tour of the Coral Gables campus on Tuesday, October 4.

“I had never seen how solar panels transfer energy from the sun to create electricity,” said Alex, after viewing the 20 kilowatt (KW) solar photovoltaic system on the roof of the Hurricane Food Court. “I also liked the energy tracking system,” he added, referring to a kiosk on the ground floor that monitors the building’s energy load.

Teddy Lhoutellier, sustainability manager, led the 90-minute walking tour, which was organized by Professors Ji Shen and Blaine Smith in the Department of Teaching and Learning in the School of Education and Human Development.

“We are studying climate change as part of ‘Imagine the Future,’ a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) program that engages students in collaborative multimedia projects,” said Shen. “Students take on the roles of scientists, writers, and designers as they combine text, graphics, and videos to illustrate their visions of the future.”

From the Food Court and Shalala Student Center, Lhoutellier led the students around Lake Osceola, and explained the purpose of the aerating fountain that brings fresh oxygen into the water. The sixth-graders also saw the cistern that holds filtered rainwater for flushing toilets at the new platinum LEED-certified Patricia Louise Frost Music Studios building.

While resting in a tree’s shade, Lhoutellier explained the differences between recyclables, like narrow-neck plastic bottles and clean paper, and trash, such as dirty food cans and styrofoam containers. “Now, you can tell your parents about what they can recycle,” he said, while handing out reusable grocery bags. Other UM green keepsakes included refillable water bottles and handheld fans used by generations of Floridians before the advent of air conditioning.

“This was our first sustainability tour with young students,” Lhoutellier said. “Hopefully, it provided them with greater understanding and appreciation of our University’s commitment to a green future.”


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