Voter profile: Venezuelan international student compares motherland’s politics to U.S. presidential election

Lisa Dreher

Editor’s note: This is part of a series The Daily Texan is publishing during the 2016 election season. The series will run up until Election Day, Nov. 8.

Many UT students idly shuffled along the early voting line last week, but international student Marielisa Figuera Saggese’s friends back home are taking to Venezuela’s streets, pushed back by their own police.

“The student movement over there is one of the biggest factors when it comes to political expression,” Saggese said.

Saggese, an international relations and global studies and Latin American studies junior, moved from Venezuela to Houston two years ago. She then moved to Austin this summer, where UT students are voting early while her homeland undergoes political unrest and anti-government sentiment.

Earlier this year, Venezuelans called for the ousting of president Nicolas Maduro, only for the country’s congress to block their referendum.

Now, the pressure against their government to reopen their request has mounted in protests and violent encounters over the past few days.

“I won’t deny that I haven’t cried a lot when it comes to watching the news,” Saggese said. “I’m supposed to go back in December. I’m worried about how I’m going to find my country and is it safe for me to go back or am I going to face a culture shock.”

Given her uncertainty about her country’s future, Saggese said students here must appreciate America’s relatively civil, democratic voting process.

“Being here and seeing how peaceful everything is here … it’s not like over there where you have college students rising up a lot against the government,” Saggese said. 

Saggese said there is only one voting day in Venezuela, so the many chances for U.S. citizens to participate surprised her.

“You can do early voting, you can do voting by mail, things like that,” Saggese said.

If she could vote, Saggese said she would support Hillary Clinton because she believes Donald Trump’s aggression is akin to the behavior of the previous Venezuelan dictator.

“Trump reminds me a lot of the former Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, in the way he expresses himself,” Saggese said. “I wouldn’t like to have to repeat [that] story here.”