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A reflection for expatriates and the international community; why we should care, and what we can do.
On February 12th, 2014, multiple peaceful-turned-violent protests erupted in the major cities of Venezuela. What began as peaceful protests conducted by university students has snowballed into a national conflict between the state and its citizens. They pacifically complained against the government for the innumerable injustices currently plaguing Venezuela. The mandate to arrest these students turned highly controversial and thus incited the monumental manifestations, teeming with violence, that have taken place over the past few days. The nation’s president, Nicolas Maduro, commanded militarized police authorities to inhibit the protests, which has regrettably resulted in many injuries and deaths. This incident simply adds another line to the long list of mistreatments of citizens by the Venezuelan Government.
The social, political, and economic conditions in Venezuela are favorable to the development and continuation of large-scale protests. Venezuela is currently experiencing an economic crisis with inflation levels that are unparalleled by any other country in the world. Basic consumer goods have become scarce for many families, and the currency devaluations are crippling Venezuela’s public and private institutions as much as they are crippling the average citizen’s wallet. Equally lamentable, Venezuela continues to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world due to the incontrollable and rising crime rates. The 2010 UN report named it one of the top four most murderous countries in the world. Moreover, protests are a plea for the government to cease the ongoing control and censorship of the country’s communications agents. Organizations such as Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders have placed Venezuela in the list of countries with the lowest levels of freedom and liberty of expression, making the situation, in turn, very challenging for those who seek solutions out of this regime.
“Venezuela has finally awakened!” Propagated through social media, footage from this week’s marches went viral. It was shocking and inspiring to see the nation’s various principal plazas and streets overflowing with the multitude of people denouncing the political violence that has become too common. Yet, while my own family was risking their lives attending these demonstrations, I was reading the news from the comfort of my home in the United States. I could not avoid feeling a sense of guilt, disappointed that my expatriate residency meant I was unable to physically support. Given this state of impotence, I contemplated the possible actions that people outside of Venezuela can take to help those who are on the ground and in the streets.
According to the last U.S. Census, there was an estimated 260,000 Hispanics of Venezuelan origin living in the United States (not counting the approximate 160,000 undocumented ones). Overall, roughly 4% of the total Venezuelan population has emigrated. Immigrants from all over the world who are forced to leave oppressive governments share a common experience: we all carry the duty to fight against injustices in our homeland. Regardless of current country of residence, new citizenships, and years away from home, the culture that unites us creates a responsibility and obligation for expats to stay informed, spread awareness, and take all of the necessary (and available) steps towards action.
I am here to remind Venezuelans and non-Venezuelans that there are many courses of action that we can take in order to help fight for democracy and justice in a country that terribly needs it. Never underestimate the power of one! The history of revolutions against oppressing, social injustices has taught us that one plus one in a hunger strike, a petition, a boycott, a march or demonstration ultimately transforms into millions. Into change.
The international community is unified in the promotion and preservation of human rights. While specific human rights and what this means for international relations may differ depending on which ambassador or government delegate you speak to, virtually all will agree that citizens have the right to be free from political violence and state-sanctioned brutality. After the incidents over the past week in Venezuela, only a handful of political leaders have voiced their solidarity and condemned the actions of Maduro’s government. Why is this so? It is of paramount importance that, at the global level, heads of states and international organizations utilize their influence to denounce such injustices. If united, these agents of power would possess the necessary tools transferable to make a change in corrupt governments.
The United States and the western hemisphere as a whole should be deeply concerned and involved with the events taking place in Venezuela. The continuing violations by the Venezuelan government under Nicolas Maduro’s presidency brings alarming threats to universal democratic principles, such as: freedom of speech, right of assembly, and the right of freedom of political affiliation. Democracy is inseparably connected with the human rights doctrines adapted by international organizations. For instance, the 35 independent states of the Americas that have ratified the Organization of American State’s Inter-American Democratic Charter should act as the standing leaders in opposing Venezuela’s negligence to comply by these agreements. It is worth reminding that Venezuela has chosen to withdraw from the American Convention on Human Rights, further tarnishing the country’s reputation by showing the international community that human rights are not prioritized by public officials.
The unified international condemnation of these unacceptable violations will bring a clear and pressuring message to the government of Venezuela. Without sacrificing Venezuela’s sovereignty, international agents must make an immediate call for action. Let us use the weight of justice, activate our existing multinational agreements, and support the Venezuelan citizens by strengthening and upholding real democratic values.
So what can you actually do? The following list represents various courses of action that you can take, regardless of whether you are Venezuelan or not. Keep in mind that journalists and reporters are currently working to provide more news, so staying abreast of the developments throughout these next few days is critical for one’s general orientation to the issue. Venezuelan politics are difficult to discuss because they are dichotomously coded as either being for or in support of Maduro, or starkly against. The structural conflict that has allowed for institutionalized state violence is due in part because all organizations and groups that are against Maduro are silenced, punished, or censored by the government or its supporters. This is the source of Venezuela’s anemic conditions when it comes to democracy: wherever disapproval of the state results in oppressive measures to silence these “unpatriotic” dissenters, you simply do not have the elements for a true democratic society.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of political ideologies, this list of ACTION helps us move closer to the universally held values of non-violence, democracy, and respect for human rights.
Resources for Individuals / International Organizations:
Social Media activism: Share, Like, Follow, Retweet! #PrayForVenezuela #SOSVenezuela #DictaduraVzla
- Maintain inform and share the news:
- Sign Petitions: Change.org: Call on the Venezuelan Government to stop Killing Its Citizens”, White House Petition: Assist the people of Venezuela
- Join or volunteer for an activist group in your country: Amnesty International, PROVEA: Derechos Humanos en Venezuela, Human Rights Watch
- Contact your elected officials & ask for support: (In the USA) House of Representatives,
- Actively seek groups in your community & participate in protests: Un Mundo Sin Mordaza, Ayudando a Venezuela Desde El Exterior, Venezolanos en el Mundo Venmundo, Red Democrática Internacional
- Organize & petition for government funding to support for Public Universities’ Latin American Initiatives.
- Organize & petition Foundations & Grant donors to support Academic Initiatives in Latin American/Democracy research programs.
The National Endowment for Democracy
- Actively petition Foundations/ University grants for further support of Latin American research.
- Donate to think tanks/ Research organizations: Centro para la Democracia y el Desarrollo en las Américas, Washington Office on Latin America,
Foro por la Vida
- Donate money to your preferred political opposition parties in Venezuela: Mesa Unidad Democratica, Voluntad Popular, Primero Justicia
- Demand the liberation of arrested students and political persecuted.
- Pressure for the disarmament of paramilitaries causing violent turmoil.
- Send an email with proof of human rights breaches to the United Nations: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Send an email with proof of human rights breaches to the InterAmerican Human Rights Court: email@example.com
- Send an email with proof of human rights breaches to the International Criminal Court: firstname.lastname@example.org
- If you live in the US, write to your Member of Congress: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml
- Fill out this survey; the answers will be used to write a formal letter to journalists, heads of states, youth leaders and HR org:http://bit.ly/1iTMabb
- Hashtags trending on Venezuela:
Sources of information on the ground:
Journalists & Media Outlets:
Politicians to follow:
- Media Outlets:
CNN iReport BBC @CNNEE@UniNoticias