A look into what Venezuela is currently experiencing – from the eyes of a citizen, Gerardo Suarez.
Briefly describe what is going on in Venezuela right now.
- Right now, Venezuela is suffering the consequences of 17 years of bad management, corruption, and fraudulent elections, that have led the country to the state it is in now: destroyed economy, separation of the people, starvation, extreme poverty, and the biggest emigration rate that the country has ever had – with more than 1.5 million Venezuelans in foreign countries, me being one of them. But, with all of this, the exploding factor was when last week, the Maduro regime wanted to overthrow a democratically elected parliament and attribute himself those powers, going against the constitution and establishing a dictatorship. This wasn’t well received by the Venezuelan opposition who started protesting, and even though the government reverted the sentence, the damage was done, and the people are tired of living under these conditions.
How does Maduro plan to use his power, and why are citizens so opposed to this?
- Maduro and all majority of the government are staying in power to embezzle and steal the money of working Venezuelans. In 17 years, they have done nothing but destroy the country and ignore the consequences. Many of the people in power have been linked to drug trafficking and even terrorist acts, so in my opinion, the moment they lose their power, they lose their money and their liberty, so they will do anything to stay there. The people are tired of being robbed and humiliated by someone who says that there is no problem in his leadership, while others starve to death in his own capital city.
How is the government reacting to these protests?
- Repressing and even killing the people protesting – it is very clear on the videos and media coverage. They are also blocking the internet, so information doesn’t get out, and hypocritically acting like nothing happened. I have received a lot of audio and video from Venezuelan protesters and activists, and I’m trying to share them to let people know what is truly going on – hoping to create awareness and compassion for the crimes the government is committing.
What are the most important freedoms that Venezuelans have in their country, that the government is trying to take away?
- Right now, Venezuela is fighting to protect some of the last freedoms we still have, and that the government is trying to take away. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are some of the basic freedoms we have lost during the 17 years of this government in power, and right now we are fighting to protect some essential freedoms such as choosing our own mandates, or even being able to choose what I want to eat and when I want to eat it, and not be forced to accept the fact that there may not by any food in some scenarios.
With this conflict and breach of power, do you see this being solved in any way? How do you think the protests that are going on may help and/or hinder the people’s freedoms?
- The fight that is going on in Venezuela is actually to free ourselves from the oppression of the government. Right now, citizens in Venezuela are being repressed for protesting peacefully on the streets, which is a constitutional right. We are protesting to free political prisoners like Leopoldo Lopez, who was sent to prison just for opposing the government, in order to free the local media which has been controlled by the government; in its own interest. Because they tried to take our complete freedom by taking out a parliament democratically elected by the citizens of Venezuela, the fight is not just for freedoms, it’s for our rights, and demonstrating our discomfort on this in the streets and to the international community is essential for the fight.
How is activism important in scenarios like this?
- I really believe that activism is essential in these kinds of scenarios. People have the right to show discomfort toward their government, and question its methods, expressing it by going peacefully out to the streets. By doing this, it does not only show the government the discomfort of the people, but more importantly, it shows its own people that there is something wrong, something that has to be stopped because it can develop into something bigger, maybe permanent. With that, you create community conscience. As in the case of the travel ban in the US or the peace treaties in Colombia, the role of activism is very important right now to stop what is going on.
You were one of the many Venezuelans who had to emigrate; how have you and your family adapted to your current country, and how do you feel watching your home country go through this?
- Well, after 7 years of living in Peru, I can say that I have adapted to the country, its culture, and people, but it is not my home country. I’ve made a lot of friends and met people who make it easier for me and my family, but obviously, I miss all the culture that I left behind. Since I was born, I lived in a country controlled by this regime – first with Hugo Chavez and followed by Maduro. I saw first hand how my family separated itself just for thinking differently and supporting different ideas; about a political leader that, as my family sees it, has divided my country. Now, my people are uniting to fight against this regime as they are being repressed, which makes me proud: We have left our differences to fight for a common good, but this is also very worrisome for my family and the people of my country, as we don’t know what this government is capable of when working to defend the power.
Is the government trying to eliminate the press and media coverage of these riots and protests? What is their stance on the press releasing what is going on in the country?
- Yes, it is, they are trying to reduce the coverage as much as much as they can from the international press because local press is already controlled or banned by them: this means that people inside the country are not aware of what’s going on in the capital. This means that the only news source they have to actually rely on to tell them what is going on in their own country, is by international news reports, like CNN or NTN which are the most viewed. This all means that if they achieve the goal of not letting these news sources, or any press report what’s going on, the international community, and even the people of Venezuela wouldn’t know the current situation of Human Rights violations, eventually normalizing what is going on, as it happened in 2014 by banning CNN from entering Venezuela.
What can citizens of other countries do to educate themselves?
- Read about it and watch what’s going on in the news: this is not a recent problem, Venezuela has been around the news for a while, in 2014 for riots and protests as it is right now, and when the economic situation got worse in 2015 and 2016. We have received a lot of news coverage on hunger in the cities of Venezuela, and now with what is going on. Like me, there are a lot of Venezuelans who constantly post and try to make people see and understand what going on in the social media, and in times like this, the number increases so that is also a good way to find information about this – from the citizens.
Why is sharing this on social media helpful?
- I am convinced that it is extremely helpful: it is very important to share all the information we receive on this issue, because it not only helps people from other countries to understand global issues, and maybe do something about it, but it also lets people inside Venezuela gain information; it lets them know that right now people are fighting and dying for a change, because that is what we want – to recover the Venezuela that we lost.
As Gerardo states, activism and education on injustice are extremely important to create a community-based sense of empathy and a platform accessible information to both local, and global citizens. We often get caught up in our own lives and issues, and forget about how many important, essential issues are going on right now, unheard of by the mainstream media. Although we cannot help every single conflict, educating ourselves and giving voice and platform to those who are not heard is vital in global awareness. I find myself forgetting how powerful social media is when used in certain ways – we have access to people from across the globe, right at your fingertips. We have access to use or privilege and platform to speak on issues that are unheard of, or are not given enough leverage in the media. We have access to a global realm of education and understanding right at our fingertips – it is our job to use that to our advantage, as well as contribute what we can. Real – life activism, protests, and marches may not be up your alley, but spreading awareness and information on social media is an incredibly impacting way to do so, as well.