Venezuela: You are not alone.

By Oriana Piña
posted on February 28, 2014 in Leadership, Politics and Society
A reflection on expatriates and the international community; why we should care, and what we can do.
What began on February 12 as a peaceful student protest in Caracas, Venezuela has quickly snowballed into a national conflict between the state and its citizens that spans the country’s major cities. University students passively called on the government to address and remedy the innumerable injustices currently drowning Venezuela. The subsequent mandate to arrest these students proved highly controversial, and incited the monumental manifestations that have taken place over the past few days. As commanded by President Nicolas Maduro, militarized police authorities stepped in, resulting in many injuries and deaths. Though this sudden escalation may seem unprecedented to someone unfamiliar to the country, this series of events simply adds 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. The country is currently experiencing an economic crisis, with inflation levels that are unparalleled by any other country in the world. Basic consumer goods have become a scarcity 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 lamentably, Venezuela continues to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world due to the incontrollable and rising crime rates. A 2011 UN report named it in the top four most murderous countries in the world. Lastly, these 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, an environment that stifles those seeking solutions out of this regime.
Individual Level
“Venezuela has finally awakened!”
Propagated through social media, footage from this week’s marches went viral. It was shocking and touching to see the nation’s various principal plazas and streets overflowing with a multitude of people denouncing the political violence that has become too common. Yet, while my own family members were 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 that I am 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 215,000 Hispanics of Venezuelan origin living in the United States (not counting the thousands upon thousands undocumented ones). Since 1999, over one million Venezuelans – largely middle- and upper-class – have emigrated. Immigrants from all over the world who are forced to leave oppressive governments share a common experience: we all carry along the duty to fight against injustices in our country of origin. Regardless of current country of residence, new citizenships, and years spent away from home, the culture that unites us creates a responsibility and obligation for we expats to stay educated on the situation at home, raise 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.
International Levels
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 Maduro’s presidency pose alarming threats to universal democratic principles such as: freedom of speech, the right to assembly, and the right to 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 the reader 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 highly 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 urgent 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 and weeks 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 to the fact that by and lareg organizations and groups that are against Maduro are silenced, punished, or censored by the government or its supporters. Herein lies 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 following list of opportunities for actions helps us move closer to the universally held values of non-violence, democracy, and respect for human rights. 

Resources for Individuals/ International:

-- Social Media activism: Share, Like, Follow, Retweet! #PrayForVenezuela  #SOSVenezuela #DictaduraVzla
-- Sign Petitions:  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,
-- Actively petition foundations and universities for grants in 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
-- Actively seek groups in your community and participate in protests:  Un Mundo Sin Mordaza, Ayudando a Venezuela Desde El Exterior, Venezolanos en el Mundo Venmundo, Red Democrática Internacional
-- Organize and petition for government funding to support for Public Universities’ Latin American Initiatives
-- Organize and petition Foundations & Grant donors to support Academic Initiatives in Latin American/Democracy research programs. The National Endowment for Democracy
-- Demand the liberation of arrested students and political prisoners
-- Pressure for the disarmament of paramilitaries causing violent turmoil