“A government for the people, by the people.” This is the basic democratic principle that the American government functions upon. If this principle is not being obeyed, people protest and changes are made. Why? We are free and able to speak out without fear or reservation. The people of Venezuela aren’t so lucky. While Venezuela is technically a “federal presidential republic,” its recent government resembles much more of a tyranny than anything else. Citizens live in constant fear due to an ever-increasing inflation rate, scarcity of basic goods, an insecure political sector, and a high crime rate with little enforcement from law officials and police.
On Venezuelan Youth Day, student protesters consisting of mostly university students took to the streets to engage in peaceful protest against the country’s civil and political instability. What they were met with was unreal and unacceptable violence. Police began shooting into the masses of students and throwing tear gas bombs to disperse the crowds. What they were firing at was not some armed enemy; it was a group of their unarmed countrymen asking for a chance at a better future. The riots have lasted one month thus far, and the situation is only getting worse. The latest statistics put the official death toll at 24, with hundreds of captured students being jailed and tortured in prison. Yet, why haven’t you heard much about this issue? Most likely because there is a serious media “cone of silence” surrounding Venezuela. The Venezuelan government controls all media outlets and has taken all news and radio stations broadcasting news about the protests off air. People were also spreading news via photos and videos on Twitter, so the government shut down the social networking site as well.
Venezuela may seem far away, but for some students on our campus, these stories hit close to home. Gaby Vasquez, an LSA sophomore, and several of her friends (all of whom are Venezuelan) organized an “SOS Venezuela” rally in Ann Arbor on February 18th.
“The idea for the rally really came from seeing how people in other places around the world were gathering to show support and raise awareness for Venezuela,” said Vasquez. “The event was a success, with more than 100 people showing up with 24 hours’ notice.”
So, what can American students actually do to help? Vasquez says the main way is to spread awareness.
“We need to get the media to talk about Venezuela. We need international (and national) attention drawn to this situation not so much because we want intervention, but because we want the world to take a stand and say to the Venezuelan government, ‘This is not okay.’ Organizing events, such as the ones we’ve been hosting in Ann Arbor, posting on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, using the hashtags #SOSVenezuela, #FreeVenezuela, tweeting at celebrities and media outlets, emailing political leaders, writing articles, posting pictures and videos, all of these are things American students can do to help. It’s been over a month since the situation began, and our worry is that people will start to forget. That’s what we need: for everyone around the world to not forget us, to realize what is happening in Venezuela, and to shout at the top of their lungs about it until the world takes notice.”
People should have the right to feel secure in their own country. 20-year-olds should be concerned with taking exams and exploring the world, not being shot down in an alley for peaceful speech. This is not just another “world political problem” anymore. This is not just a Venezuelan problem. This is a human problem. #SOSVenezuela
Photo courtesy of Gaby Vasquez