Anita Chitwood, PJS Student We are Generation Y – the Millennials. Older generations criticize our overuse of technology and dependence on creating networks, but maybe that isn’t a bad thing. The students in Venezuela have used these defining characteristics to unite together and demand change of their government, led by President Nicolas Maduro. I was able to gain further insight to these riots by talking with Dr. Alfredo Navarro. He is a motivated, Venezuelan native who is now a U.S. citizen and Physician’s Assistant here in Michigan. Dr. Navarro’s passion and knowledge of Venezuela has made him a great resource of information regarding the riots. He believes in the power of our generation to create change. Check out this interview with Dr. Navarro to gain an in depth understanding of who started the riots, why they are occurring and what lessons college students can take from them as we enter in to the bigger world.
AC Dr. Navarro, can you tell us about what you do now within the U.S. and what your ties to Venezuela are?
AN I arrived to the United States in July of 2013 ready to begin a new life in Michigan along with my partner. Prior to moving to the US, I had been working in two different Emergency Room facilities in Caracas (the city in Venezuela where I am from), and had been doing that for years since graduating as an MD from the University Central de Venezuela (1999). I entered the US with a Student Visa, and one of my main goals was to learn English. My English proficiency was not the best, but my eagerness to learn the language and culture (and more!) had no boundaries. With time passing, I needed to take my medical boards or immediately enter to the university to extend my student visa. I decided to mildly change the path of my goal, and become a physician assistant in America. This was the right decision and the one that allowed me to obtain a working visa and process my Green Card. Near the end of the process, though, I was able to alter my path yet again and obtain the Green Card by way of marriage.
Regarding the second part of this question, my ties with Venezuela are varied and strong. I am still a Venezuelan citizen, a dreamer and a lover of its democracy and history. My hope is that one day it will become the powerful — both economically and culturally — country it was before. My whole family is still there and many of my friends. I travel there whenever possible, but in spite of the distance, am able to experience Venezuela via family, friends, news and more.
AC For those who may not be aware, who are behind these protests and how has this grown or changed since it began on February 12, 2014?
AN During the first week of February 2014, the students of the Universidad de Los Andes, Táchira state, began demanding of the Venezuelan government improvements in the safety of the university. Due to repeated vandalism and violence — which enraged the students after the attempted rape of one of their fellow female students — they decided to take the streets in protest for the lack of security and basic protections. This led to the capture and jailing of four of the protesters. Even after that, there was no action against the rapists or vandals. This brought more protests and more students arrested by government forces.
All of this repression escalated, as well as the joining of other universities from across the country as a domino effect of the protest. Since then, we have seen more police and National Guard (GNB) in the streets than ever before, even when the government stated they did not have any way to secure the universities against delinquency (so they weren’t able to protect the universities with more forces, but they were able to find more forces to confront those protesting!)
Now, the common people from every social stratus in many Venezuelan cities have joined in force with the students, adding to the outrage against the insecurity, the lack of food, closure of anti-government news media, high cost of living, inflation, etc.
AC These student-led protests have gained a mass amount of media attention, what can college students here and around the world take away from seeing this?
AN I wasn’t a Twitter user previously, nor was I one to frequent Facebook or Tumblr, but that has changed. The Venezuelan students are using every type of social media to get the word out. We also can find information in Instagram, Zello, and more. The English-speaking media hasn’t been the best follower of this uprising. The students’ concerns are now public, and a can of worms has been opened regarding the “fake” Venezuelan Democracy that employs torture, takes human rights for granted, and minimizes students and general citizens’ constitutional rights to protest.
AC The news has suggested many reasons for the protests such as, increased inflation rates, high murder rates and according to The Guardian, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has even blamed the U.S. for the protest as an attempt to gain access to Venezuelan oil. In your opinion, what are the reasons behind these protests?
AN Those are some of the reasons Venezuelans are fighting in the streets. Venezuela has the highest inflation in Latin America at 58%, and the increasing rate of murder to more than 25,000 people in 2013! This unhappiness started long before the current regime — it dates back to the time of Hugo Chavez. The current regime is essentially an extension of the previous one. Same lies, same mismanagement of the economy, same everything.
AC Following my previous question, what is the end goal of these protests?
AN There is a list of requests suggested by those in the street, by those in the government, and by those who belong to the opposition against the current and previous government. The truth is that all have very polarizing opinions. The political opposition party, MUD, wants to create dialogue with the government for peace and changes in its management of the economy and political prisoners, however the government is stating they won’t change their ways. The students no longer are asking for changes within the current regime — they’re now asking for the resignation by the current leadership (the president and every member of his political party), the release of students in jail, the sovereignty lost after 15 years of this government (influenced by the Castro family in Cuba). They also demand the Venezuelan armed forces be used to protect citizens instead of harming them, greater gun control, and disbanding of the paramilitary forces known as Tupamarus.
AC How personal are these protests for you?
AN I am Venezuelan. I love my country, and I want to feel safe and tell my spouse that it’s safe to visit and invest in Venezuela. My whole family lives there. They are directly affected by corruption, a failing economy, and food supply shortages. I send them money to purchase what otherwise would be impossible to buy. I want them to live comfortably, but I cannot guarantee their safety. From 0 to 10, this is 10 personal.
AC Is there anything the media could explain better about Venezuela: the culture, politics or people?
AN I think the English speaking media is perhaps evasive to mention how important this oil rich Country is to the economy of the Americas, how influential it is in our continent and beyond, and how it plays a role geographically in the safety of the Americas. Today, the media focuses its attention on other issues (e.g. missing planes) while not highlighting even briefly the dangers of a decreased economic deterioration in Venezuela.
AC Are there any concerns you have about the protests?
AN So far more than 40 people have died in the streets of Venezuela, more than 2000 disappeared and some of those returning back dead. We are concerned about the lack of media support. We feel alone fighting for what is right: democracy. We believe that “we are on the right side of -Venezuelan- history” (as affirmed by a jailed Leopoldo Lopez!).
AC What is one thing you wish people knew about these protests?
AN That it is not a political movement. These are common people, like you and I, walking and protesting unarmed in the streets of Venezuela, with only one goal: the end of Castro-communism. Mr. Chavez and now Mr. Maduro claim that Venezuelans hate the USA. They are speaking for themselves, yet it’s proven that they travel with frequency, have bank accounts in the USA, and properties here.
AC Is there anything we can do here to help the people of Venezuela?
AN Yes! Follow us in Facebook: VenezolanosUnidosEnMichigan, SOSVenezuela, Tumblr venmichigan, Instagram and Twitter. Venezuelans are eager to be heard by all Americans, to see them, hear them. Also, read the disclaims in Change.org regarding HR 4229!
AC Dr. Navarro, thank you for your time. Are there any last thoughts you would like to leave with our readers?
AN There is one more thing. Chavez’ government has attempted several times to change history in its favor. They repeatedly manifest their goals reached as proper from their 15 years government. Therefore it is important people know that the preferential prices of gasoline has been there since oil was nationalized. In addition, natural gas was nationalized in 1969, oil in 1971, and that that public education in Venezuela is free and mandatory since the 1960s. These are benefits from democracy.