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Help Me Help Venezuela

April 5, 2019

During assembly on Thursday, April 4, senior Sofia Di Lodovico spoke to students about the crises in Venezuela and asked for their support in helping her family's native country. Here are her remarks:

In the next two weeks, there will be a fundraiser that will benefit Venezuela. We will be selling wristbands, much like what we did last year for Puerto Rico. If you would like one, please go to the bookstore.

Today I would like to talk about Venezuela – the country where my family is from, where we can no longer go back, and where much of my family still is.

Many people hear the word Venezuela and immediately know there is a huge crisis, but most people do not understand to what extent it has gotten, or how they got in this situation to begin with. In order to understand the current circumstances, you should know a little about its past.

Venezuela has the largest oil reserve in the world. So why is Venezuela synonymous with disaster instead of flourish? In 1998 a socialist leader named Hugo Chavez, a name that parallels Voldemort’s in my house, was elected to the presidency. He was elected on the basis of eradicating poverty and corruption, but he became known for doing the exact opposite. Homicides rose, and 41% of its population was living in poverty in 2002. While his people were starving and dying, Chavez nationalized the oil reserves and used the surplus to buy private jets and vacation homes. Unfortunately, this did not end when he died in 2013. His successor, President Nicolas Maduro would have an even worse impact.

What we see every day on television is Maduro’s Venezuela. But recently one man has given a glimmer of hope to the entire population of Venezuela and his name is Juan Guaido, the interim president of Venezuela. Guaido is acting as interim president, or temporary president, until democratic elections can be ensured, which is dictated by law in the Constitution when a president is deemed illegitimate.

Now, the basis of him being interim president is the presence an illegitimate current president, so why is Nicolas Maduro illegitimate? For time purposes, let's start in 2017 when the Supreme Court that was handpicked by Nicolas Maduro’s party nullified and stripped the National Assembly of their powers. The National Assembly was chosen by popular vote and was the only government institution that was run by an opposition majority. To put this in terms of U.S. government, imagine if when the Democrats took the House back in November Trump was like ‘no I don't like this anymore – I declare the House is no longer a legitimate part of government. Oh, and here's another house that I made up with everyone that agrees with me.’ Americans would be furious. So too are Venezuelans
Venezuela erupted in protest. Hundreds of protesters, most of them teenagers, were detained, some were tortured and even murdered. Fast forward to May 20, 2018 when this illegitimate Congress calls for presidential elections. During these elections, the candidates running against Maduro were either jailed, exiled or banned from running. In other words, there was no legitimate way for the opposition to run. But these sham presidential elections were held anyway by Maduro’s government. And can you guess who won? The very person who rigged the system in his favor: Maduro.
Now if you're wondering how the Venezuelan people truly feel about this, according to recent polls over 80 percent of Venezuelans disapprove of Maduro’s government – which makes sense. He took the minimum wage from $350 a month to $7 a month. Meanwhile inflation hit 1.7 million percent in 2018, earning Venezuela’s place as the country with the largest inflation rate in the world – with $1 equal to 248,521 bolivares.

His rule with an iron fist on journalism and protest has made 90% of media controlled by the state. And people who speak out against Maduro are jailed. Over 5,000 people have been detained since 2014. This means that journalists like my sister’s godfather Conrado can be jailed for months for simply informing the public. This can be especially hard when your quality of life has dropped dramatically, and you cannot protest without fearing for your life.

Now all of this is probably boring you and it might seem like I am spitting out numbers at you, and the truth is I’m exhausted of explaining. I’m tired of trying to convince people that the country that I love is worth fighting for. I'm tired of people talking about Venezuela like a far off imaginary place that is in grave danger and then going on with their day. I’m tired of living thousands of miles away from my father, sisters and most of my family because they had to escape a tyrannical government. For me, this isn't just another news story. I love and miss Venezuela. And I hate that I can’t go back to my bedroom, or my grandmother’s house where I had all my birthday parties. But most of all it breaks my heart that I have to see my family through a screen, and I can’t see my new cousins, my aunts and uncles and my family.

A couple of weeks ago, I received news that my aunt had passed away. Because of medicine shortages she was unable to buy blood pressure medication. And more than being sad, I became angry, and I wanted to do something about it. So for the next two weeks, please help me do something. Because I cannot stand the thought that I am so incredibly privileged and I am not doing anything to help the Venezuela que amo y extrano tanto.

Thank you.