Addressing the state of the country’s current climate, Venezuelan Ambassador to the United States Carlos Vecchio visited Rudder Theatre on March 3.
The MSC L.T. Jordan Institute for International Awareness and Venezuelan Student Association (VSA) co-hosted event, Venezuela: Fighting Oppression in a Starving Nation, was moderated by Mathias Poertner, assistant professor of international affairs in the Bush School of Government and Public Service.
Once a hub of economic prosperity in Latin America, Venezuela’s wealth and democracy has capsized in recent years. Vecchio, appointed Chargé d'Affaires of the Government of Venezuela to the United States by in-term President Juan Guaidó in 2019, discussed the humanitarian and political crises affecting the country, and his journey to restoring power to its citizens.
VSA president Venancio Mendez Levy introduced Vecchio by noting that Tuesday evening’s assembly was the “largest” of its kind between the Venezuelan and United States government.
“As a Venezuelan Aggie, I couldn’t be prouder of Texas A&M University, for welcoming and hosting such an outstanding activist for liberty and democracy in Venezuela,” Levy said. “Our rights have been stolen by an authoritarian regime that is willing to do anything to remain in power. However, never will a corrupt elite silence the voice of a whole country and our determined right to live with dignity and prosperity.”
Even after a promising start in law, Vecchio said his journey into politics was inevitable.
“I had the opportunity to stay here in the ‘States,’ I had a very successful career as a lawyer,” Vecchio said. “But I said to me, ‘Who I am is because of Venezuela.’ … I needed to return back to what Venezuela gave me.”
Despite the dismay of his friends, he said joining the political playground in Venezuela was influenced by two factors: moral rebellion and obligation.
“As a child I remember many people, poor people, going to my house looking for my father [and] trying to get some support from my father in any kind,” Vecchio said. “For food, for medicine, just helping one person who was in jail. Things like that. And I had that in my mind all the time, because politics is about that: serving the people, particularly the poor people.”
Following his postgraduate studies at Georgetown University and Harvard, Vecchio returned to Venezuela at the peak of then-president Hugo Chavez’s control.
“I saw a man dismantling our democracy, our institutions and I couldn’t ignore what was happening,” Vecchio said. “I said to me, ‘If I want to have a change in Venezuela, I need to be part of that change. I need to participate in that change.’
His open support for the Popular Will, a social-democratic political party, drew ire from opponents. In 2014, authorities issued a warrant for Vecchio’s arrest on grounds of the intent to “incite violence”. Shortly thereafter, Vecchio and his wife went into hiding.
During his 100-day exile, he thought about the citizens of Venezuela, the regime he wanted to cripple and the child resting in his wife.
“I had in my mind my son, my first son, and I feared that I could lose [him],” Vecchio said. “I remember when I was in hiding, I got a picture that was an ultrasound and I saw his face. That gave me more strength. And I showed the people of Venezuela fighting on the street, and said, ‘We need to keep together in the struggle in order to continue our journey to freedom.”
In 2018, Current Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro Moros sought reelection. His presidential win has been heavily contested as illegitimate, due to the lack of democratic participation. Maduro’s win has since been declared fraudulent by the Organization of American States and European union.
According to a recent study conducted by the United Nations World Food Program, one in every three people in Venezuela do not get enough to eat, while four out of every ten people experience daily power outages. Vecchio said Maduro is the root of the issues plaguing Venezuela.
“This humanitarian crisis is the worst humanitarian crisis that we have seen … It is even worse than the Special Period in Cuba,” Vecchio said. “And keep this in mind, this is a man made disaster. This is not a crisis created by a war, but a man-made disaster because these people have implemented a regime which has destroyed our economy, our liberties and has created more poverty in Venezuela … The only way to resolve this crisis is taking Maduro out of power. It’s the only way.”
For his message of the night, Vecchio called on younger generations and said change only occurs when people take initiative.
“You, young people, you are not the future. You are the present,” Vecchio said. “And if you want to change you have to be part of that change. Nobody’s going to give you that change.”