EspañolEighteen-year-old Guillibet Cardona and 19-year-old Eduardo Guerrero are both law students and Venezuelan political activists. Cardona is the secretary general of the Soy Usemista student movement at Santa María University, and Guerrero is a member of the Primero Justicia opposition party, headed by the former presidential candidate and Miranda state governor, Henrique Capriles.
Both attended Cato Institute‘s seminar Cato University from January 19 through 22, 2015 in Heredia, Costa Rica, and from the start became the center of the attention. A Venezuelan at a libertarian event is in itself enough to garner the spotlight, but these students had an especially interesting story to tell.
They made the journey to Costa Rica despite the ongoing financial crisis in their country that makes air travel nearly impossible. From Caracas, Cardona and Guerrero, accompanied by fellow Primero Justicia activist Antony Barreto, first crossed into the neighboring city of Cúcuta, Colombia. Once there, they look a flight to the nation’s capital, Bogotá, and then one more to San José, Costa Rica.
The long journey, however, did not diminish their spirits. They were determined to make their destination and engage with other like-minded individuals from other countries with the hope of finding solutions to the problems afflicting their own.
They shared with the he PanAm Post their story, as well as their perspectives on the youth movement in Venezuela, the democratic crisis, and the mass exodus of young people from their country.
The Venezuelan government has just announced that the armed forces are now allowed to use lethal force against protesters if they become violent. How does that affect the student movement and how is it going to respond?
GC: We’re going to keep protesting, no doubt about it. Precisely because we believe that the government, with these measures, is trying to instill fear in the population and prevent them from going out to demand their rights.
Besides, it’s unconstitutional. Article 68 says the state cannot crack down on peaceful protests, and the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. They can’t override the Constitution, and even less to undermine the rights of Venezuelans.
Do you have anything planned in the wake of this ruling?
GC: We will continue to raise our voices and protesting everything we deem unjust. I’m not afraid of this government anymore. We’re still discussing the specific actions, but the protests will go on.
What does it mean to be a young opposition activist in Venezuela? What do you do?
GC: Since we are not free to communicate through the [traditional] media, our only outlets are social networks. That has also forced us to be more present in the streets, organizing assemblies, talks, and taking the message of change directly to the people. Young activists now also go to [grocery-store] lines, and offer people water, talk to them, and explain to them why this is happening.
What is the message of change you carry?
When we Venezuelans finally recover our freedom, we’re going to defend it with blood, sweat, and tears, and they won’t ever take it away again.
GC: We tell them that what we have right now is not the best we can do. We can live better, and people don’t have to settle for the government we have right now.
Do you offer specific policy proposals for the future?
EG: We talk about public policy proposals. For example, in Caracas we promote the program that grants property rights to lands in the Sucre municipality (governed by the opposition), and now we’ve proposed the same initiative to the Libertador municipal council (governed by the ruling party).
At Primero Justicia, we took the discussion about the First Employement Law to the streets, and five years later the national government claimed it as their own and approved it via presidential decree.
We also invite people to participate in politics, organize, and protest peacefully.
Do you carry out activities in poor neighborhoods and communities?
EG: Most in Caracas live in working-class communities; I’m one of them. Even if people there don’t go out to protest, what we try to do is encourage volunteer work. For instance, in December we gave toys to low-income families. We are always organizing meetings, so they understand the opposition is not “fascist,” like the national government claims. We want them to understand we support them too.
In Catia, we carried out an event once and they literally kicked us out. But that didn’t stop us. We returned, and people took notice of that.
Common criticism against the opposition is that they resort to the same old populist tactics. What are you doing to try to change that view?
EG: Handing out toys to poor children can be seen as a populist stunt, but we have a government in Venezuela that engages in that. There are families that simply cannot afford to buy toys, and we believe it’s not children’s fault. Their parents have to go out and find milk and diapers for them, and the minimum wage is not enough [approximately US$30.72 per month at the black-market rate]. We do that as social work with great affection.
Do you think there’s a debate in the neighborhoods about Venezuela’s future?
GC: There has been significant change in low-income communities, because Chavismo used to have a larger following there. But we have successfully planted the seed that, even though the government helps them, they should not settle for it when a much better quality of life is possible.
In low-income regions, how are young activists perceived?
GC: Many have welcomed us, even PSUV [United Socialist Party of Venezuela] militants. That used to be unheard of.
Young Venezuelans are leaving the country at historical rates. Why do you decide to stay and engage in political activism?
We’re going to change the country so you can come back, and we can all pull through together.
GC: It hurts us to see what is happening in our country. I had the chance to migrate to another country, but I decided not to because I want to keep fighting for Venezuela. If everyone leaves, who is going to help change things?
EG: I follow my principles, and I simply don’t see myself abroad, away from my parents, relatives, and community. I think I can make a difference in Venezuela, and little by little we’re changing people’s minds.
What would you say to the youth that has already left?
EG: Well, get ready. We’re going to change the country so you can come back, and we can all pull through together.
GC: We understand the situation of those who have left Venezuela because they haven’t found the opportunities they needed to have a good quality of life. We cannot criticize them, but we respect those who have decided to stay because they really love their country.
Why did you come to Cato University ?
EG: We’re attracted to the idea of liberty and democracy, which we don’t have in Venezuela. We’ve lost them, and we didn’t value them enough while we had it. When we Venezuelans finally recover our freedom, we’re going to defend it with blood, sweat, and tears, and they won’t ever take it away again.