by Vishakha Negi and Hannah Flaum
We both first met Carlos Vecchio last semester when we covered separate talks at Yale (An Interview with Carlos Vecchio covered by Vishakha and The Rule of Law During the Chávez Era covered by Hannah). As a Yale World Fellow as well as a member of the nascent yet powerfully growing Venezuelan opposition party Voluntad Popular (Popular Will), he is extremely energetic and excited with new ideas for his country and hope for change from the Chávez era. He dreamed of a new way of government, a new way of citizenry, a new way for the people to connect with their government.
The ideas that Vecchio supports have now pushed him into hiding.
Throughout Hugo Chávez’s overextended rule, unrest brimmed subtly but furiously under centralization and a façade of nationalism. Not only were there significant breaches of basic human and political rights, but there was also a highly detrimental manipulation of the economy that nearly shut out Venezuela from international trade and resulted in the highest inflation rate in Latin America. With the fall of Chávez and rise of Nicolás Maduro, last year, matters only became more aggravated. In attempts to quell unrest among the Venezuelan people, many voices of opposition were silenced, police aggression increased, the murder rate worsened, futile attempts to force store-owners to slash prices in the face of hyperinflation fueled more economic problems and looting.
The result of the past year’s problems has been that for the first time since the fall of Chávez, the public is protesting and speaking up for itself. It is asserting its rights. The vision of Voluntad Popular has come into play. Since February 12, 2014, citizens who are angry with the economic circumstances and crime rate have been openly protesting the government. The opposition from the administration, however, is powerful and unforgiving. Within the first day, three protesters were killed and 66 were injured. The current death toll is 14.
Maduro’s administration blamed opposition leader Leopoldo López, currently under arrest, for instigating the anti-government uproar. López maintains that he, his party, and citizens, working in conjunction with the Catholic Church and other diplomats to protest peacefully, is not to blame for the violence. Now in jail in Caracas, he turned himself into Venezuelan authorities on February 18, 2014 after a warrant for arrest was issued for his arrest. He maintains his support of the protests from jail in Caracas and since his arrest, protesters have not acquiesced and maintain their opposition to Maduro and the regime’s negative impacts in Venezuela.
The 300-page file on López that was cause for his arrest allegedly includes more serious charges against Vecchio, who is now at the top of the Voluntad Popular party and thus at a heightened risk of government action. Now, with a warrant for Vecchio’ arrest issued the day after López turned himself in, Vecchio is hiding in Venezuela with little communication to the outside world.
López is now an internationally recognizable figure appearing in newspapers, internet articles, and TV programs across the world. With all the attention of other nations, Maduro would face international repercussion for unjust action against López and thus must tread more carefully.
However, Vecchio lacks the same global recognition that López has and his anonymity may make him much more vulnerable to harsher treatment should he be arrested. As a result, Vecchio’ voice and ideas are being silenced, but the risk of his possible arrest and subsequent punishment is even more grave and unjust.
As a very friendly and earnest man who wishes for a peaceful and smooth transition for the Venezuelan people, Vecchio deserves (and needs) our attention at this pivotal moment in his life and in millions of Venezuelans’ lives. Spreading the word about Vecchio’s situation and protesting his arrest and the unjust claims of the Maduro regime can help bring to light the brutality and oppression that the Venezuelan government is currently pursuing.
As Vecchio said during Vishakha’s interview with him: “Here is my one piece of advice to college students. Don’t ask for change. Be a part of that change. Make it happen.”
For more information on Carlos Vecchio and on Voluntad Popular, you can follow @Carlosvecchio or @voluntadpopular on Twitter or check out Amnesty International’s website.
Resources for Learning More About the Situation:
* http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/venezuela/ (provided timeline)
http://gawker.com/how-venezuela-became-a-warzone-1526857816 (background info)
*http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-17/venezuela-president-summons-allies-to-street-to-rival-opposition.html (provided news on protests)