Poli Sci for the Average Guy: Why Does Venezuela Need Saving?

On Valentine’s Day, when American college students were spending time with their significant others and watching “House of Cards,” Venezuelan students stormed the streets of Caracas with the common battle cry “#SOSVENEZUELA” in protest of their government.

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Student protests in Caracas

However, not all students studying at American universities were sitting idly by — especially not at Georgetown. Last night, 4E had the opportunity to interview Georgetown student Alberto Alfonzo (SFS ’17), a proud Venezuelan and political activist, on the current situation in his country. Before we begin our portion with Alfonzo, let’s explore what these protests are all about.

The last presidential election took place in April following the death of the former Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez. Since then, there have been uprisings in the streets of Venezuela. These demonstrations have swept through the neighborhoods of other political strongholds within the country and internationally, including in Washington, D.C.

Venezuela’s last election was a close call — some might even say too close — which has created distrust in the electoral system and has spurred demands for a ballot recount. However, the current president-in-power, Nicolás Maduro, has denied all recount requests.

Under Maduro’s leadership, Venezuela has sunk more deeply into a social and economic crisis. Class warfare has risen to unprecedented levels as the socialist government has dismissed opponents and written them off as fascists who only work for personal gain. The political unrest and economic tumult have incited a powerful response.

Such a response is nothing new in the course of Venezuelan history. Alfonzo informed 4E that in Venezuela, Feb. 12 marks “The Day of the Youth,” which honors the preteens and teenagers who died in the Battle of La Victoria during the Venezuelan War of Independence in February 1814.

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D.C. protesters outside the OAS Building

When asked why students seemed to be at the center of the Venezuelan uprisings, Alonzo simply responded, “I don’t know. … It’s what they have always done.” He later described the “Generation of ’28,” a group of students who effectively ousted the dictator then in power, Juan Vicente Gómez, after protests in 1928.  Today, Alfonzo helps lead fellow Georgetown students and Venezuelans alike in protest of the regime in power.

Are we on the cusp of a Generation of ’13? Alfonzo believes the odds are unlikely: “The road to recovery, if paved correctly, will be long and arduous.” Otherwise, he said, “It wouldn’t be truly democratic and anything less than that would cause history to repeat itself.”

Alberto Alfonzo holds a #SOSVENEZUELA sign  in support of student protesters.
Alberto Alfonzo (SFS ’17) holds a #SOSVENEZUELA sign in support of student protesters.

On Feb. 19, Alfonzo and several Hoyas ventured downtown to the Organization of American States (OAS) building in Washington, D.C., to protest the current situation in Venezuela. When asked about his actions, Alfonzo responded that he hoped they would lead to international involvement. “We are far away, but we’re not absent. Venezuelans are calling on international institutions to act,” he said. “We want them to react.”

Thus far, four students have died protesting in Venezuela — two in Caracas and two outside the city. The stakes for speaking out are high, but when put into context with the the situation, Alfonzo feels it’s “not only my duty, but what I want to do as a Venezuelan.”

Photos: Harper Weissburg/The Hoya; Courtesy Alberto Alfonzo

Harper Weissburg

Harper Weissburg

Harper is a senior in the SFS studying time travel and morse code. She plans to marry John Krasinski and name all future dogs "Jack," and if that plot foils, she'll pursue a scandalous career in government. Harper's personal mantra is: "it's only awkward if you make it awkward."
Harper Weissburg

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