At a Tuesday afternoon talk in Trumbull College, Carlos Vecchio — a political activist and Yale World Fellow — spoke about his work on the front lines of the Venezuelan political opposition movement.
Vecchio, who encouraged students to pursue paths in activism during the talk, is highly involved in the political movement against the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and ran campaigns for opposition presidential candidates in 2011 and 2012. He said that the current Venezuelan leadership regime, which was started by former President Hugo Chavez in 1999 and has been continued by current President Nicolas Maduro, limits civil rights by controlling media outlets, intimidating other political parties through intense political discrimination and exerting too much control over the judicial and legislative systems in the country.
“You are totally controlled by the government in many senses,” Vecchio said. “Every time [political dissidents] go on the street, we have the risk of being attacked … Chavez saw the opposition as an enemy that he had to destroy.”
Vecchio said that he became involved in politics in part because he “wanted to bring a real change” to his country. Following in the footsteps of his father, a politician, Vecchio said he developed a passion for helping his fellow citizens, particularly those from poor areas.
Vecchio cited student participation as a very important component of the opposition movement in Venezuela and he encouraged Yale students to become involved in political activism in their own homelands.
“People like you are in the front row,” he said. “What I’m telling you is that you are the present, you are not the future … we need to have [students] engaged in the fight we are fighting right now.”
Vecchio said that students involved in politics have comprised a high percentage of participants in many key protests in Venezuela, adding that individuals must become an active part of the very changes they seek.
Despite the danger of speaking out as a political dissident, Vecchio said that he continues to work towards democracy in Venezuela because he aspires to be a leader and a maker of history.
“Life has given me the opportunity to be on the front line, and we’re writing part of our history,” he said. “And I know that 30 years later, people like you will read this part of our history that we are living right now.”
Students in attendance said that they found the talk — and particularly Vecchio’s discussion of the role of students in political activism — invigorating.
Melina Sanchez ’15, one of two World Fellows student liaisons who works with Vecchio, said she thought Vecchio very effectively communicated the complex political situation in Venezuela, where Sanchez herself spent a semester abroad.
“Students are key actors in politics, and they are very important,” Sanchez said. “They are social mobilizers in their counties. They have strong voices because they also suffer all of the consequences of political turmoil that is in Venezuela.”
Charlotte Newell ’16 said that she found it “really cool” to hear from someone who is working on reshaping his government as it is happening, rather than simply reading about it from a textbook.
Vecchio will return to Venezuela in December to help run local mayoral campaigns, which will be the first elections to take place in Venezuela since the presidential election in April.