BETANCOURT: Don’t forget Vecchio

For more than a decade, Yale World Fellows has represented a growing network of emerging global leaders from nearly every discipline and over 81 countries. We are health professionals, lawyers, artists, bankers, politicians, urbanists, diplomats, journalists, environmentalists and writers. Today, I write on behalf of my cohort of the 2013 World Fellows.

What unites us in this strong, diverse network is not just the shared, intensive experience of the Fellowship and our strong relationship with Yale. It is also the desire and commitment of each and every World Fellow to challenge the status quo and foster change that can provide dignity and justice to all. But as World Fellows know well, change does not come easy.

Nobody knows this better than Carlos Vecchio, a 2013 World Fellow. Carlos gave up a comfortable life as a corporate lawyer in his home country of Venezuela to become a political activist because he cared deeply about the fate of democracy and social justice in his country. He cofounded Voluntad Popular, which has grown to become the main opposition party in Venezuela today. As many of you will know, in recent days the Venezuelan government has launched a ruthless campaign of intimidation against its political opponents. On Feb. 18, security forces raided the offices of Voluntad Popular and arrested its leader, Leopoldo López, on charges of sedition. As senior deputy to Lopez, Carlos is now the de facto leader of Voluntad Popular. That means he is now a hunted man, too.

Carlos is currently underground, trying to avoid arrest on trumped-up charges. He has made it clear that he will not give up his fight but has also told us his life and liberty are in danger. Amnesty International has highlighted the risks that Carlos is facing. As his friends and fellow cohort members, we are deeply concerned for Carlos’s safety and security. Therefore, we are appealing to the Yale University community for help.

Carlos is a beloved and popular leader within Venezuela but unlike López, he is not an internationally recognizable figure (yet). Media outlets outside of Venezuela have yet to report on his situation. We worry that his relative anonymity will allow government forces to arrest Carlos and violate his human rights with impunity and without fear of any international repercussion.

Please join our efforts to raise international awareness about the dangers that Carlos is facing. We are appealing to the authorities in Venezuela to respect Carlos’s human rights and his right to due process. We urge you to do all that you can to raise awareness about the dire situation in Venezuela and the danger that Carlos and other pro-democracy activists in Venezuela are in. This is the time to stand up in solidarity for the safety of a member of the Yale community. If you, or your organization or someone you know can help keep Carlos safe, or can stop the Venezuela government from intimidating its own citizens, this is the time to do something about it. But the least that all of us can do is spread the word: to international organizations, to media outlets and to governments in Venezuela’s neighborhood and elsewhere. And of course, please make your friends and acquaintances aware of Carlos’s situation through Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

Carlos has sacrificed and suffered much already for a cause he believes in passionately. During his semester at Yale, Carlos devoted his time to sharing with the Yale community his hope for a democratic and progressive Venezuela in which all Venezuelans could enjoy a better quality of life and taste the kind of freedom that many of us take for granted. Let’s do what we can to help Carlos continue his work in safety.

Enrique Betancourt is 2013 Yale World Fellow. Contact him at enrique.betancourt@yale.edu .

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