Over a month had passed since his escape, and yet there were no signs of his whereabouts. Former Venezuelan political prisoner, Iván Simonovis, unexpectedly appeared in Washington, D.C. on June 24, 2019.
Simonovis, a former Director of Security at the Caracas Metropolitan Municipality, was arrested on November 2004 and accused by late President Hugo Chávez’s administration of the violence that took place in Caracas on April 11, 2002. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison and was pardoned by interim President, Juan Guaido, on May 16, 2019 after serving 15 years.
Although Guaido’s pardon granted Simonovis his freedom, it did not immediately put an end to his house arrest, or provide a free ride out of the country. Simonovis began his escape by climbing down a 75 foot wall with a rope and, with a pair of shears, he cut his ankle monitor. He then moved from one safe house to another until finally eluding forces loyal to Nicolas Maduro. He fled on a fishing boat and later managed to pilot a plane flying to safety. Simonovis’ expertise came to play when preparing his escape.
Read more about Simonovis’ captivity and story of survival here
Upon his arrival to DC, his agenda included meetings at the Department of State and the US Congress.He met with Democrat and Republican Representatives and Senators to describe the realities of the political prisoners in Venezuela and the violation of human rights.
On May 26, 2019, Simonovis offered the first press conference after being released. Among other things, he recounted how he only had access to sunlight 33 days throughout 9 years of imprisonment and what his plans in the US are: “I came here to work and work for my country’s freedom,” he said.
To do so, Simonovis plans on pushing more actions against Maduro by using “his law enforcement background to assist US authorities investigating corruption, drug trafficking and alleged links to terrorist groups by Venezuelan officials. He’s also looking to help Guaidó develop a blueprint for improving urban security should he take power,” according to Associated Press.
by Francisco Medina, Dubraska Vale, Marlon Correa, Daniella Bustillos
Today, Venezuelans celebrate “National Journalist Day.”
It’s a day to recognize journalists, photographers, designers, videographers, editors, documentarists, anchors, correspondents, and keyboard warriors. Today, anyone who shares the news through newspapers, TV, social media or email, is a journalist. Whether it’s a college graduate or an everyday citizen, what matters is the daily task of elevating the news and informing the public. In my opinion, these people are world correspondents.
But as Venezuelans celebrate this day, they also mourn it.
For more than 20 years, Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro’s regime have silenced thousands of Venezuelans for expressing their discontent and thoughts on a crisis that has ruined the country. Amongst the many battles Venezuelans face everyday, one of them is for the right to freedom of press and speech. In more than two decades, Chavismo has managed to dismantle the country’s private media industry. Chavez’s first attack was the closure of the private channel Radio Caracas Television in 2007. Their reportage of the harsh realities in Venezuela made them an easy target. From there, any media report that didn’t favor Chavez was to be silenced.
Since 2013, the year that Nicolas Maduro took power, until now, more than 2,265 attacks against freedom of speech have been registered by the National Syndicate of Press Workers. “This makes Nicolas Maduro the first abuser of the right to information and freedom of speech in the democratic history of Venezuela,'' declared Marco Ruiz of NSPW. Approximately five years ago there were 90 print media in existence. Now that number has been cut down to thirty. In the beginning, these attacks were orchestrated by government forces. Today, colectivos (pro-regime militia) take matters into their own hands and attack journalists with full impunity. As the regime maintains power of armed forces and colectivos, attacks on the media and freedom of speech will only continue.
Our job at Ask A Venezuelan is to be a voice for those who have been oppressed and silenced by this regime.
We thank all of those who continue to shed light on Venezuela’s crisis and help us in this mission.
by Pedro Correa, Marlon Correa, Marcella Bustillos, Ambar Marcus.
The United Nations observes June 20th as World Refugee Day. This day is dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees throughout the world.
A Venezuelan adolescent prepares to spend the night on the streets of Tumbes, Peru. Stranded in the town, she waits to get a stamp on her passport that will allow her to travel through Peru. A trip she is forced to make to escape a crisis in order to survive. Like her, refugees do not choose to be in this situation. According to the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, 8,000 Venezuelans crossed the border at Tumbes on Friday June 14th, 2019. That number set a new record on displacement figures.
The total number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Peru stands at about 800,000. The country has received over 280,000 asylum applications from Venezuelan citizens and has given temporary residence permits to over 390,000. But the refugee crisis is not a problem that affects Peru alone. An estimated 1.3 million Venezuelans have settled in Colombia and more than a quarter of a million have settled in Ecuador. Ultimately, the number of Venezuelans who have left to escape the country’s ongoing political and economic crisis has reached four million. This exodus has torn families apart and deteriorated an already affected community. Out of all the people who have migrated, the ones who are affected the most are children. For those who remain in Venezuela, food and medicine shortages, along with increasing insecurity, make the country an inhabitable place for young children. Approximately one third of the children in the country lack access to basic nutrition, health, and education services.
Organizations like Venezuela Aid Live and the United Nations, among others, have ramped up efforts to bring humanitarian aid to Venezuelans in need.
But as the ongoing crisis in Venezuela worsens, so will the number of refugees fleeing from it. Additionally, these fleeing Venezuelans face numerous challenges in other countries as immigrants or refugees. Such challenges include: refugee trauma, harassment, discrimination, gender inequality, lack of employment opportunities, health implications, and lack of housing, among other things.
Lastly, one of the biggest challenges Venezuelan refugees face is international recognition. According to the UNHCR, "A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence." And while the internal conflict in Venezuela drives masses away, it still isn't defined as a war. This is an extremely complex crisis under continuous growing pressure to update the international protection system. A system needed to protect and recognize Venezuelan migrants as refugees in host and neighboring countries.
By Virginia Giunta, Marlon Correa, Daniella Bustillos, Marcela Bustillos.
Gender violence has been one of the most acute problems in Latin America and Venezuela has not escaped from its radar. However, this is not the only problem critically impacting the country. The deep social, economic, political, and humanitarian crisis affecting Venezuela has reached exorbitant levels, which has a direct impact on the lives of all its citizens. Impunity, absence of a justice system, and a lack of respect for fundamental rights are summarized in an ongoing conflictive scenario for all. Moreover, anarchy and authoritarianism have propagated alarming cases of violence against women with little to no hope for possible short-term solutions. Forced migration has separated hundreds of thousands of parents from their children, of all ages, in search for a better quality of life. Most of these children are left behind, abandoned or unprotected, as orphans. Finally, modern slavery reflected in forced prostitution and women trafficking is a new worrisome factor to be included in this complex scenario that has resulted from the severe crisis and massive Venezuelan exodus. According to the latest report of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the figure of Venezuelan refugees and migrants is around 4 million people, which represents the second largest group of displaced population in the country.
Video courtesy of United Nations Population Fund
“They can kidnap you or force you to go into prostitution. At some point, there is a need to talk to someone, and I will always think: Will that be a good or a bad person? A lone woman runs all the existing risks in the world.”
Britney is one of the millions of people who have faced countless challenges when leaving Venezuela just to secure a better future for themselves. Many women and adolescents have bound together in groups to help one another, but this strategy does not offer sufficient protection. Fear and threats are always present.
In the first few weeks of 2019, UNFPA registered and assisted 21 cases of violence against Venezuelan women at the Border’s Binational Attention Center, known by the Spanish acronym CEBAF.
By Virginia Giunta
On Saturday of June 8th, 2019, the annual Pride Parade was celebrated in the nation’s capital. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City, which was the ignition of the modern LGBTQ movement.
In Venezuela, the LGBTQ community does not have the same legal protection rights as the rest of the citizens. There has been some progress in the last few years but still a lot of work needs to be done.
A part of the Venezuelan diaspora in Washington, D.C. came to show support at the Pride Parade. It is important for us as a community to be inclusive with everyone no matter their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or economic status. Diversity is what makes a country rich in culture, which in turn gives everyone the opportunity to thrive.
By Freddy Cova & Francisco Medina.