Today the world celebrates International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Venezuela is the proud home of over 20 indigenous groups, making up about 2% of the total population. However, for these communities in Venezuela, there is little to celebrate today.
The indigenous communities in Venezuela are actively being undermined, repressed, and even massacred by the Maduro regime. The regime’s negligence and economic interest have left indigenous communities vulnerable to diseases, displacement, and violence. While the regime claims to champion and protect the people of Venezuela, it is actively violating the human rights of its natives.
On February 22nd 2019, Maduro’s forces opened fire against the Pemon community near the Venezuela-Brazil border, resulting, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in the death of seven and the wounding of 26 people. The Pemon community was trying to let much needed humanitarian aid in through the border, which the Maduro regime had blocked. Since then, thousands of Pemon community members have fled to safety in Brazil, leaving an entire community displaced and torn by violence.
In addition, the collapse of the Venezuelan health infrastructure as well as the toxic exploitation of indigenous land has left communities vulnerable to deadly diseases. The Panamerican Organization of Health (OPS) has reported epidemic-level outbreaks of diseases such as malaria, HIV, and measles amongst indigenous communities in the Delta Amacuro and Bolivar regions. Even though these diseases threaten to decimate large portions of indigenous communities, the regime has stopped vaccinating indigenous communities against preventable diseases and has issued no humanitarian response to this crisis.
Finally, today the habitat of indigenous communities in Venezuela is threatened by the regime’s illegal mining of their land. The regime’s Orinoco Mining Arc project has turned sacred indigenous lands in Southern Venezuela into sites of organized crime and irreversible ecological disasters. Entire communities and ecosystems are being wiped out to serve the economic needs of a regime and its criminal allies.
While the Maduro regime has tried to make these communities invisible, we will continue to speak up for their human rights. As the world celebrates International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, let’s shed a light on some of the most vulnerable and oppressed people in Venezuela.
by Marcela Bustillos
The Venezuelan flag has changed over the years, but has always been inspired on the design by Navy Captain Lino de Clemente y Palacios and General Francisco de Miranda Rodríguez, which was approved for the first time on July 9, 1811 by the Supreme Congress of Venezuela.
This first flag did not include any stars. The seven stars were officialized as an element in the Venezuelan flag in 1812 as a recognition to the seven provinces that supported the Declaration of Independence on April 10, 1810: Margarita, Cumaná, Barcelona, Barinas, Mérida, Trujillo, and Caracas.
In 1816, after the fall of the Second Republic, independence hero Simón Bolívar returned to Venezuela to resume the fight against the Spaniards. He remained in Guayana, a southern unexplored area. It was in Guayana where Bolívar planned the strategy to defeat the enemy once again, which wound up in a victory thanks to resources provided by the southern territory. After the triumph of the Guayana Campaign, Bolívar orders an eighth star to be included in the Venezuelan flag in representation of the eighth liberated province on November 20, 1817.
HISTORY OF VENEZUELA'S FLAGS
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From that time to 1954, the Venezuelan flag changed several times. New versions of the flag starting in 1863 stuck to the seven-star design in honor to the original seven provinces that adopted and declared their independence from Spanish domination.
On February 17, 1954, the Venezuelan Congress approved a new Flag, Coat of Arms, and National Anthem Law. It dictated the seven stars to be located in the blue stripe, positioned forming a semi-circle. The seven-star flag remained as an official symbol until March 2006.
Late President Hugo Chávez proposed to change the flag in order to fulfill Simón Bolívar’s desire of including Guayana as the eighth freed province. After revising Chávez’s proposal, the National Assembly (comprised by that time only by pro-government deputies) abolished the 1954 Flag, Coat of Arms, and National Anthem Law on March 7, 2006. Two days later, the Legislative branch approved by decree the inclusion of the eighth star representing Guayana in the Venezuelan flag to honor Simón Bolívar’s 1817 resolution.
Text by Dubraska Vale.
Illustrations by Johana Gomez Ryczo & Marlon Correa
Carlos Cruz-Diez was born in Caracas, Venezuela on August 17, 1923. Recognized as one of the greatest kinetic artists of all time, he created art that explores the perception of color as an autonomous reality evolving in space and time. His canvas’ were innovative in that they reflected the evolving nature of color through motion.
Throughout his lifetime, he achieved many academic and professional goals that further allowed his work to gain recognition, eventually becoming a symbol of patriotism and nostalgia for all Venezuelans. In 1940, he studied at the School of Fine Arts in Caracas, where he obtained the diploma of professor in Applied Arts. In 1944, he worked as an illustrator for the publication ‘El Farol of the Creole Petroleum Corporation,’ as well as for other magazines such as La Esfera and Élite. In 1946, he served as the creative director of the advertising agency McCann-Erickson. He held his first exhibition called “12 Gouaches de Carlos Cruz-Diez” at the Instituto Venezolano-Americano in Caracas in 1947. In 1953, he worked as an illustrator for the then prestigious newspaper “El Nacional.” Finally, in 1960, he moved with his family to Paris where he continued to create work that played with the viewer’s perspective by providing an illusion of movement through the use of color, space, and time.
Cruz-Diez’s work is housed in prestigious permanent collections in art institutions internationally. However, his most famous and most memorable work of art is located in Venezuela. “Ambientation of Additive Color” is a physichromie series, installed and exhibited inside the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Maiquetia. This exquisite piece has served as the backdrop to millions of Venezuelans who have fled the country during the past decade. Ask a Venezuelan and you will come to understand that this piece transcends time and space and continues to be housed in the hearts and minds of Venezuelans around the world despite where they may have had to migrate to.
Before departing to various unknown lands, one of the last things that Venezuelans see at the airport is the work of Carlos Cruz-Diez. It is fitting that his work creates an illusion of movement that stimulates “awareness of the instability of reality,” as Venezuelans are forced to leave behind their home country in search of a new and more stable reality.
By Marlon Correa, Daniella Bustillos, Dilianna Bustillos.
During Simón Bolívar’s speech before the Patriotic Society on July 4th, 1811, he pleaded for Venezuela to break from colonial chains: “Lets, with no fear, place the stone of fundamental South American liberty: to hesitate is to lose ourselves.” His words against Spanish rule aimed at a unity, if effective, it would lead Venezuela to freedom. The words union and liberty ring throughout his speech but, what did Bolívar mean with such words, with such proclamation? A sentiment that forced him to leave a clear message of what for a new nation was, or meant: its independence.
Union; an ambiguous word used in ancestral generations to define the strong and unbreakable links of an agreement or friendship. When I was young, my mother used to say, “the links of brotherhood and friendship are so intricately intertwined that when force is applied, they’re almost impossible to break because they form a nucleus of unwavering power.” In each one of Bolívar’s letters, he often referred to the same union. In each text. In each proclamation. He relied on his faith, “when union is consolidated, and parties cease, I will go down calmly into my grave.” These words were a declaration not only for that time, but his words served as inspiration for future liberators. I frequently question myself about Bolívar’s thoughts regarding liberty and union, and I wonder if we are those ornamented liberators he conceived, or are we just simple-minded citizens? Perhaps we are like those who chose not to come after that independence feat, but chose to live under colonial rule of the enslaving Spanish Monarchy? Well no, I am a patriot because I firmly believe in the fundamental principles of the First Republic of Venezuela’s constitution based on the premises of equality of individuals, abolition of censorship and dedication to freedom of expression. The one that freed us, that weaned us from that colonial sustenance; and like the Phoenix, it gave us new wings to fly, to be free and search for skies of dignity and national patriotism. That, to me, and to many others, would represent what we commemorate on July 5th.
As I reflect on these words, and how Bolívar’s thoughts resonate in my mind; ‘Caramba’ it feels as if I’m listening to the echo of his words in the air. It’s as if I’m seeing his hand moving the sword of justice, crying out for union and freedom of the oppressed. For twenty one years Venezuela has suffered many battles, from unlimited corruption lawsuits to systematic human rights violations; Bolívar’s dreams have been shattered. Simón Bolívar was a prophet, a dreamer, a visionary leader who yearned for a free country, and on July 5th, 1811, proclaimed his vision in order to establish a new nation, and help Venezuela compelling such emancipation parchment manuscript: our constitution.
Today, July 5th, 2019, two hundred and eight years later, I’m left yearning for that same freedom. Today, I cry out for the chains of hate, abuse, and division to break, and I plead for an effective union that will lead Venezuela to freedom, again.
I believe we are those liberators Bolívar spoke about, but until our union is not consolidated, we will not go calmly into our grave.
By Pedro Correa, Marlon Correa, and Virginia Giunta
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, and Marlon Correa
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.
Interim President Juan Guaidó called for a massive protest for May 1st, marking the beginning of the end of the regime in Venezuela. This protest called "Operacion Libertad" (Operation Liberty) was to be the day when the usurpation of power in Venezuela would end. In the early morning hours of April 30th, Juan Guaidó appeared in a video surrounded by military troops alongside long time political leader, out of house arrest, Leopoldo Lopez. In this video, Guaidó makes a peaceful call for all military and all citizens to join them in the fight and rescuing of the country.