Young Venezuelans Deserve to Live Free

Interview With
Rafaela Requesens
Guest Author

Exiled Venezuelan dissident Rafaela Requesens speaks out for the next generation of Venezuelans. And she calls upon the international community to denounce the human rights abuses of Nicolás Maduro's government.

Rafaela Requesens recently celebrated her 30th birthday living in exile from her native Venezuela. The former head of the student union of the Central University of Venezuela ended up fleeing her country after she led student movements in 2017 against Nicolas Maduro’s consolidation of power and repression of political activities in Venezuela. Her activism led to her arrest, as did her brother Juan Requesens’ opposition to the regime lead to an eight-year sentence for the lawmaker. Juan remains under house arrest, while Rafaela lives in Europe. Her work on behalf of young Venezuelans’ freedom earned her a spot on TIME’s 2019 list of 100 leaders of the next generation.

She spoke from her home abroad with Jessica Ludwig, Director of Freedom and Democracy at the Bush Institute, and Chris Walsh, Deputy Director of Freedom and Democracy at the Bush Institute. In this video and excerpted text, she explains her brother’s arrest and false imprisonment. She details why the international community should denounce the Maduro government’s human rights abuses. And she passionately speaks out for the next generation of Venezuelans. “We are their voice,” she says, and they deserve to live free. 

We’ve seen in Venezuela that democracy can turn to dictatorship over the course of a few decades. What advice would you give citizens when they see democratic backsliding at home? How can they engage in the democratic process to counter populist or illiberal tendencies before it is too late?

I always say that, if you have democracy in your country, you can’t let go of it. When that happens, you have what you see in Venezuela today. We were a full democracy, a rich country, even receiving a lot of migrants. Then we lost it and are in the reality of today. Now, we have more people living outside of our country than you will see in nations that are at war. 

So, I would say to all democratic countries to grasp your freedom with your hands. You can’t fall for a speech just because it sounds beautiful. In Venezuela, people listened to Hugo Chávez and then Nicolás Maduro and said, “This is going to be different.” You have to look at what they are saying. 

The people need to be aware of who their leaders are. Some leaders will say they don’t support what’s happening in Venezuela, but then look at who sits with Maduro. Look at who sits with Vladimir Putin. Look at who sits with Bashar al-Assad. My message is that, if you look at Venezuela, we let these people take control.

Many years ago, some Cubans said to Venezuelans that, “Hey, Chavez looks like Fidel, you need to be careful.” Venezuelans said “No, we will not be like Cuba.” But we are. And we are losing Latin America to communism. 

This is not only happening in Latin America. You see it in other places where Russia and China are involved. To people who think that communism and socialism is the way to live better, it’s not. The force of communism is taking a lot of countries, and democratic fighters need to understand that we can’t lose this fight. 

Being involved in politics matters. It’s okay if you don’t want to be part of a party. But getting involved for the society at large is important. Study what leaders, parties, and governments are saying and doing. See what is happening. We are responsible for what could happen in our country.