I was in prison for four months — 121 days. It sounds short, but I can guarantee you it feels like a long time. That was a very emotional time because my brother was having his first son. And they sent me a sonogram image. And obviously it was incredibly moving. I wrote a letter to my nephew, hoping that he would read it in the future. Venezuela—it was once a vacation destination for Americans, but has since spiraled into a full-blown political and humanitarian crisis. Criminals masquerading as politicians run the country, employing violence and detaining anti-government demonstrators, like Marquez. But Marquez was one of the lucky ones who made it out. But Marquez was one of the lucky ones who make it out.
In the last four months alone, an estimated 120 anti-government demonstrators have been killed. In the last four months alone, an estimated 120 anti-government demonstrators have been killed. And upwards of a thousand more remain in prison. I grew up in Venezuela. I’m also a dual citizen, but I’ve always identified myself as a Venezuelan, where I’ve lived most of my life, where I’ve done politics there. So, I studied law in Venezuela. During my law degree I was in the Student Movement in 2007, which is where we participated in the only electoral loss that Chavez had. So, the opposition coalition tasked me to go to Portuguesa state to help organize the petition drive for the referendum on Maduro. In our constitution, we can legally revoke the mandate of a president if we have enough signatures. And on my way to doing this process I was stopped at a National Guard checkpoint. It was a routine procedure, a routine check. And they found something that was completely legal, which is pamphlets and a little bit of cash to help the logistics of the petition drive that we were organizing. Because of that, I was put into jail. And that very first 24 hours I was interrogated by the intelligence police. I was threatened that I was going to be tortured if I didn’t answer their questions. And then, after that it was four months in prison. I went through four different prisons, seven different cells. Not only are there political prisoners in Venezuela, but there is systematic torture on both political prisoners and common prisoners. One of the most well-known protesters is 23-year-old Wuilly Arteaga, who in the face of chaotic, and sometimes violent, protests against President Maduro, has continued to peacefully play his violin in the streets of Venezuela. When did you start playing the violin and how did you decide to play it during protests? In all 24 states of Venezuela, you have people protesting for change and putting their lives at risk, putting their livelihood at risk because that’s how much Venezuelans really want to have democracy. For everyone watching this right now, who might be wondering, “Why should I care? Or what can I do if I do care?”, what would you say to them? Well, I think the issue of democracy in Venezuela is not just an issue for Venezuelans. The issue, or democracy, is a regional issue. So, it’s a world issue. If you think about just here in the United States or in Latin America, it’s a universal right for people to choose who they are governed by. For people to have their basic human rights or basic necessities met. These are things that we’re fighting for, and I think the solidarity that we’ve seen so far from the U.S., from the region, especially most of the countries, is really important. But, I think because of how bad the crisis is, there’s no way of ignoring it. And so my message is, please continue to share your solidarity. Please ask your governments in all of Latin America to be very voiceful, to fight for democracy in Venezuela.