Professors, Students Spread Message of Venezuelan Change

In a discussion at the Institute of Politics Wednesday night, professors and students exchanged views on the recent unrest in Venezuela and appealed to the Harvard community to help spread the message of change, especially through social media.

The discussion, titled “#SOS Venezuela: Politics, Protests, and a Plea for Change," was led by Francisco J. Monaldi, visiting professor of public policy, and Roberto Rigobon, professor of applied economics at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The discussion touched on many issues that have triggered the recent protests in Venezuela, including police violence, violation of human rights, high inflation, and lack of free speech.

“What is happening in Venezuela hurts me a lot. My family is still there,” said Rigobon, who was originally from the country. “[Change] will take a long, long time. Patience is the key...we have to make significant personal sacrifices.”

Rigobon urged non-Venezuelan students to express their support for a democratic Venezuela and called for Venezuelan students to help shape the future of their country.

“The best way to predict the future is to build it,” Rigobon said.

The discussion also featured Roberto A. Patino, a student at the Kennedy School of Government who is currently the national coordinator of the youth opposition force in Venezuela.

“The only way to move the government is to increase their political cost of not moving,” Patino said. “For this to happen, we need to change the public opinion in the international community. Social media is an especially powerful tool.”

Blake Parker, board advisor at MIT Amnesty International, said that “what we are witnessing is the Arab Spring of Latin America. The human rights violations must be addressed.”

Many audience members present at the event had personal ties to Venezuela.

“I appreciate that there is a strong turnout of non-Venezuelan students at this event,” said Delany D. Sisiruca ’16, whose family is in the country. “It is frustrating to see that many people at Harvard lack awareness of what is going on in Venezuela.”

Valentina I. Perez ’15, a member of the IOP’s Special Events Committee, helped set up the discussion. Her recent Harvard Political Review article “The Grim Reality of Venezuelan Protests” attracted almost 1,500 “likes” on Facebook.

“I was born in Venezuela hold the country near and dear to my heart,” Perez said. “There is a lack of media coverage on events in Venezuela. The Harvard community should become more informed, hold more discussions and show its solidarity.”