How NGOs help the Venezuelan diaspora
By Joan Muwahed and Ana Claudia Chacin
September 17, 2018
Francisco Marquez, 32, was arrested in Caracas, Venezuela in 2016 after working for the mayor of El Hatillo, David Smolansky, and collecting signatures to conduct a referendum to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro.
Marquez was charged for inciting violence and money laundering but was released a month later on the agreement that he would leave the country. The judge also said there was no sufficient evidence for the charges brought against him.
Marquez is now the executive director of Visíon Democrática, a D.C. based NGO that seeks to organize and empower the Venezuelan Diaspora.
Visíon Democrática estimates that there are as many as 14,000 Venezuelans living in the D.C. area. As Venezuela continues to deteriorate economically, socially, and politically, the NGO predicts this number will grow.
The NGO places a big emphasis on understanding the diaspora: where Venezuelans are moving to and their impacts there. “This is the largest exodus in our hemisphere’s history,” said Marquez.
The organization is not political in nature, according to Marquez. He added, however, that by strengthening diaspora networks, helping influence social impact programs in Venezuela, and advocating in the U.S. and abroad about the issues taking place in Venezuela, the organization, as a result, ends up having a political impact.
The NGO says they focus on three things in particular, calling them the three pillars. Connecting the diaspora, alliances for prosperity, and promoting democracy.
“Venezuelans around the US and the world are very productive people,” said Rafael Castillo who works in the NGOs communications department.
By shedding light to these success stories, Castillo said he feels that the organization is showing another side to the Venezuelan community, more than the usual talk about the political and economic crisis most focus on.
Under the connecting the diaspora pillar, the organization also hosts face-to-face meet-ups. The most recent one was in the District of Colombia, where Arepa Zone owner Ali Arellano was the main speaker.
Arellano, who started with a food truck years ago, and now has a stall at Union Market and a full restaurant space in downtown as of last year, said that the event was mutually beneficial for him as it was for the organization.
“I wanted to show Venezuelans who came to connect, that if we can do it, they can do it too,” Arellano said.
Alliances for prosperity, the organization’s second pillar, is how they say they connect to Venezuela. They partner up with NGOs in Venezuela who are working on issues such as youth development, health, and medicine. They have created a network that do some type of work to support Venezuela.
Their third pillar is promoting democracy, which focuses on informing people on the different crisis occurring in their home country. On the organization’s website, they categorize the problems into: political prisoners, humanitarian crisis, refugees, and crimes against humanity.
Castillo said that although he is far from home, he is happy with the work he is doing in the U.S.
“Being able to be far away of my homeland and my family, but still knowing that I was able to contribute to that process that we all want; that’s called democracy.”