Some of you may have seen Venezuela – a country nestled between Colombia and Brazil – popping up in the news lately.
On Wednesday Juan Guaido – the speaker of the house – was sworn in as interim President. To the 4 million Venezuelan refugees scattered across Latin America and the world, this is very good news indeed. To the 30 million Venezuelans still in the country, Juan Guaido is the second coming – Venezuela’s last chance at a future.
I am Venezuelan, and I’ve been waiting for a Juan Guaido for twenty years.
When I was eight years old my family packed its bags and fled to France. At the time, people thought we left too precipitously. They told us things would get better, that the regime could not last much longer. Within a few years, the same people started calling us for advice on how to emigrate – advice on how to fit your whole life into two 23kg suitcases.
The millions of us who have made a new home for ourselves across the world often say that we have been forced into an unwanted divorce – a separation between two parties still deeply in love.
Those who stayed behind live in an abusive and violent relationship characterised by starvation, shaped by loss and sustained by a desperate and useless hope for a return to better days.
I could list all the statistics that detail the horrors that have touched each and every one of us. I could talk about lining up for four hours with a duffel bag of worthless bills and getting fingerprinted to buy a loaf of bread. I could count all the toilet paper rolls, toothpaste tubes and medicine boxes I’ve smuggled into the country. I could go in depth about the dozens of friends and family who have been kidnapped, raped and murdered. I could tell you about how unbearable it is to watch your country fall apart from afar.
But I don’t want to do that, because that’s all I’ve done for twenty years.
Today, I want to talk about my 76-year old grandmother going out to protest in 31-degree heat, wearing a hat that reads ‘I march for my grandchildren.’ Today, I want to tell you about my army of cousins living in Norway, Canada, Mexico, USA, Brazil, Spain and Panama, protesting for their right to go home – to put an end to the diaspora. Today, I want to thank all the countries who have given us a home. Today, I cry for everything we have lost and everything we have yet to gain.
As a proud Australian, I want to ask you to never take this country for granted. Its constant spills, disgraced cricket team and insufferable heatwaves may make you think otherwise, but it truly is an incredible place – trust me.