“Nice to meet you, I’m Dan. Where’re you from?” said the guy in formal military uniform. I read his name badge “US Military Academy at West Point, Delegation of India”.

Everything about him was intimidating. I mean, he was about to become an US Army official.

“I’m from Venezuela,” I said.  Suddenly, the way he looked at me changed. It was like he was now on his guard, sizing up a foe on the battlefield. We weren’t in an armed conflict; we were about to start a Model United Nations (MUN) simulation.

That’s when I truly grasped what it meant to be a Venezuelan competing in an international MUN. It was my first time participating overseas, but the reputation of my antecessors already served me as the strongest presentation card.

“Venezuela” means something different in this competition from what we’re used to. Our country is a powerhouse when it comes to worldwide MUN competitions, and its reputation comes from a long record of conquests and awards.

This year, the reputation of Venezuelans in the international MUN circuit reached a new peak. On Sunday, both Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (UCAB) and Universidad Simón Bolívar (USB) conquered the highest awards at Harvard National Model United Nations (HNMUN); the most competitive conference of its kind. UCAB won the Best Large Delegation award (best delegation in the conference) and Best International Delegation (given to non-US universities), and USB conquered the Outstanding Delegation award (second in the conference).

Typically, delegations from top-ranked universities like Yale, U. Chicago, Georgetown, NYU and West Point take these awards. This time, they went home empty handed. This is why the scale of the accomplishment of these Venezuelan delegations is even greater.

And this is not the first time we reach the top. Our delegations have conquered major MUN conferences around the world again and again.

Venezuelans treat MUN conferences like a bloodsport. There’s no A-for-effort here. 

But how do delegations with limited resources, from a country ravaged by its most severe economic, social and political crisis in modern history, where English is no one’s first language  beat all the top-ranked, money-flush universities from the US and the rest of the world?

The answer is simple. MUN delegations in Venezuela have exactly what the country has always needed: strong institutions. Each major delegation has more than a decade of legacy, traditions, knowledge. As years go by, every new delegation builds upon the academic and institutional foundations laid by those who participated in the past, contributing with new ideas, and reinforcing team values.

Every major university in Venezuela has several delegations competing in the local and international MUN circuits. For instance, the UCV team attending HNMUN is completely different from the UCV team attending Harvard World Model United Nations (WorldMUN), and so on. This means hundreds of students from different universities, selected by different delegations with different structures and preparation processes, attending different conferences every single year. There’s one thing in common though: they treat it like a bloodsport. There’s no A-for-effort here. They go for the purpose of winning multiple individual and collective awards. And they do.

Just imagine a soccer team excelling at different championships at the same time, but using completely different players for each of them. In stark contrast, the rest of the countries send one delegation per university, or even one delegation per country.

The first MUN took place in Venezuela in the year 2000. After that, MUN went viral.

There’s also a component of perseverance, commitment and passion. These students spend more than nine months preparing for a four day conference, studying everything from negotiation methods to the foreign policy of the country they’re going to represent, strategy, tactics, tips, tricks, of course, English.

At the same time, they have to pour sweat, blood and tears to overcome the thousands of roadblocks created by Venezuela’s troubled economy and insane bureaucracy to raise the funds for air tickets and accommodations during the conference. Just to get there is the biggest award of all. Is either to go big or go home.

But “what exactly is a MUN?”some of you may ask. Basically, a MUN is an academic simulation of the United Nations. The objective for students (from high-schools to Universities) is to play the role of delegates from different countries, attempting to solve real world issues following the policies and perspectives of the country they are assigned to represent. Yes, its all fake in the end, but everyone takes their roles as delegates with supreme seriousness.

MUNs exist in Venezuela since 1992, when a group of students from Universidad Metropolitana competed at Harvard National Model United Nations (HNMUN). But it wasn’t until the year 2000 when the first MUN took place in the country: the Venezuelan International Model United Nations (VIMUN) organized by Colegio Santiago de León de Caracas. It was soon followed in 2002 by the first MUN for university students: the Modelo Venezolano de Naciones Unidas (MOVENU).

Dozens of kids from the barrios have participated in local and international MUN, with a titanic track record of success.

After that it went viral, spreading to any number of high schools and universities all over the country and fueled by the early conquests in the international arena. Soon enough, every University had different delegations attending the most prestigious conferences in the MUN circuit: HNMUN, WorldMUN, National Model United Nations (NMUN), and Latin American Model United Nations (LAMUN), to mention a few.

The beauty of it is that it doesn’t matter where you come from. Figures ranging from Hollywood actor Edgar Ramírez, to political leaders like David Smolansky, and even several Caracas Chronicles contributors, have attended international and local MUNs.

But most importantly, MUNs teach you that you don’t have to come from the most privileged sectors of society to compete and succeed. Just ask the students taking part of Fundación Embajadores Comunitarios (FEC) programs.

Understanding the needs of giving back to the country what the whole MUN experience gave them, FEC was born as a project from UCAB international delegations known as UCABMUN. The goal was “to sow leadership where it is most needed”, and it was how high-school students from communities in the barrios of Antímano, La Vega, San Agustín del Sur, Petare and Chacao started their preparation in MUN methodology.

Dozens of kids from the barrios have participated in local and international MUN, with a titanic track record of success. Nowadays, several of the trainers or “Faculty Advisors” come from the very firsts cohorts of FEC, demonstrating once again the key role of institutions founded upon democratic values.

That’s the ultimate legacy of MUN in Venezuela, and the main reason behind its success. MUN conferences are not limited to teaching you how to debate, negotiate, investigate or peacefully solve conflicts. They demonstrate that by giving back to the community from what you’ve learned in simulated realities, real changes can take place in the real world.

You see, in the end this is about much more than just the awards. Our country has a real reason to celebrate: there are young people with the will and the capability to rebuild it.

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      • The first delegation invited from Venezuela to the HNMUN was Universidad Metropolitana. The local UN models are before 2000, I had the privileged to be part of my school delegation in 1999 and in 2000 at SAMUN (South American Model United Nations). Organized by Colegio Internacional de Caracas and escuela campo alegre, the general assembly was in Universidad Simon Bolívar. The Venezuelan schools invited were only bilingual schools and international from around Venezuela, also many international schools from other countries such as schools from Brazil.

          • Did UCAB stop going for several years then? I know that there wasn’t a UCAB delegation in 96 or 97. Actually, one of those years, a UCAB delegate went with the UNIMET.

            I was fortunate to be on those first teams from UNIMET or close to them. I still remember the amount of time and effort that was given to make the process work, versus just preparing for the events. It was a lot of hours talking about how to pick the delegates, how to train, how to sanction someone who doesn’t pull their weight, etc. I think that that process and work ethic carried through, and is one (of many) reasons for continued success.

            It might be interesting to learn to see what the process is, how it’s evolved, and even compare it to the Miss Universe pageant to see what we can learn of what it takes to make a successful export product in Venezuela. That would be an interesting academic paper…

  1. Could it have something to do with the fact that Venezuelans eat, sleep, and breath politics? It is impossible to have a 10 minute conversation without touching on the subject of politics. We cannot get away from politics in Venezuela. The government here is so pervasive that it impacts every aspect of our waking hours, day in, and day out. For those not living here, it may be hard to believe, but in most of the world, most people can go for days without thinking about or mentioning politics.

  2. You left one recent but really successful delegation, Venezuelan MUN Society, that has been participating since 2015 in Harvard National Model of United Nations Latin America (HNMUNLA) and since the first year until now they had won best small delegation in the conference.

  3. UCAB’s success and experience in the International Court of Justice “Phillip C Jessup Moot Court Competition” is also worth taking a look.. is incredible what has been achieved there by UCAB

  4. I’m trying to figure out exactly what the MUN “does”… The UN tends to be a very fickle discussion among many, since it covers such a broad set of areas.

    What was the “crisis” situation that the VZ MUN delegation dealt with? I’m not finding much details at this point, but, it could be that it has not been published online, yet.

    Now for some Americano Snark:

    Does anyone in VZ believe that the lessons learned at the MUN will help with the situation in VZ?

    • Yes, because building human capital is one of the most difficult and important tasks we have if we want Venezuela to prosper. Change is propelled -and the route towards progress is maintained- by people. What I learned in Ucab HNMUN hasn’t only helped me personally and professionally, but it also led me to co-found UcabMUN and FEC (mentioned in the article) with fellow MUNers and friends. Who the “ambassadors” of FEC are, what they have achieved, has proven to me that anything is possible, and that it is worth planting seeds because they can grow to become more than you ever imagined. FEC gives me hope, and hope gives me strength, and strength moves me to work for the Venezuela I already have in my mind and heart. The same happens with most Venezuelan MUNers, and there’s a whole bunch of us!

      Ucab HNMUN ’08 and ’09

      • Sorry to burst your ballon, but I doubt that 20 or so people will make a difference in 30 million. Even without the crushing weight of the regime, these 20 people will leave the country soon enough to be great somewhere else, not having exercised a bit of the influence they could on a country with insititutions.

        Having said that, I think it is amazing that VZ has such a great reputation on the MUN circuit even with all the road-blocks these kids face.

  5. I was one of the Faculty Advisors of these lads from the UCAB university delegation a couple years ago. I can attest how hard-working, smart, forthcoming and great human beings these kids are. We’re more than rejoiced to hear that our universities can stand out in the shoulders of giants in the midst of this calamity of a country. Bravo!

  6. Great post Guille!

    To the multitude of haters that love to point out how MUN competitions are so “detached from reality” and “elitist”.. My answer would be that you are very wrong but starting from a relatively accurate premise.

    MUNs are by definition elitist: you need to know decent English and geopolitics just to join a delegation; the countless hours of preparation are surely unreachable for a person having to work and study at the sake time; its likely that you won’t get 100% sponsorship and some of the travel expenses will have to be financed out of pocket. All of that is true, but incomplete.

    If you look MUNs as a different kind of sport, one of brainpower and wits (and god knows our society desperately needs a lot of both), you understand the real point about it. It’s about discipline, constance and the pursuit of excellence. It’s about putting your shit together, personally and professionally. It’s about making and fostering a network of like-minded (yet ideologically heterogeneous), intelligent and dedicated persons. A network that is so insanely efficient at building human capital, that a successful professional career after participation is almost guaranteed for all Venezuelan MUNers, no matter their profession or path.

    I see a lot of positives for the MUN programs in our society as a whole. The fact that our rapid descent into Somaliland is pusing all human capital out of the country makes it impossible to perceive it. But that’s a whole different issue.

    – Daniel, NMUN-UCV 2011

  7. I think there´s been MUN in venezuelan universities since before 2002… I remember going to some thing at USB circa 1997 but forgot exactly the name it had. As a former MUN participant (going as Trinidad and Tobago and something else, forgot what I was the second time) this was an interesting read! gracias… MUN´s are big drinking fests too btw. A lot of fun after the gavel goes down in the debate session.

  8. I find it fascinating, so much talent, highly educated young people for so many years winning fabricated competitions. Who, of the previous years of winning, is in the MUD leadership, or maybe more importantly PSUV leadeship? The same facination with Miss World or Universe or the WBC.. while your country falls deeper into the cesspool of Maduro? Where is this young, talented leadership? While the same old corrupted MUD lets LL rot in prison.. do you have any priorities?

  9. Thiis is one more proof that when you want to attain some kind of excellence you have to have an elite take on the job , a team of people who train and study and practice for endless hours , a team made up of the best of the best , the fallacy that a bunch of people just because they are many and loud can attain excellence is one of the most popular superstitions of our culture , it is also one of the most damaging …….!! our idolatry of the popular is a sentimental piece of hogwash, !! and yet our political life is organized under the premise that whats popular and movilizes masses of screaming people represents the best….time we started learning from our recent historical experiences…!!

  10. Venezuela, has had thanks to its free or affordable access to Higher Education many talented young people, no doubt.
    Unfortunately, they will never become part of the Political class. The problem has always been the political system, in particular the electoral system, because of it exclusive, uncompromising and radical obsession with “By the people” it is designed to reward the populist instead of highly qualified and competent individuals or at least some kind of compromise.
    Those students can play all the games they want or study all their life too, but under the current electoral system, the rules of the game are so that ignorance will prevail, they can’t compete with the unscrupulous and the populists fraudsters.
    People need to wake the hell up and rethink Voting Rights into a more responsible and smarter form of Democracy with Earned Voting Privileges instead, if Venezuela ever wants to have a competent high quality political class.

  11. Yo soy el líder de el equipo de MUN en La Academia Militar Americana en West Point (mencionada en el artículo) , y me he encontrado en muchas ocasiones con delegados de UCAB y USB en varias conferencias en todo el mundo. Siempre un placer competir y hacerse amigos, y que bueno que les fue tan bien en Harvard este año. Nos vemos en Montreal!

  12. I’m the leader of the U.S Military Academy at West Point MUN team, and have run into and competed against students from UCAB and USB in various conferences around the world. Always a pleasure to read about friend’s successes, and always great to compete and meet. We’ll see each other in Montreal!

  13. This article brings me tears of joy. I strongly believe in Models of United Nations as the biggest learning tool in history of extracurricular activities, and can warranty, that there will be more and more generations of relay, to continue promoting, participating and enjoying Models of United Nations. My greatest desires for all Venezuelan delegations (high school and universities) representing our country and its youth around the globe.

    Once a MUNer, you will always be one.


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