At some point during my conversation with Ramón Muchacho last December, he reminded me that, after he got his MBA at Emory University, he had received an enviable job offer to work in the US for a leading multinational corporation. He turned down the corporate job to return to Venezuela and begin his political career.

Thank God I did it” he said. “I would have been miserable there.”  

When he saw the look of amazement on my face, he added ‘this is what I love to do’. Curious words for someone who would be, in less than a year, a wanted man.

I visited Ramón in his office at la Alcaldía on a trip from the U.S., where I have resided for the past six years. We talked about our kids and our lives, and reminisced about our fun times as law students. I was especially curious to know how things were at one of the strongholds of the opposition “from the inside,” so I asked about the situation in Chacao.  

He gave me a brief, but telling explanation of the challenges he faced. In line with its undemocratic and criminal practices, the central government was boycotting the work of all mayors and governors from the opposition, including Ramon’s. Among other practices, constitutionally awarded resources were withheld, to asphyxiate both leaders and voters. Ramón told me how Chacao’s budget could barely cover the payroll for its municipal employees, leaving no funding for anything else. He had worked around some of these difficulties, but the lack of resources severely hindered the scope of his administration and, consequently, the wellbeing of all chacaoenses.  

‘This is what I love to do’. Curious words for someone who would be, in less than a year, a wanted man.

Ramón spent hours dealing with the personal difficulties and tragedies of his employees, looking for individual solutions to each of them within his limited power. They would bring their matters to el Alcalde, to see if he could help out the police officer who couldn’t afford chemotherapy, the secretary who couldn’t pay for her father’s burial, the firefighter who considered taking his son off from school, because he couldn’t pay for tuition.

The worry on his face and voice was legit. I could clearly see the toll that the job was having on him.

To illustrate his point, he specifically mentioned the “problem with the trash cans.” Though resources were scarce, Chacao had to spend increasing amounts of money in reorganizing the trash pick-up, because hundreds of people would rummage through the trash in Chacao to find something to eat, everyday.

People are starving and you see it everyday, everywhere” he said. From Ramón’s account, it seems like Chacao, once the richest and most thriving county in the nation, was now a microcosm of Venezuela under Chavismo.  

I remember thinking that, hard as it may be, it’s what he was born to do. Politics and public service is his calling, something he’s passionate about, as I witnessed from his early days in college. I left our meeting feeling so proud of him, not imagining how he’d be removed from office and hastily sentenced to prison.

I went to law school at UCAB in the early 90s, a time when the country was going through the crisis of partidocracia. Everyone was fed up with politics, and the disdain for politicians was widespread. This was especially true for the younger generations, who looked down on adecos and copeyanos without exception. “Who in their right mind would be a politician?” we’d ask,  “they are selfish, mediocre and, above all, corrupt. Clearly, not us.”  

We were better than that. Some wanted to be entrepreneurs and businessmen, others aimed for legal careers in prestigious law firms, and a few wanted to go into academia. We wanted to “contribute to the well-being of our country,” but remain “unpolluted by politics.” Unlike today’s students, bravely at the forefront of the resistance, my peers and I never joined protests or activism, and very rarely discussed politics at all.

And then there was Ramón.

I met him on the very first day of college, and he immediately submitted his candidacy to class delegate. Though he had just arrived from Maracaibo and didn’t know anyone, he gave a brief but eloquent speech and won the election. He’d go on to be our delegado during our entire law school career (winning the election every year). Though still engulfed in the popular (and, in hindsight, nefarious) anti-politica, I identified the first signs of Ramon’s passion for leadership and, through his friendship, I started embracing politics and its fundamental role. We became very good friends, and have remained close. I was proud when he was elected Mayor of Chacao and, knowing of his talents, discipline and vocation for public service, I was certain he’d be up to the challenge.  

I always remind myself that our political prisoners and exiled are paying the price for the rest of us. In the case of Ramón, the Regime constantly threatened him, trying to force him to impede the protests. And yet, under huge pressure, and taking on great personal risk, he persisted, allowing for massive anti-government demonstrations that have shown the world how the Venezuelan people are calling for the end of the dictatorship. So I do feel indebted to him, as to many others imprisoned or persecuted, so that we can make use of the very limited liberties we have left.

I identified the first signs of Ramon’s passion for leadership and, through his friendship, I started embracing politics and its fundamental role.

Ramón resurfaced a few days ago with interviews on several media outlets. He explained why he fled Venezuela, remarking that “there is no democratic solution to the conflict.”  The statement went viral and it’s now analyzed on social media, generating heated debates. However, the words that stuck with me from his interviews were others:

I was very happy being the mayor [of Chacao], it was my dream job (…) My dream is to return to Venezuela, to go back to politics. That’s what I’m passionate about.”

I can’t help but think how lucky we are to have these young leaders, who have been persecuted, harassed, jailed and tortured, and still their dream is to fight for Venezuela. Of course they make mistakes, of course they have shortcomings, but in the midst of great adversity, they persist, which is nothing short of heroic given the circumstances.

In a week filled with horrible news for Venezuelans, I find Ramón’s strength and convictions contagious. I am incredibly proud to call him my friend, and I’m certain he will never stop in his quest for Venezuela’s freedom.

I pray life will take him back to a free Venezuela, and a free Venezuela back to us.

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