Caracas Chronicles’ Young Politicians Series: Juan Andrés Mejía

Juan Andrés Mejía from Voluntad Popular wants to promote change in the right direction. He leads by example in the rescue of democracy.

Photo: Daniel Lara

Juan Andrés Mejía is a young deputy in Venezuela’s opposition-majority National Assembly, elected in December 2015. One of the founding members of Voluntad Popular, he graduated at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government with a Masters in Public Policy. For him, his greatest non-electoral achievement was being a part of the 2007 Student Movement. “The awakening of the young people, after ten years of deterioration [in the country]. It became a before and after in national politics, a watershed.”

The role of the politician is to lead those who want change in the right direction

During last year’s nationwide protests against Maduro’s regime, Juan Andrés, together with other young deputies and politicians, tried to “lead by example in the rescue of our democracy.”

Despite the political standstill, there’s still work to be done, and deputy Mejía does it in the National Assembly as a member of the Finance Committee, where they keep tabs on the country’s financial situation. Last year, they published the first National Assembly Inflation Index, monitoring the government’s actions that try to bypass the Constitution (like issuing the Petro, indebting the country without the National Assembly’s approval).

He’s also in charge of two soup kitchens in his electoral district, where, together with educational centers, they provide meals to vulnerable children. Even if that’s not the role of a deputy, he believes that “in a crisis like the one we’re living, we should all try to contribute beyond our responsibilities.”

I’m in politics for a dream: To achieve a different vision of society

Recently, Juan Andrés joined the Permanent Forum on Public Policies and a Vision for Caracas, inviting experts to contribute in infrastructure, solid waste, security, urban intervention, environment and culture. The result was a report on how Caracas could be transformed under a truly democratic government.

His passion resides within city politics, through the promotion of policies that allow Venezuelans to come together and recognize each other again. “That’s the city and the society that I dream of, that I aspire to; where your name, friends, parents or alma mater shouldn’t matter to get ahead.” He thinks this can be achieved with efficient public transportation and the construction of places where people from all walks of life can come together to share the public space.

If we don’t address the institutional crisis, we’ll return to the current situation

If he were to be elected president today, he’d prioritize health, food and institutional reforms. Juan Andrés thinks international humanitarian relief would help find a solution to the current medicine shortage and the healthcare crisis. The underlying hunger problem, he says, will be resolved when Venezuela increases its national food production as a result of a better economic environment. In the short term, however, it’ll be necessary to look for ways to help those who need it the most. To make sure these problems don’t recur, an institutional reform, a truly independent Supreme Tribunal of Justice, a National Assembly that exercises its control function, and a transparent Executive Branch and Armed Forces that serve the nation instead of a political party are necessary.

A tough hand is necessary, but not sufficient

Regarding crime, deputy Mejía thinks you need a strong stance to make sure citizens abide by the law, which you can be achieved through better patrolling, equipment, training and remuneration for all police forces in our country. However, he believes that to fight crime you also need a social structure that enables rehabilitation. There’s an imperative need, in his view, to improve schools, spaces for recreation and sports in the communities, basic services, and employment opportunities so youngsters don’t start taking drugs.

Since what’s urgent is always above what’s important, it seems like civil rights have taken a backseat compared to other pressing national concerns. However, key issues can be tackled in the short term. “It’s hard when you see people starving, or dying without basic medicine.”

Eventually, a negotiation will yield results

Despite the reality faced by Venezuelans today, Juan Andrés is optimistic about the future. Negotiations have gotten a bad rep, and talking about negotiating borders on treason for victims of the regime. However, they are a necessary (yet insufficient) mechanism to find an understanding between opposing parties, especially when the minority keeps the status quo by force. “This isn’t just about getting out of today’s scenario, it’s about changing our reality, so a medium and long term understanding is required.”

In Mejía’s view, the world’s political crises have resulted in negotiations that didn’t betray the principles and values ​of democracy. He specifically talks about the South African example, where a racial minority kept oppressing a racial majority, trampled, imprisoned and murdered. Yet, they managed to make a change that wasn’t based on revenge, but rather on unity and respect. When Mandela won the presidential election, his vice president was none other than de Klerk, one of the main oppressors, who ended up having an important role in the reconstruction. Although it seems impossible right now, Juan Andrés wants a peaceful outcome for Venezuela, and he believes that South Africa, with all its difficulties, is a positive example of what can be achieved through diplomacy.

The Armed Forces have an important role to play in the next few years; they also played an important role in the disaster

When the time for diplomacy comes, Juan Andrés thinks it’ll probably not be with Maduro in office.

While the government has the money and the force, the opposition has the people and the international community —even if the millions of Venezuelans aspiring for change lack coercitive  strength. That’s why he says the Armed Forces have an indispensable role in this dynamic. “I’m not appealing for a military coup; the duty of the Armed Forces is with the citizens, with the Venezuelans and the Constitution. Recovering that is fundamental.”