Venezuelans Abroad Are Now Victims of Political Appropriation

This new open letter to non-Venezuelans draws from the concept of cultural appropriation, to denounce the pattern by which the first-world left shuts down the voices of the human beings affected by the situation in Venezuela, weaponizing it for their own wars.

Photo: RT retrieved

I know that many of you don’t have a very clear picture of what’s going on in Venezuela, are not interested in politics or simply do not wish to have an opinion. That’s your right. There are many of you, as well, that have a sincere desire to know more about the situation, who approach me and say “could you explain what’s going on?” To you, I’d like to say that I greatly appreciate your tact in asking a Venezuelan.

But there’s a third group, to whom these words are directed, who think they already know what’s happening. Who think, be it because of ideological convictions or because they read certain kinds of media, that Maduro’s government is somehow legitimate and everything Venezuelans in the diaspora tell them is a product of our privilege or right-wing ideology. I encounter people like this several times a week in London and, every time, I face waves of anger, frustration and a certain erasure of my experience in the face of their entitlement.

They started warping Venezuelan politics into an insult against their own politicians, completely ignoring what actual Venezuelans had to say.

In trying to understand where it is these people come from and why their ideas are so difficult to grapple with, I’ve found great solace in concepts like cultural appropriation. Let me explain: cultural appropriation is not simply when you borrow from, or take interest in, someone else’s traditions and practices. It’s when you use your privilege to bring to the mainstream a shallow image of someone else’s culture, without taking the time to properly understand it. It’s when you misrepresent something that does not belong to you, for personal or political gain. This is not necessarily done through malice, but it’s always a product of ignorance.

How does this apply to Venezuela? I’m about to invent a term, so bear with me: it’s a political appropriation.

See, since Juan Guaidó was sworn in as Caretaker President on January 23, the decades-long crisis in Venezuela has come to the forefront of political debate and news coverage. For me and most of my fellow countrymen, it finally looked like things were changing. After 20 years of oppression and conflict, this brought immense happiness and hope.

That is, until I started looking at news outlets and media; until I started talking to people around my university; until I attended what were supposed to be academic talks on the matter. People started speaking of a U.S.-backed coup, or a violent right-wing uprising. They started warping Venezuelan politics into an insult against their own politicians, completely ignoring what actual Venezuelans had to say. And, what’s worse, when I confronted them, these people were trying to explain to me my own experience.

Political appropriation at its finest.

These people, especially found in left-wing circles in North America and Europe, having never set foot in Venezuela, don’t really care to find out what life looks like for those who live there. They’ve decided that, instead of denouncing the use of Marxist discourse to mask corruption in my country, they’re going to steal our politics and our narrative as their flagship anti-imperialist, socialist cause. Our story then begins to matter not because our lives matter, but because it’s a convenient element to their own political battles.

They’ve read a couple of blog posts, maybe supported Chávez in the early years, and suddenly believe themselves to be experts on all things Venezuela. They believe they have a right to correct me when I speak of the suffering I’ve seen with my own two eyes. They act through what Cristal Palacios Yumar calls “peace privilege”: from the safety of their houses, they have the privilege of appropriating our politics for their own ends without having to deal with the grim reality they are supporting. They vehemently refuse to understand that our politics are complex, and not simply about the U.S. Because they dislike Trump, the Tories, and the Right, they weaponize the crisis in Venezuela into simplistic interventionism, but Venezuela is made of real Venezuelans, with real stories you don’t just get to erase by appropriating their reality.

They vehemently refuse to understand that our politics are complex, and not simply about the U.S.

If you’re going to talk about imperialism and Western meddling, how about taking a long look in the mirror and see who’s really crafting a far-fetched narrative for political gain. It’s to you that say “hands off Venezuela” because if you’re not willing to take the time to really understand our politics and check the sources of your information, you’re not allowed to cut our story into something that fits your narrative. You don’t get to ignore the firsthand account of every Venezuelan you encounter. You’re not allowed to use your shallow interpretations to explain to me, or anyone else for that matter, my own experience of suffering at the hands of the chavista regime. We don’t want your help, thank you very much, because toppling a dictatorship is difficult enough without also having to educate you on the reality of our lives. You’re privileged in that you aren’t forced to understand it, but please stop trying to impose your misunderstandings on those of us who are actually affected by your light approach to politics.

People who support Maduro, or his claim to govern, have caused me a great deal of frustration and anger. But more importantly, they owe every Venezuelan that continues to suffer under Maduro’s tyranny an apology for spreading senseless narratives through the appropriation of our politics.

Tania Villanueva Heredia

Just another Venezuelan living in the UK, currently studying politics and international relations at Queen Mary University of London. Sometimes a storyteller, sometimes an activist, always a Caraqueña