Yon Goicoechea: Winner of the 2008 Milton Friedman Prize
The Cato Institute has announced that Yon Goicoechea, leader of the pro-democracy student movement in Venezuela that successfully prevented President Hugo Chávez’s regime from seizing broad dictatorial powers in December 2007, has been awarded the 2008 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty.
A 23-year-old law student, Mr. Goicoechea plays a pivotal role in organizing and voicing opposition to the erosion of human and civil rights in his country. In his commitment to a modern Venezuela, Goicoechea emphasizes tolerance and the human right to seek prosperity.
Venezuela’s student movement emerged in May of 2007 in response to a government-ordered shutdown of the nation’s oldest private television station, RCTV. In the face of ongoing death threats and continual intimidation due to his prominent and vocal leadership, Mr. Goicoechea has been indispensible in organizing massive, peaceful student protest marches that have captured the world’s attention.
By December of 2007, the student movement was credited with defeating a proposed constitutional reform that would have concentrated unprecedented political and economic power in the hands of the government.
“Yon Goicoechea is making an extraordinary contribution to liberty,” said Edward Crane, President of the Cato Institute. “We hope the Friedman Prize will help further his non-violent advocacy for basic freedoms in an increasingly militaristic and anti-democratic Venezuela.”
Renowned Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa remarked, “Freedom and complacency are incompatible and this is what we are seeing now in countries like Venezuela where freedom is disappearing little by little, and this has produced a very healthy and idealistic reaction among young people. I think Yon Goicoechea is a symbol of this democratic reaction when freedom is threatened.”
Established in 2002 and presented every two years, the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty is the leading international award for significant contributions to advancing individual liberty. The Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman passed away in November of 2006.
The Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty’s Biennial Dinner and award presentation will be held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on May 15, 2008.
Yon Goicoechea is a fifth year law student at Universidad Católica Andrés Bello. He was chosen to receive the award from a public, worldwide nomination process. The members of the 2008 International Selection Committee are:
- Kakha Bendukidze – Head of the Chancellery, Republic of Georgia
- Edward H. Crane – President, Cato Institute
- Francisco Gil Díaz – Former Minister of Finance, Mexico
- Rose D. Friedman – Co-Founder, Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation for School Choice
- Karen Horn – Director, Berlin Office, Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft (Germany)
- Charles G. Koch – Chairman and CEO, Koch Industries Inc.
- Andrew Mwenda – Research Fellow, Advocates Coalition for Development (Uganda)
- Mary Anastasia O’Grady – Member, Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal
- Fareed Zakaria – Editor, Newsweek International
Yon Goicoechea’s Biography
Recipient of the 2008 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty
Yon Goicoechea Lara is a pivotal force behind Venezuela’s non-violent pro-democracy Student Movement. The 23-year-old Venezuelan law student is a passionate opponent of the erosion of human and civil rights under the government of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, and an organizer of massive student marches that have captured the world’s attention.
The tense environment in Venezuela has come under greater scrutiny as media outlets critical of the government have been shut down or silenced and dozens of protesting students have been imprisoned. Despite death threats to him and his family, 23-year-old Goicoechea remains fully committed to securing basic freedoms in his homeland.
Through non-violent marches and petitions to the government, he advocates for the constitutionally guaranteed liberties of the right to peaceful protest, freedom of the press, and the right to be free from politically motivated violence. All of these rights are threatened in Venezuela today.
Goicoechea emerged as a national figure in Venezuela in early 2007 through his leadership of the student movement response to the government-ordered closure of Radio Caracas Television. In a dramatic appearance before the National Assembly in June 2007, and through petitions to the government and legislature, he helped expose the increasing civil rights violations taking place throughout the country.
Throughout 2007, he organized more than 40 student movement protest marches, averaging 80,000 people each. These mass demonstrations focused global attention on the threats to civil liberties in Venezuela.
In the afternoon of December 2, 2007, before the widely expected victory of the “Yes” vote on the constitutional reform that would have given the Venezuelan president sweeping dictatorial powers, Goicoechea appeared on live national television and inspired all those who fought in favor of democracy. With a confident smile he declared:
“The challenge for the next hour is to prove with facts the democratic conviction of the Venezuelan people…. We reject the rumors that aim to demobilize our people in the polling stations. There are many reasons to stay at the polling stations! To pick up the official returns, to fight for the votes, and to stay until the end of this electoral process!”
The student movement, through its marches and monitoring of the polling stations, has been credited with defeating the proposed constitutional reform. After the victory of the “No” vote, Goicoechea announced:
“Today the possibility of a better Venezuela has won… We want to tell all Venezuelans, to those who voted ‘YES’, to those who support the President, that we are celebrating here with humility, and that we dedicate this triumph to you. This victory is the victory of the Venezuelan people that today defended their freedoms, but above all it’s the victory of the future and of the immense possibilities we have of building a country together.”
Yon Goicoechea being attacked by Chávez supporters outside the Pedagogical Center in Caracas. Yon ended up with a broken nose after this incident.
Prior to his leadership role within the Venezuelan student movement, Goicoechea was committed to a number of public service organizations and activities; serving as a volunteer to organizations that provide legal assistance to residents of poor areas, providing health care for sick children, and conducting social work inside prisons. Goicoechea is currently completing his law degree at Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in Caracas, where he is near the top of his class and has held various student government positions.
Yon Goicoechea is the 2008 recipient of the Cato Institute’s Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty, the leading international award for significant contributions to advancing individual liberty.
Yon Goicoechea debating constitutional reform with student supporters of Chávez.
Photos courtesy of Valentina Villarrubia; and of the Human Rights Foundation, Manuel Gago, photographer