I Am in Prison Because I Want Freedom for My Country

I’m in prison so that this stops happening. That conviction gives me strength.

September 4, 2017 • Commentary
By Yon Goicoechea
This article appeared in the New York Times on September 4, 2017.

I write this from my cell in the dungeons of the Venezuelan secret police. I’m 32 and I’ve been a democratic activist for 12 years. I have two children, 8 and 5, who are my sun and moon. I have a wife whom I love and who now has to carry the burden of being married to a political prisoner.

One year ago, while I was going to speak at a news conference on behalf of the Popular Will political party, of which I am a member, I was intercepted by 10 or 15 undercover secret police vehicles. A couple of dozen armed agents tied my hands and covered my head with a black cloth. They transported me to the prison from which I now write, where I was locked in a cell without light or natural ventilation.

When I stretched my arms, I could touch two opposite walls. The door was blocked with black garbage bags, leaving the room in total darkness. There was rotten, worm‐​infested food on the floor alongside scraps of clothing covered in feces. It felt as if I had been buried alive.

I was denied any communication with the outside world and could speak with my lawyers only when I was taken to court. After 10 days, I was transferred to an administrative office inside the jail, where for the next seven months I slept on a mat on the floor. I have finally been moved to a cell with a bed, though one with no windows. I can see the sun only one hour a week.

Scarcely five years ago, I was studying for a master’s degree at Columbia University. Back then, I strolled with my family through the Morningside Heights neighborhood in Manhattan and hoped that one day I would use everything I had learned to rebuild my country.

But for me, as for so many other Venezuelans, political imprisonment has been the punishment for daring to dream of a democratic society, free of Communism and open to the global community. We just want what so many other people around the world take for granted: free elections, good governance, free expression, judicial independence, personal security and a modicum of economic liberty — something not even the Chinese Communist Party denies its citizens anymore.

I’m not the only one who thinks this way; the other 1,048 political prisoners and most Venezuelans share my dream. But an armed minority has managed to impose a regime of fear, corruption and blood. My case is evidence of that.

Last October, a court granted me parole — but my jailers ignored that order. Three months ago, the prosecutor in my case closed the investigation, establishing that I was not guilty of any crimes (I had faced trumped‐​up charges of possession of explosives). This means that there are no active judicial proceedings against me — I’m simply being held hostage in violation of the Constitution. The United Nations, the Inter‐​American Court of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have all described my detention as arbitrary and called for my release.

But I know I’m here for a just cause. My sacrifice and that of others like me will change millions of lives. Today, 93 percent of Venezuelans cannot afford food. Because of food shortages that are the fault of our corrupt and brutal government, nearly three‐​quarters of Venezuelans say they have lost on average about 17 pounds in the past year. A health minister was fired for releasing his department’s annual report, revealing that infant mortality has returned to 1950 levels.

I can’t imagine the despair of thousands of patients with cancer and other diseases who are in constant pain in hospitals that lack medicines. I don’t want to think of a father’s horror when his baby dies from a fever or diarrhea that could easily have been treated if he had access to medicine.

I’m in prison so that this stops happening. That conviction gives me strength.

My generation has made freedom its goal. I want to ask the people of the United States and the world to stand by our side. I ask the news media to report on what is being censored in Venezuela. I ask the nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups to keep denouncing abuses. And I ask investors to understand that no profits from doing business with a bankrupt government will surpass the benefits to come when Venezuela is once again operating in world markets.

We in the Venezuelan opposition have three main challenges right now. The first is overcoming the humanitarian crisis caused by shortages of food and medicine. The second is restoring democracy through peaceful means and avoiding civil war. The third is opening our economy to the world.

We aren’t asking anyone to solve our problems for us. We have taken responsibility for our country’s future. But Washington’s influence could either help us speed up the process or give some breathing room. The White House, together with the rest of the international community, has the capacity to pressure for negotiation and a peaceful transition to democracy. We are grateful for the support that the people of Europe, Latin and North America have shown; I only dare to ask for one more thing: resolve.

As for me, I’ll do everything in my power to keep resisting in prison. I’ll keep dreaming of going home to sleep in a clean bed surrounded by my family. I’ll keep dreaming of the day in which we all take to the streets to celebrate our freedom.

About the Author
Yon Goicoechea is a lawyer and political activist. He is the 2008 winner of the Cato Institute’s Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty.