Nothing is so contagious as example; and we never do any great good or evil which does not produce its like – Francois de la Rochefoucauld (1613-1680).
Heroes for liberty are not peculiar to any region of the world or to a particular time period or to one sex. They hail from all nationalities, races, faiths, and creeds. They inspire others to a noble and universal cause – that all people should be free to live their lives in peace so long as they do no harm to the equal rights of others. They are passionate not solely for their own liberty, but for that of others as well.
In my last book, Real Heroes: Inspiring True Stories of Courage, Character and Conviction, I wrote about 40 individuals whose views, decisions and actions served this cause in various ways. That book planted the seed for this new weekly series to be published each Thursday at FEE.org. But this time, others from around the world will do the writing, and I’ll be content to do the editing. It is my hope that when all is said and done some months from now, the literature of liberty will be greatly complemented by this collection of short biographies. The authors will be writing about heroes for liberty who are (or were) citizens of each author’s own country. Each week’s installment will be added to the collection here.
The subject of this fourth essay is an unusual one. It’s a group of people, not a particular individual. The author is Venezuelan Jorge Jraissati, a FEE campus ambassador. In association with this essay, FEE is proud to unveil this powerful video, narrated by Mr. Jraissati:
--- Lawrence W. Reed, President, Foundation for Economic Education
Time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters. It doesn’t discriminate, and it affects us all equally. In life, we turn around and years have passed. Time is that possession that fades away from us slowly, subtly, and even imperceptibly, and then at some point, it seems to pass so fast that it kidnaps our life without asking for forgiveness.
The voices of experience are represented in our ancestors who lived so much that they were able to see their lives in retrospect. Those voices alert future generations not only to the significance of time but also to the meaning of its erosion. They remember their experiences with loved ones and the dreams they had in their years of idealism and youth. The meaning of these experiences is vast and immeasurable. They are the moments we create out of our freedom and are the gifts of life itself.
Freedom is the inalienable right that allows each one of us to be the unique individual we are; in other words, to be human. Freedom is a blessing that leads us to keep fighting for our dreams, loving the people we love, and believe in the world we live in. Freedom is what gives our lives purpose, along with the opportunity to discover, to create, and to make a difference for those around us, for our countries and for all humanity. Family, culture, beliefs, and economic life – all are nothing more than the manifestations of freedom itself. The less freedom there is, the less we flourish in any of those spheres.
Freedom is the reason the world enjoys the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, the reason Michelangelo Buonarroti painted The Last Judgment, or Shakespeare wrote Macbeth. It’s what makes it possible for people to study and grow, to live in a comfortable home, and to enjoy hope, peace, and love. Take it away, and life can be unbearable.
There are still places in the world where families are living in the darkness of communism and its ideological brother, socialism. In the most extreme of such places, dreaming of a better future is illegal and the promise of eating three meals per day is a delusion. And I’m not just talking about distant North Korea.
Tragically, a world without freedom – one of misery, censorship, and repression – is the one in which we are living now in my native Venezuela. Especially as this important year in our history comes to a close and people the world over are thinking of the blessings associated with Christmas, I want to recognize certain heroes of my country. They are the brave students who were killed in 2017 by the dictatorship that haunts our land, and they were taken from us for no better reason than they stood for justice and human rights. When the regime declared war on freedom, these heroes were among the many who pushed back. That was their crime.
Please note that as reported last week in the Wall Street Journal, the country’s former attorney general, Luisa Ortega, believes that Venezuelan security forces have taken the lives of nearly 8,300 of my fellow countrymen in the last 30 months. I diminish the sacrifice of no one, but nearest to my heart are the lives of my fellow students.
This year, the youth of my country defied the regime, inspired by the millions of Venezuelans who dream to be free. Yes, there are still people in my country who support the dictatorship and its socialist agenda, but the future belongs to the young, and it’s among the young that the fires of freedom burn the strongest.
This year, day by day for months, the streets of Venezuela witnessed the biggest manifestations of courage in the country’s history. Students were in the forefront of them all. Those impressive national protests were repressed by the regime and its military with massive brutality and with the complicity and weapons of Castro’s Cuba. Thousands of young Venezuelans were (and still are) incarcerated; thousands more were injured. At least 157 students were killed in 2017, and they, in particular, are the heroes I wish to honor and remember, and to which this essay is dedicated.
Those brave and inspiring Venezuelans of my generation gave everything for the future of their families. They died because they preferred to die fighting than to live as slaves. Abandoning their families to tyranny was not an option. They found the strength to fight because they wanted to see the families they love to be free and to prosper. They wanted to see their fathers proud to work with dignity, not depressed for being no longer able to work and pay the bills. They wanted to wipe the tears of their mothers when they had no food in the fridge.
Their deaths, however, were not in vain. The same way they always fought, we will keep fighting. They are our inspiration, and a major reason to keep fighting. I ask God to give me half of the strength they had, as they possessed courage I can only imagine. Because of Venezuelans like them, I have no doubts my country will be free, though I do not know when or what trials must yet be endured before that happens. I have no doubt our fallen heroes watch us from Heaven and guide our fight. We owe them the free Venezuela they never saw, the joy of living in a country they only could dream about.
I am 21 years old, a college student in Florida and recent exile from my own country. When Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999, I was only two years old. Like my young compatriots to whom I pay tribute here, I’ve known only repression in Venezuela. And like those 157 youthful dreamers who died on the front lines in 2017, I understand that if we don’t fight today, there is no tomorrow. If we want to see Venezuela as a home of the free, we need Venezuelans to be brave. The heroes who fell this year and before, and those who remain to fight, are the ones to whom we will owe our liberty the day my country is free again.
Personally, expressing how painful is to live under socialism is difficult. It suffocates you. It works every day to snatch from you all hope, faith, and courage. You can’t dream, you can’t create, you can’t breathe. It takes away your life, destroys your family, silences your voice, and murders those who are fighting to give you back everything you lost.
Socialism is a disease that permeates everything you love and destroys it from the inside. In my country, family reunions are extinct, as more than three million Venezuelans (12 percent of the country) have emigrated and many thousands more die each year from rising crime and hunger. A dinner with friends is virtually impossible, as hyperinflation puts a good meal beyond the reach of most. This is but a small portion of the collective agony that my country experiences every day under a regime that promised it would care for “the people.” What we got was Hell on earth.
My friend Lawrence Reed, president of FEE and a staunch friend of Venezuelans who love freedom, once told me of something his Scottish ancestors wrote nearly 700 years ago. It’s a message that applies as well to my country today: “It is not for honors or glory or wealth that we fight, but for freedom alone, which no good man gives up except with his life.”
I promise to the extent I have the power to do so that in Venezuela, we who love freedom will fight to end the intolerable situation in which the country finds itself. And we will never, ever, surrender until that freedom is ours.