Once again, Hertie School students were asked by Handelsblatt—Germany’s leading business newspaper—to elect the “Person of the Year” in a school-wide online vote organised by The Governance Post. Their choice: Federica Dávila, a Venezuelan student who helped found the Green Cross, a group of medical students and doctors dedicated to providing first aid to the victims of government-sanctioned brutality.
Federica Dávila is a child of Latin America’s magic realism—not García Márquez’s magic realism but Uslar Pietri’s, the one that claimed history only really exists when you touch it. She was born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1994, and since then, she has grown to be part of a generation that has taken the country’s crisis into their own hands, trying to fill the void left by Nicolás Maduro’s government. Kind, tenacious, unpretentious; her mother often teases her saying that she learned how to say “medicine” even before she learned how to pronounce “mom and dad.” She is one of the co-founders of the Green Cross, a group of medical students and doctors who were in the front-lines of this year’s protests against Maduro’s regime, saving around 5,000 lives—both of civilians and governmental officials.
Not being interested in politics is a privilege that Venezuelans cannot really afford. Back in 2014, she took the streets of Caracas together with thousands of citizens, mostly students, rallying against the rise of violence, state-repression and the country’s pliant economy. In the midst of the demonstrations, she stumbled upon the complete absence of emergency care—a crude reality that left her frantic and restless, and her counterparts, vulnerable and exposed. “Some of the patients arrived at hospitals, and it was too late. Sometimes the injuries weren’t that severe, and their deaths could have been prevented,” she explained during a Skype interview.
The road ahead seemed to be rickety for Venezuela, so she decided, together with Hipólito García and Asdrúbal Moreno, to create the Green Cross. Years later, in 2017, she started leading the team together with Daniella Liendo. From the protests in 2014 to those in 2017, the organisation grew from having 40 volunteers to more than 250—among them not only students but also experienced doctors. The support they received came mostly from the Venezuelan diaspora; donations of medicine and medical supplies were sent from all over the world.
By 2017, the magnitude of the crisis had escalated—however, many of the students who volunteered in 2014 had been forced to leave the country and were not able to participate in the humanitarian response given this year. The world’s highest inflation rate, crumbling hospitals, a defeating uncertainty about the country’s future, food and drug shortages had all become the symbols of a country’s uncertain future. In March Maduro dissolved the legislative power and weeks later convened a new constituent assembly. The risk of seeing their country’s democratic constitution being re-written to consolidate the single-person ruling system brought together, once again, all generations of Venezuelans to protest on the streets for months.
Even though the Green Cross is an apolitical organisation, and volunteers treated patients equally regardless of their political stand, the clashes left some of the volunteers imprisoned, severely injured, or, in the tragic case of Paul Moreno, dead. They have been accused in public TV stations of being an organisation led by the opposition. Even though their efforts are not necessarily those of activists or politicians, they bring a type of change whose impact will be remembered by future generations.
The possibility that Maduro committed crimes against humanity has caught the attention of the Organisation of American States. OAS has accused the country of an excessive use of force against the government’s dissidents, which has resulted in the deaths of 124 citizens from April until July 2017: 73 of whom died in the hands of government-related forces. Thousands of demonstrators were detained during the protests. Federica, representing the Green Cross, was summoned before the Organisation of American States to give her testimony on the violence perpetrated against the civil society during the protests, an invaluable contribution to the international efforts made towards protecting the civil society from governmental violence.
Even though the future of Venezuela remains mostly uncertain, giving up stopped being an option for Federica and many of the country’s citizens. Her actions and those of many other Venezuelans remain a powerful testimony of the strength of citizen participation. Foucault used to say that people know why they do what they do but often don’t know the effects of their actions. Federica and her colleagues filled a governmental, administrative gap, but what they might not have known is the effect that these actions had on others. Federica and the Green Cross’ volunteers might have not only saved Venezuelans from tear-gas and police brutality; their efforts might have translated into a long-lasting message of hope for a generation that witnessed Maduro’s turn into a violent regime.
Azucena Morán is a class of 2018 Master of International Affairs candidate at the Hertie School of Governance and a research assistant at the Berlin Social Science Center. Originally from Guatemala, she is committed to bringing the Global South into the headlines of the international community. She is passionate about multimedia storytelling, participatory advocacy, and art’s political engagement.
Racien Nowak is a class of 2018 Master of Public Policy candidate. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Economics & Governance at Wageningen University & Universitat de Barcelona where she specialized in environmental policy and sustainable banking. Racien has an ongoing research interest in social change, political communication and advocacy.