An outspoken Venezuelan human-rights advocate is urging other countries to follow Canada’s leadership in condemning the role of President Nicolas Maduro’s regime in the deteriorating political and economic crisis in the South American country.
Francisco Valencia is in Ottawa this week meeting with Canadian officials to discuss the Venezuelan crisis and his work as the director of a coalition of health organizations in Venezuela. Mr. Valencia is the winner of this year’s Human Rights Award, a high-profile honour bestowed upon leading human-rights defenders by the Canadian embassy in Venezuela.
Speaking to The Globe and Mail Wednesday, Mr. Valencia commended the Canadian government’s approach to the Venezuelan crisis, which has included numerous denunciations from Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, economic sanctions against dozens of Maduro regime officials and humanitarian aid.
“Canada actually is, in my view, the country that denounced the most the violation of human rights in Venezuela … and was the most helpful with financing towards humanitarian issues,” Mr. Valencia said in Spanish through a translator.
“Other countries should be doing what Canada is doing.”
Mr. Valencia applauded work of Canadian officials, who have met with concerned groups in Venezuela in an attempt to understand the complex situation in the country. He said it is critical that other countries make a similar effort to understand the magnitude of the human rights violations in Venezuela, and of violations of rights to life and health care in particular.
Venezuela is facing an economic crisis, with annual inflation hitting more than 24,000 per cent in May, according to the country’s opposition-led National Assembly. Venezuela’s central bank has not published inflation data for more than two years, leaving the opposition to translate the ongoing crisis into real numbers.
The situation has resulted in desperate food and medicine shortages across Venezuela, the impacts of which Mr. Valencia and his family have felt directly.
Mr. Valencia and his wife are both kidney-transplant recipients. Like the thousands of organ-transplant patients in Venezuela, they rely on anti-rejection drugs to protect their transplanted organs. But critical drug shortages mean they have not had reliable access to their medication for eight months. The couple now relies on risky expired medication and the generosity of others to provide them with the drugs they need to survive.
“A life of a person in Venezuela that had a transplant right now is that every night you are thinking, ‘what am I going to do tomorrow?’” he said.
Mr. Valencia, 45, was born with kidney problems and ultimately ended up getting a kidney transplant in his 20s. His experience as a transplant patient led him to start the Coalition of Organizations for the Right to Health and Life (CODEVIDA), a coalition of health organizations that promotes the rights of people with chronic health conditions in Venezuela, in 2003.
Initially, Mr. Valencia worked part-time with CODEVIDA, but his advocacy efforts kicked into high gear in recent years, when Venezuela spiraled into economic turmoil.
“It was a transition … from a quiet life towards becoming the target of threats from the government,” he said.
Mr. Valencia said the future for Venezuelans with chronic health conditions is bleak, given the collapse of the country’s organ-transplant system and spotty access to medication. He said 80 Venezuelans have suffered from organ failure following transplants this year because they didn’t have access to anti-rejection drugs; another ten have died.
“If you lose your transplant today, it’s practically a death sentence in Venezuela.”
Mr. Valencia’s life has become defined by his fight for health care for all. He and his wife adopted a young girl in Venezuela, now seven years old, with a kidney condition.
He said the Human Rights Award from the Canadian embassy in Caracas encourages him and his organization to continue their work amid a challenging political situation in Venezuela, which the Canadian government has called a dictatorship.