“I Came Here to Remind You that Our Freedom Ends”
In February 2018, the journalist and chairman of Venezuelan PEN, Milagros Socorro received Oxfam Novib/PEN Award for Freedom of Expression. Here, we publish her moving acceptance speech.
I am a writer and I come from Venezuela.
My last name, the one that my father gave me, is Socorro, which in English means ‘help’.
My country has been destroyed by a dictatorship that devastated our institutions, our economy and our freedoms. In the streets of Venezuela thousands of people rummage in the trash to eat directly from it.
But I am not here to ask for help, neither for myself, nor for my beloved and tortured country. I came to The Hague to help you. Yes, I came here to remind you that liberties are not islands that float in isolation from one another. They are all linked together and anchored in the body of the society whose blood and vitality they share.
Without political freedom, there is no economic freedom, and without freedom of enterprise, there are no media, no jobs for journalists, no plural offer for all audiences. And when all these freedoms have been abolished, freedom of expression is not possible.
There are no civil liberties in Venezuela. There is no freedom of enterprise and there is no freedom of expression. And yet, Venezuelan journalists continue to denounce the abuses and crimes of a dictatorship that has kidnapped our country under the gaze of an international community that has not articulated an effective measure to solve our humanitarian tragedy and to stop the murders that the regime shamelessly perpetrates.
Venezuelan journalists accuse the tyranny and its accomplices in Venezuela and abroad, not because the laws and the devastated institutions grant us that right, but because we grew up and were raised in Venezuela´s democracy which over four decades was remarkable in Latin America. Freedom lives in our souls like a beacon that in the middle of the night keeps the flame and projects it.
I exercise a freedom of expression that the Venezuelan government continuously violates. I speak up because I was educated by my parents at home, and by my teachers at school and at University of Zulia, on the commitment to justice, truth and beauty. I was born and raised in Venezuela’s democracy, to which I owe with all my heart. There is no word, idea, purpose or dream that has not been placed in my mind and soul by the democratic tradition of Venezuela. There is, then, no other horizon for me.
I came here to tell you that everything that you take for granted can be lost in one minute. I came here to remind you that our freedom ends, not where the freedom of others begins, as they say, but where the freedom of others is threatened. I came here to suggest you that you care and value your democracy and your freedoms, because the dangers that haunt them are real and voracious.
The Oxfam Novib/PEN Award for Freedom of Expression is an immense honor, for which I thank you on behalf of the courageous and unrelenting journalists that work in Venezuela. I receive this award on behalf of my guild, to which I am very proud to belong. And I donate the funds to my high school, the San Pablo School of the Marist Brothers in Machiques, my hometown, near the border with Colombia. I want to contribute so that the Venezuelan children of today may also have the opportunity to be educated in freedom and commitment to our country.