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"I came to help you" | A letter from Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International

Monday 26 March 2018 - 11:05am

Carles Torner (centre, blue shirt) and Milagros Socorro (centre right, grey blazer) with PEN Venezuela

“I am a writer and I come from Venezuela.” Milagros Socorro spoke these words in The Hague after receiving the PEN International/Oxfam-Novib award for Freedom of Expression on January 18th. 

“My last name 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.”

Milagros has succeeded: we are intrigued. In the room, 500 faces in deep silence are waiting for her to tell us how is she going to help. “I exercise a freedom of expression that the Venezuelan government continuously violates. I speak up because I was educated by my parents at home, by my teachers at school... I was born and raised in Venezuela’s democracy.”

And then comes the help – and it’s a warning: "I came here to tell you that everything that you take for granted can be lost in one minute.”

We spent two days with Milagros sharing news about the situation in Venezuela and the ways that PEN could support writers in the country. Six weeks later we landed in Caracas: I travelled there with the great poet and novelist Gioconda Belli, President of PEN Nicaragua, and Alicia Quiñones, the Mexican journalist who is working for PEN to coordinate actions by PEN Latin American centres. On the first day of our mission we met Milagros together with forty other Venezuelan writers: poets and novelists, academics and journalists, bloggers and the young group of “artists without gag.”

There is enthusiasm to revitalize Venezuelan PEN. On behalf of all of them, Milagros thanks PEN for our solidarity and campaigns. The situation is tragic: to the constant pressure on freedom of expression on top of hyperinflation and the difficulties of daily life: poverty, hunger, lack of medicines and the constant flow of persons leaving the country.

In July, the whole PEN Latin American network will meet in Buenos Aires, and, after years of absence, we will welcome again our Venezuelan colleagues among us. The mission of PEN, to ensure that literature knows no frontiers and all of us writers are united in solidarity, will be developed in debates and campaigns. PEN Argentina will host us and together we will support our Venezuelan colleagues in distress.