Last Tuesday night during our weekly Student Government Senate meeting, I abstained from voting on a resolution to recognize the installment of Juan Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela. Not too long after, one of my friends called me out on Facebook. Then, Student Body Vice President David Enriquez did so similarly in a letter to the editor published in The Alligator titled “Stand Up for Students.”
This letter is adapted from my response to my first friend and has been edited to also address the concerns of my second friend, David.
I did not take abstaining on the resolution lightly. When making my choice, I considered two issues that greatly weighed on my mind.
My first issue with the resolution is that it has Student Government wading into complex geopolitics. The issue was not with the content of the resolution but instead the actor/medium SG. I feel like in this realm, I have been validated in the court of public opinion since my decision. The Alligator’s SG reporter asked on Twitter if respondents believe SG should get involved with international politics. Out of the 184 who responded, 84 percent said no. I stand with the stance taken by the resolution, but I find myself uncomfortable with SG as an institution having international political beliefs.
However, in a moving display of collective action, well over 100 of the most affected UF students stood together in solidarity before the Senate to express their support for this bill. Thus, despite my disposition to avoid taking stances on complex issues of geopolitics, I was compelled by the voices who spoke out and decided not to vote against their interests.
My second issue with the resolution is that this was an issue that I am not intimately familiar with. Yes, I know Nicolás Maduro is trash, but I know very little about the Venezuelan constitution and the circumstances leading up to the present situation in Venezuela, which are critical aspects of the bill. I could not make a very informed decision. That is partially the reason I spoke very little during that meeting.
As an Asian-American student, I have been frustrated when people outside my community speak on issues relevant to it without proper knowledge and investment. I empathize with the Hispanic/Latinx community when it also faces these issues, but I feel as if I am not in a place where I should be trying to debate this complex issue. It only made sense to me to let people who knew more and had a personal connection to the issue speak; I like to speak up, but I don’t think I deserved the microphone that night.
When I realized that I would have to make a difficult choice, I messaged one of my most trusted friends who is Venezuelan and knew a lot more than I did on the issue and had a much deeper vested interest.
She mentioned to me that she also considered the resolution largely symbolic and would support me regardless of the way I voted since “no one on this [redacted] campus has any pull in maduro’s gov anyway lmao.” I’m not saying one person can speak for an entire community, but I would like to share that I considered the issue an extremely difficult one and reached out for help from a Venezuelan friend who knew more than I did and who helped me come to my decision and continues to support my decision to this day.
Finally, David calls me out saying I can be seen “laughing and mocking remarks made by those speaking during public debate.” I re-watched my livestream. Of course I grimace and laugh when a speaker says something absurd or does something cringe-worthy. But then I watched myself as David spoke. I don’t laugh or smile or mock his remarks. I focus on making sure the livestream is perfect for him. I shift the camera and microphone to accommodate him and his community. In my mind, I am giving him a platform by instantly streaming his passionate declaration to dozens of people watching online.
It is of my most sincere desires not to have caused any needless angst or grief over my actions — and if I did, then I am sorry. Finally, it is my hope that this letter clarifies the context of my actions.
Zachariah Chou is the UF Inspire Party presidential candidate. Chou used to be a columnist for The Alligator.