|Activists demonstrate in favour of a 'no' vote at the referendum that eventually abolished term limits
for elected officials [GALLO/GETTY]
When he took office in 1999, Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, was seen as a saviour by many. His brand of '21st Century socialism' was embraced by working class Venezuelans who had grown angry with the established political elite.
But as the years have passed - he says that, despite ill health, he will run for a fourth term in 2012 - some have grown disillusioned with a president they say is growing increasingly autocratic.
Students are leading the movement against a leader they believe is restricting their freedoms and clamping down on those who voice opposing views. Villca Fernandez is the charismatic leader of one of those student movements, Movement 13.
Here he explains what has driven him in the past to go on hunger strike and sew his lips together.
|ACTIVIST STATEMENT: VILLCA FERNANDEZ
I grew up in a country where democracy existed and liberties were respected. Like any democracy in the world, the one I knew had its good points and its faults.
I lived through the failed coup d’état in 1992; I saw the tanks and military men walking through the streets of Merida, the city where I was born and where I had educated myself. I've had those images in my head for a long time; but I've also realised how governments had distanced themselves from the people; I was seeing how social differences and poverty increased and how young people were taking drugs and nobody cared.
At the same time, I was educating myself, thanks to the efforts of my humble parents who managed to give me the best education they could. My father, an artisan from Peru, and my mother from Venezuela provided me with values and culture. My father also gave me a love of football, a sport that I still play. However I had to drop football, handcraft and the countryside where I grew up for university and the struggles to recover the democracy and liberties that we have been losing. I always knew Chavez was not the way or the solution for my country and the current situation shows it.
I got into Movement 13 thanks to Nixon, my friend and comrade from battles for university rights. It is here where I managed to channel my rebel personality against a system that is unfair.
This is a country that has everything to be one of the richest in the region but today is one of its poorest. It has high levels of insecurity and a polarised society that is full of hatred. This has been promoted by Chavez, a man who is taking us to a fascist system similar to Cuba, where someone that thinks differently is prosecuted.
Venezuela is a country where the youth has had to abandon its normal activities to fight for our freedom and democracy against a totalitarian government that tries to close Venezuelan universities through resource restrictions and that criminalises protests through violence and prosecution. I have been a victim of that. This year with some fellow students from the country we went on hunger strike and after 27 days I decided to sew my lips together. I decided to close my mouth to open the mouths of thousands of Venezuelans and those of millions of other people in the world against totalitarianism and in favour of democracy.
The struggle for democracy and freedom continues as well as the dream of peace among Venezuelans where prosecution stops and where exiled people can return to the country; this is what drives me. I am ready to die fighting for a better life for Venezuela but also for my daughter, my greatest treasure.
Source: Al Jazeera