“If I were talking to you like this in Venezuela, I fear I would be arrested.”
On the same day that his home nation was rocked by an uprising that some were calling an “attempted coup” – the latest in a succession of political dramas – Javier Alejandro Lindarte Montero was forthright.
“I have never known what peace means in my country,” Mr Lindarte Montero said.
The 26-year-old graduated from The University of Queensland with a Master of Governance and Public Policy in 2018.
On 1 May he returned to UQ as a guest speaker of the Venezuela in Crisis panel discussion.
Earlier the same evening he stood outside Queensland’s Parliament House to bring attention to the plight suffered by his compatriots.
“The truth is that this upheaval in Venezuela has been happening all my life. It’s not only now that social media and newspapers are starting to take notice,” he said.
“Unfortunately, Venezuela is known because of our political leaders, not because of the successful and beautiful things which should define our country.
“We have wonderful landscapes and a rich culture, but sadly this is not a safe time for anybody to visit.
“As a Venezuelan, it kills me to tell people not to go there.”
Mr Lindarte Montero has supported a change in the nation’s presidency.
With food shortages and inflation out of control, he has favoured opposition leader Juan Guaido’s ascension to power over the incumbent Nicolas Maduro.
Mr Guaido has already been supported by 50 countries, including being recognised by the Australian government as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.
However, it is a complex debate – one that rages on while the Venezuelan people suffer.
“The minimum wage in Venezuela is equivalent to US$5 per month…per month,” Mr Lindarte Montero emphasised.
“A carton of eggs costs more than the minimum wage.
“Venezuela used to be the richest of the Latin American nations and now it has the worst inflation of any nation in the world.
“Most personally and painfully, this whole situation has divided families. I’ve lost contact with family members because political views have become so strong on either side.
“I’m a very politically-motivated person, but even I must concede that family should come before anything.”
Mr Lindarte Montero contended that it was almost impossible to grow up in Venezuela without being politicised by the stark surrounds.
He was raised in a poor part of Caracas, son of a mother who was a housekeeper and a father who sold paintings on the streets.
Despite a working-class upbringing that would traditionally be seen as sympathetic towards socialism, Mr Lindarte Montero believed the Venezuelan model was fatally flawed.
He left the country in his late teens, first to study in Colombia, then later successfully applying for a scholarship at UQ.
His beliefs were consolidated by several unshakeable moments.
“At age 13 I started to develop discolouration of my skin because of a lack of protein and vitamins,” he said.
“There was no milk, no black beans, no eggs, no meat. There have been shortages of certain foods for a long time.
“As a young boy I was asked to write to the previous president and thank him for the medical treatment I received for my condition, but for all I could see, his regime was to blame.
“Then later, as I became more politically active, I was denied many times the right to withdraw money for my tuition.
“I’d been on TV shows by then and spoken to international newspapers…I was an identified activist.”
Mr Lindarte Montero’s dream job is to one day serve as a diplomat for the United Nations and bring healing to Venezuela.
In the meantime, he has made use of the opportunities Australia has gifted him, working diligently in a variety of roles as a cleaner, a glass collector, a kitchen hand, and courier driver.
He believes strongly in working hard to create opportunities and in repaying the nation which has taken him in.
No doubt, the fire burns within to make a wider impact in regard to human rights.
But, as it stands, Mr Lindarte Montero faces a sad realisation about Venezuela’s looming fortunes.
“I think it is going to take longer than my lifetime for Venezuela to recover and be rectified,” he said.
“What if Maduro is overthrown? What then? We are in so much debt that it’s hard to see a way forward.
“What do you do to fix things? Humbly, I have to say I have no idea.
“The least we can ask for is a new, fair and transparent election, the same right which the Australian public will enjoy.”
Image credits: Getty/Andres Eloy Zambrano, Clara Gonzalez and Javier Andres Lindarte Montero