On Transformative Internships

In “The Expansion of International Society,” Raul Romero ’22 reads books written by someone he questioned in Congress as an intern.

By Raul Romero ’22

There was more tension than air. In the middle of a congressional briefing, I found myself sitting next to the head of political affairs of the Venezuelan Embassy and in front of a panel of college professors, a former member of the World Bank, and the controversial humanitarian aid and development economist Jeffrey Sachs. As more attendees entered the room, it remained unclear as to how the briefing would turn out. 

These experts were all arguing for sanction relief for Venezuela: the elimination of one of the most basic political tools that allows the Venezuelan opposition to exert pressure against the regime. In their view, U.S. policy should not focus on achieving regime change, or even democratic reforms in Venezuela, but rather limit itself to exerting soft-power measures and providing humanitarian aid to the Maduro regime. Members of the Venezuelan diaspora, journalists from regime-sponsored media, and the speakers were all argumentative, but respectful. 

In my view, the speakers' conclusions were deeply flawed. I was in disbelief. I kept on staring at my notes, writing down every piece of data and sources I could just recall from the top of my mind. I kept putting pieces of information together: studies, UN reports, statistical evidence from credible sources, and my own experience as a Venezuelan expat who once ran from the regime’s bullets

As soon as the hearing opened for questions I raised my hand as high as I could. I had started working at the Venezuelan Embassy a few weeks before, and was beyond ready to question the presenters. Several people were called upon before me, but  the moderator saw my insistence, and decided to award me the opportunity to ask a question before a congressional panel.

Breathe. In. Out. 

“Before asking my question, it is important to provide some information and evidence that has been largely ignored by this panel.” Adrenaline was running while a drop of sweat ran down my cheek. 

“Excuse me, sir, you cannot add a comment to your question, just go ahead and ask whatever you want to ask.” 

Breathe. 

“Before I ask these questions, it is important to add crucial information. I am a Venezuelan expat who has suffered the consequences of the actions of the regime. How can you humanly propose to award aid funds to the Maduro regime if according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Report the government utilizes its food handout program as a mechanism to exert control over the local population for their own personal gains? According to an investigation …” and I so continued to present all the data I had at hand. 

The moderator glared at me as I asked the question, and the panel addressed one of my concerns, but decided to largely dodge my inquiry. At the end, a few coworkers looked at me and congratulated me for asking the uncomfortable question and providing the firm, necessary background data. 

A few months later, in Professor Van Holde’s class, “The Expansion of International Society,”  I was surprised to read one of the first titles we would explore for the class. Jeffrey Sachs, a man I had questioned in Congress, was the writer and subject of two course books we had to discuss. I recalled my experience right away, but decided to keep an open mind. Indeed, some of Sachs’ work was incredible and worthy of recognition. However, his vision of humanitarian aid and international affairs did not align with the views of the class. We all agreed that only providing aid cannot solve internal institutional issues, nor will direct top-down assistance guarantee the presence of international investment to achieve long-term development. 

Looking into this summer, I decided to apply to intern at the Venezuelan Embassy again, bringing a different skillset to the political affairs section of the diplomatic mission. Due to the pandemic, most of my work won’t be in the embassy, but I still face the expense of living in Washington, D.C. for the summer. Unable to return to my home country but with the opportunity of working an unpaid internship, I was at a crossroads as to how to plan for the upcoming months. 

Fortunately, Kenyon offers a stipend for students on financial aid who undertake career-related unpaid internships. I submitted my application as soon as I was done and I waited. Despite the current circumstances, Kenyon upheld its program and supported remote internships for students. I was selected for the summer internship fund and began to look ahead to the summer. As a remote intern for the Venezuelan Embassy, I will work on research projects that will assess a myriad of issues that pertain to strategy in international affairs, relief for Venezuelan citizens abroad and growing the coalition behind Juan Guaido. In some way, I just hope I can contribute to the greater cause of Venezuelan freedom.