Isaias Medina ‘85 resigns his UN diplomatic post to draw worldwide attention to the crisis in Venezuela
“Stand on the right side of history, whatever the cost.”
Last summer, a crisis brewing in Venezuela was thrust into the international spotlight due in large part to the actions of Pickering College alumnus Isaias Medina ’85. The now-former senior Venezuelan diplomat to the United Nations made headlines around the world when he resigned his post in protest, breaking ranks with Venezuela's president and his ruling socialist party, and publicly criticizing its handling of months of anti-government protests.
The most recent trouble in Venezuela began in April 2017. The Supreme Court made two unconstitutional decisions that usurped the competency of congress and the president violated the constitution by convening a fraudulent constituent national assembly. Millions of people took to the streets in protest, lasting four months. In all, Medina says 130 people were murdered, 15,000 people were injured and 600 people were arbitrarily arrested as political prisoners.
“During the most profound humanitarian crisis in Venezuelan history, I could not stay silent. I had to stand up and speak out. I loved my job at the UN but I love my country even more,” he says.
What led him to that moment began over 30 years ago while he was a student at Pickering College. Medina describes himself as having been a “rowdy kid” who didn’t speak much English when he first arrived at the school. What he didn’t expect was the kind of lifelong impact Pickering College would have on the two-time Student Committee Chair.
“The foundation of my life was built here during these incredible three years in Newmarket. I honestly and sincerely thank PC for being there for me, for shaping my beliefs, my respect for humanity, my moral principles, my faith and my courage,” he says.
After Pickering College, Medina went on to study law, becoming a successful corporate lawyer in New York. But the pull towards making a difference in the world was great and so he switched to public international law, where he became an expert in negotiation, peaceful dispute resolution and preventative diplomacy. When Venezuela joined the United Nations Security Council in January 2015, Medina was honoured to be invited as an advisor to the team. At the same time, he continued his work with the United Nations General Assembly Sixth Committee (Legal), the primary forum for the consideration of legal questions in the General Assembly.
Fast forward to July 2017. “I had to make a choice – do I keep my mouth shut and turn my head around and not see what is happening, or come at them and try to make a difference … because they’re (Venezuelans) in a country where the media is completely censored. So, I made my resignation public. I did not endorse human rights violations or crimes against humanity. We were doing this every day at the UN, our work was to fight against impunity for many different issues in the international community. How could I be honest with myself and stay there and see what’s going on in my country without doing anything?”
Medina says his resignation did what he had hoped it would do, drawing international attention to the crisis in Venezuela. Since then, the international community has enforced sanctions, repudiated the constituent assembly and “has unmasked an international criminal organization that has hijacked 30 million people, dressed as a sovereign government,” he says.
Though no longer a diplomat, Medina has been invited to participate in the Organization of American States' hearings to declare as a witness of the alleged crimes against humanity committed by President Nicolas Maduro's regime, particularly regarding the inhumane acts committed during this profound humanitarian crisis.
In October 2017, Pickering College had the privilege of hosting Isaias Medina as a virtual Leader in Residence, providing students with the opportunity to ask him questions about his life and what brought him to was, in essence, his defining moment. At Morning Meeting, his advice to our current students resonated with the audience as it is in keeping with the principles being taught through Global Leadership Program today.
“Align what you think with what you say and what you do. Do not ever abandon your beliefs and in the hardest challenges, be who you really are. Defend the defenceless. Speak for the voiceless. Always stand up for what you believe with respect of others. And remember, might is not right. Right is right. Stand on the right side of history, whatever the cost.”
“The foundation of my life was built here during these incredible three years in Newmarket. I honestly and sincerely thank PC for being there for me, for shaping my beliefs, my respect for humanity, my moral principles, my faith and my courage.”
Mike Mackenzie: Canada's first federal Superintendent of Financial Institutions and PC former faculty member dies.
We celebrate the life of former faculty member Mike Mackenzie who passed away on February 13, 2018. Mike was inducted into The Class of 1842 in 2012 to honour his lifelong service to leadership in the regulation of financial services in Canada and abroad. His distinguished career was spent with Clarkson Gordon and led to the appointment as the first federal Superintendent of Financial Institutions from 1987 to 1994. The regulatory approach taken under his direction has lasted, serving the country well in the financial market turmoil following 2008. Michael's obituary can be found here.