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Midvale Journal

Bringing human rights home: Midvale resident honored for human rights activism

Dec 10, 2018 03:07PM ● By Heather Sky

Carlos Alejandro Moreno (second from left) received the Salt Lake County Hero Award on Oct. 8. (Photo provided by Carlos Moreno)

By Heather Sky | [email protected]

Carlos Alejandro Moreno recently received the Salt Lake County Hero Award from the Salt Lake County Mayor’s office. He was born in Maracaibo, Venezuela, the son of Carlos Moreno and Ingrid Dominguez, whom he calls “the best parents in the world.”

Moreno moved to Utah in 2009. Like most Venezuelans—a country of some 31 million—he has seen the effects of a historic economic crisis: a rise in violent crime, endless lines at gas stations, hospitals in need of medicine, empty shelves at grocery stores, families begging on the streets, malnourished children, and young girls selling their bodies in exchange for food. Many Venezuelans have fled, seeking stability elsewhere in the region and in the United States. 

“They put their hope and their money on the line in hopes of finding safety in the United States,” he said. 

Moreno graduated with a law degree from Rafael Urdaneta University in Maracaibo and received a diploma in labor law at the University of Zulia. After migrating to the United States, he studied English before receiving two additional associate degrees—one in political science and government, and another in national security, disaster management and counterterrorism—both from Salt Lake Community College, where he was the first Latino elected and re-elected president of the largest student association in Utah with the most votes in both elections for a student body president candidate.

The trajectory of Moreno’s path changed when he was granted political asylum in 2012, after a prominent government official in Venezuela called him a traitor and charged him with various crimes. 

“Ninety-nine percent of Venezuelans come to the US without a passport, and apply for refugee status. It is not just dangerous [in Venezuela], people are dying from starvation. It is such a repressed environment. They come to the US with two options: live legally in the country, or try to apply for political asylum,” Moreno said. When applying for refugee status or political asylum, seekers must demonstrate they can no longer live in their home country due to a reasonable fear that they will be persecuted due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group, or political opinion. Moreno had every intention of returning to his country after completing his degrees, but now he is unable to return to his country without facing persecution. He made the decision to use his time in the United States to improve the quality of life for the Venezuelan/minority community.

Moreno is the founder and current president of the American Venezuelan Association of Utah, which brings together more than 12,000 Venezuelans in the state and performs philanthropic work for Venezuelans inside and outside of Venezuela. 

AVAU is a non-profit volunteer organization whose purpose is to provide charitable services and resources that support the Venezuelan community and promote Venezuelan culture in Utah. This mission is fulfilled through community programs and other civic efforts aimed at improving the lives of all Venezuelans in the state of Utah. This is a volunteer-based organization. 

In October, Moreno was the recipient of the Salt Lake County Hero Award through the Salt Lake County Mayor's Office of Diversity & Inclusion for his work, dedication, and commitment to international human rights activism. The award recognizes the outstanding efforts of citizen leaders who stand out for their work in the local, national, and international communities. 

He was nominated by Isabel Ferrer who stated, “Carlos has been a builder of communities, collaborating to build programs by providing resources and food through the Venezuelan American Association of Utah. He has been instrumental in impacting the lives of many by becoming an advocate and an international human rights activist.”

Moreno moved to Midvale from Taylorsville with his wife and two children earlier this year to expand his local reach within the Utah Venezuelan community. Moreno loves to serve and loves to see positive change within local and global communities. However, the political repression and humanitarian crisis hitting Venezuela is profound. The previous President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, has been charged with corruption, murder, and human rights violations through the supreme court. Maduro has since been accused of authoritarian leadership, and is prohibited from entering the United States. 

Moreno fears for the future of his home country. “If we don’t have the support of armed defenses from other countries around the world, we cannot get our land and the Republic will die. Here [in the United States] you have a voice: you can fight, you can talk to politicians. In Venezuela, they will kill you. How do you make a change with that type of government? Use of force. The only way to take our country back is by force. This is the 15th round for Venezuela, and this is the last thing we can do.”

In February, the AVAU wrote an international proposal to create a Venezuelan government abroad in order to give the people the opportunity to take back their country. 

“Human rights activism is so important. It is important to have people within the community who are willing to take action. My hope is to one day return to my country, but that dream is further away every day. I love this country [the United States], but my country needs help. Venezuelans need to heal from the emotional destruction we have endured,” said Moreno.

The most significant battles in history are never easily won. It may be almost 10 years since Moreno was forced to leave his native land behind, but he will never stop fighting for his people and for his country.