By ROGER A. DECANIO

Lately, we have seen in the news the brave Pakistani lawyers protesting the sacking of their Supreme Court and the marshal law placed upon them. We have also seen protesters shot in Caracas, Venezuela when protesting against their president's attempt at a power grab to become its next dictator.

I appreciate the fact that I am a naturalized citizen of the United States. Yes, I am an immigrant, and proud of it. I am just as proud of this aspect of my life as I was of my experience as a staff assistant with Congressman Bob Wise, and as an attorney.

My parents and I came to the United States in 1975 when I was five years old. I was born in Caracas Venezuela. My paternal grandfather, Rogelio Decanio, was a pediatrician in Bolivar City along the banks of the Orinoco. My Maternal grandfather, General Roosevelt Adrianza, was an officer in the Venezuelan Air Force. I owe a lot to them but I can thank my grandmother, Francis Adrianza, for me continuing to live in this country and ultimately, becoming an American citizen.

My father is a medical doctor and specializes in pathology. In 1977 and 1978 when he was practicing at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, he received a call from the hospital administrator. My father's work visa was about to expire. We could only stay in the United States if he had an American family member sponsor us.

Thankfully, my grandmother, Francis, was born in New York. Her father purchased a newspaper in Puerto Rico, so they left New York when she was a small child. She later settled in Venezuela and maried my grandfather. She was our only hope of staying in America. There was one problem. The last dictator in Venezuela caused her to loose her American citizenship.

Gen. Marcos Perez Jimenez, was Venezuela's last military dictator. Gen. Perez Jimenez ruled Venezuela from 1952 to 1958 when he was ousted by a bloodless coup. On Jan. 23, 1958, a popular uprising backed by the military forced Gen. Perez Jimenez and his family to flee to the Dominican Republic and then to the United States. My grandfather, Roosevelt Adrianza, was part of that coup. Millions of Venezuelans were in the streets celebrating and welcomed back democracy.

My grandfather would be turning in his grave if he saw all his sacrifices he made to bring democracy to Venezuela be swept away by the re-emergence of a new dictator, Hugo Chavez.

Before the 1958 coup, President Jimenez ordered a referendum on his continued rule. He ordered all the Venezuelan military and their family to vote for him.

My grandmother did not want to vote and she protested. She told Venezuelan officials that she was an American citizen and could not vote in their election. She was told that if she did not vote, her husband would be imprisoned. She was forced to vote and lost her American citizenship despite her objections.

When her daughter's (my mother) family was about to be deported from the United States, she again petitioned that her American citizenship be restored. This time, she was successful.

I still remember her telling me the story. The American consoler apologized profusely for the loss of her citizenship and it was restored. She was able to then petition for my mother's green card. I will never forget that time.

We had to go to Canada to apply for re-entry into the United States while my grandmother's citizenship status was resolved. It was so cold that the Niagara Falls froze solid. We had to stay in a small hotel in Niagara, Canada, while the immigration paperwork was completed.

Were we illegal aliens? I doubt it. Even if we were, we managed to legally return and later obtain our green cards. In 1988, we became American citizens.

Since then, our family has made contributions to the United States. Both my father and brother are doctors. I have worked in government with Bob Wise here in West Virginia and I am now an attorney and my sister is a stay-at-home mother of two children. She lives with her husband in North Carolina.

My uncle, Roosevelt Adrianza Jr., would later move to the United States and join the U.S. Marines. He was at the Pentagon when it was hit on Sept. 11, 2001. He would later see combat and fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On behalf of my grandmother, I would like to thank the man at the American Embassy who helped my grandmother get her U.S. citizenship back. She cannot remember his name, but for our family, he was like an angel sent from heaven. We all thank him. My grandmother now lives in Miami with my aunt.

I still have family in Venezuela. Everyone is mindful of what they say in public. The government has imprisoned political opponents, closed down opposition televisions stations and its president is poised to be yet another South American dictator.

He has been cavorting with Fidel Castro and leaders from Iran. It is simply a nightmare. Living in Venezuela, though beautiful as that small country is, is like living on another planet. Your rights can be taken away at the government's whim. Tens of thousands of university students have taken to the streets and emerged as the oil-rich country's leading voices of dissent. Protests and violence have become the norm in most of Venezuela's major cities.

I was pleased to learn that 9 million of its 16 million people went to the polls in Venezuela and defeated Hugo Chavez and his proposed changes. It was a great victory for democracy.

I am reminded that voter turnout over all American elections averages markedly less than half of eligible voters. Much more than a right –- in a democracy voting is an irrevocable civic duty. We vote more for "American Idol" that in our own elections! Could we ever imagine our rights discarded?

Perhaps we should think about this!

The Bush administration, has been violating our constitutional by violating the FIZA law and our rights to privacy by listening to our telephone conversations without a warrant!

Benjamin Franklin once said once "[t]hey who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security."

If we do not become more participants in our democracy, our rights could be further threatened! We need to cherish our citizenship!

Whatever comes about my candidacy for the House of Delegates, I earnestly hope that our own appreciation for our ideals and our democracy is not taken for granted. We must participate. We must vote. We have to take a stand.

That is, in part, why I run.

I am proud to be an American and a West Virginian. I hope I can serve my country in public office and help bring in new solutions for a new century. I want to work to help West Virginia take advantage of its potential.

Decanio is a Charleston attorney.

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