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Florida: Thousands Clamor for Freedom in Venezuela

By: Fergus Hodgson - @FergHodgson - Feb 23, 2014, 1:10 am

EspañolThese are times that try the resilience of Venezuelans, at home and abroad. Escalating violence and political persecution in the South American nation have generated hundreds of demonstrations worldwide over the past week, and these climaxed on Saturday.

Miami’s large migrant population from Latin America was no exception, as Venezuelans and their supporters descended on Doral, a short drive from the city center.

Opponents of Chavismo gather in Doral, Florida, to denounce oppression in Venezuela. Source: Marisol Medina.

The Rally for Freedom in Venezuela attracted between 5,000 and 8,000 individuals to JC Bermudez Park. So large was their presence — as they streamed in well after the 1 p.m. EST start — that it overshadowed the speakers, including Doral Mayor Luigi Boria and Helene Villalonga of A World Without Censorship.

Dressed primarily in white, with all forms of Venezuelan flag additions, few could see the main stage. However, that appeared to matter little, as they joined to make a statement: they care about their country, its freedom, and they want the world to know about the human rights violations going on there. #SOSvenezuela was the dominant keyword, in reference to the Twitter hashtag carrying updates on the resistance.

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#SOSvenezuela was the keyword of the day. Source: PanAm Post staff.

“This is a great day for Venezuela, here in Doral,” María Trina Burgos of Justice for Democracy said. “All these people here in the background, everybody cheering … for the liberation of Leopoldo López, our new leader.” In particular, Burgos hopes that, with these demonstrations, English speakers will become more aware of the plight of the Venezuelan people.

vsaWhen pressed on a path out of the conflict, few attendees offered a clear strategy, given what appears to be a quagmire — although Burgos and the speakers did advocate nonviolence and further demonstrations. Alfredo Machado, vice president of the Venezuelan Student Alliance at Florida International University, recommended that people engage with social media and share the latest updates.

“There is a blackout, an information blackout in the country, so our job is to inform people of what is happening in Venezuela.” Like in Syria and North Korea, he said, “human rights are not being protected,” and he wants people to keep going with peaceful disobedience, “because with violence, I think we’re not going to get anywhere.”

Similarly, Barbara García, the daughter of two Venezuelan immigrants, said social media updates are so important. She last visited Venezuela five years ago, “before it … turned into the mess that it is today,” and she calls upon people to be precise with their updates, to help foreign reporters.

“Unfortunately, the media is misinformed — mainly because a lot of reporters are not even allowed in the country right now — so I do sympathize with the media.… They need people to be able to verify facts … If you’re a Venezuelan, do your part, and be factual when you’re putting [media content] up.”

“I don’t live in my country, but my country always lives in my heart.” In line with the bilingual nature of Miami, the rally was predominantly in Spanish, but one presenter spoke in English. Source: Marisol Medina.

Machado also advocated various forms of dialogue, because Chávez “created a lot of anger between classes, and I think that’s the most problematic issue right now … We have to reunite Venezuelans … It doesn’t matter where you come from, your family, how much money you have, or what position you have.” In his view, the poor are suffering even more from the insecurity and economic crisis, so they too have to gain from a changing of the guard.

While Venezuela has suffered from various challenges for many years now, one of the volunteer organizers, Stephanie Urdaneta, explained that it has reached a boiling point.

“We have had enough violence; we have had enough death, injustice. The last [few] years have been a nightmare in our country … We need people to know exactly what’s happening … Supposedly we’re living in a democracy, [but] that’s not happening.”

Some demonstrators had arrived in the United States within the past week, given grave concerns for their safety. Flor Mendez was one such individual, and she said she sees only one way out, a change to the government.

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Source: Stephanie Urdaneta.

“There is no other way … there is nothing positive about it,” and she is ashamed to speak of what Venezuela has become. In particular, she noted no employment prospects and shortages of even the basic necessities such as toilet paper, milk, and rice.

In line with the theme of nonviolence, demonstrators formed an SOS shape — including a peace sign in the middle — before dispersing.

Fergus Hodgson Fergus Hodgson

Fergus Hodgson was the founding editor in chief of the PanAm Post, up until January 2016, and he now studies finance at Tulane University in Louisiana and Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala. Originally from New Zealand, he has also lived in Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Ireland, and the United States. Follow @FergHodgson and his Facebook page.