By Jeffrey Pierre / Assistant News Director
Thousands of demonstrators, including students and alumni, waved the yellow, blue and red of the Venezuelan flag in Doral on Saturday to speak out against ongoing human and social rights violations taking place in Caracas.
The protest was a part of over 150 demonstrations held worldwide on Feb. 22.
The violent Venezuelan protest and demonstrations are part of a series of global social movements that have culminated during the anti-government protests in three disparate countries and in three different regions.
While Venezuelan demonstrators are demanding better security, an end to goods shortages and protected freedom of speech, protesters in Thailand are calling for for the ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra coinciding with demonstraters in Ukraine looking for the government to forge closer ties with Europe and turn away from Russia.
Alfredo Machado, a senior marketing management major and vice president of the Venezuelan Alliance at FIU, helped organize the Doral demonstration.
“This began as just a student protest but has now it’s become a social protest,” Machado said. “Here in Miami, it’s hard because we all have family in Venezuela. When you see what’s happening in your country, you have to do something.”
The country has faced severe social unrest since Feb. 12. At least eight people have been killed and more than 100 injured. The protesters say they want better security, more freedom of speech and an end to shortages. They oppose the socialist government of Nicolas Maduro, who took the reins following the death of Hugo Chavez in March 2013.
[pullquote]“We can’t underestimate the power of spreading the word,” Vicky Principe said. “We can’t go and risk our lives to protest like people back home but we can talk about it and create awareness. We’ve become the media. We don’t have anyone to inform the people because we’re censored. So now it’s our job to inform the public because this about basic human rights.”[/pullquote]
Students from state universities including University of Florida and Florida State University joined Machado and the Venezuelan Alliance in support.
“There were Cubans, Colombians, Nicaraguans and even Americans coming together,” Machado said. “It doesn’t matter where you are from, you can’t see human rights violations and not do anything.”
Machado says that although students and activists may be separated by distance, they can still play a significant role in Venezuela by spreading the news of the violence aimed towards students, especially via social media like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Vicky Principe, a journalism senior and activist, agrees.
“We can’t underestimate the power of spreading the word,” Principe said. “We can’t go and risk our lives to protest like people back home but we can talk about it and create awareness. We’ve become the media. We don’t have anyone to inform the people because we’re censored. So now it’s our job to inform the public because this about basic human rights.”
Natalia Tovar, a senior international relations and political science major, helped organize the SOS Venezuela Bayfront Park event that took place on Feb. 20.
“We are trying to be the voice of our country, our job as Venezuelan and US citizens is to be the voice of those in Venezuela, we need to let the world know what’s going on,” Tovar said.
Principe, a Venezuelan native, says the people of Venezuela want justice and the basic choices that come with freedom. With the worst inflation numbers in the world, a battered economy, high murder and crime rates and a country left beaten post-Chavez, Principe says people, especially students, are fed up.
“People are tired of not being able to walk down the street without the fear being killed. People are tired of not being able to even buy milk for their newborn,” Principe said. “We’ve been through this for 15 years and it just got to a point where just we’re tired of it.”
Statewide protests have highlighted the growth of Florida’s Venezuelan community.
More than 250,000 people of Venezuelan origin call the United States home, according to the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project. Forty percent live in Florida.
At the University, Venezuelans are the second largest group of international students on campus with 286 studying at the University from abroad according to the Associated Press.
Additional reporting done by Ezita Rodriguez and Madison Fantozzi.
Cover photo curtesy of Marisol Medina / FIUSM