By KRISTEN GREEN ’14
On Saturday, Feb. 22, hundreds of protestors, mostly members of the Venezuelan diaspora, gathered in Copley Square to demonstrate their support for peace in Venezuela, where the military police have recently cracked down on antigovernment protesters.
The Copley Square demonstration was one of more than 100 protests that occurred around the world this weekend as people gathered in public spaces from Connecticut to Korea in peaceful shows of support.
Unrest erupted in Venezuela on Feb. 12 when peaceful student rallies in major cities coincided with the commemoration of the Battle of La Victoria, also known as National Youth Day. Protesters cited rampant inflation—Venezuela currently experiences the highest rate of inflation in the world—chronic shortages of basic goods and increasing levels of violence as reasons for their frustration. Many who took to the streets espouse antigovernment messages, pointing to President Maduro as a corrupt politician who has mismanaged the economy.
The Feb. 12 demonstrations soon became violent as police began using tear gas and water cannons to quell the protests. Three people died, including two anti-government demonstrators and one government supporter. To date, at least 13 people are reported to have died in the unrest.
After the violence on Feb. 12, protests continued despite Maduro’s ban on unauthorized demonstrations. In addition to permitting the use of force against shows of opposition in the street, the Venezuelan president has also cracked down on media coverage of the events. He removed a Colombian station, NTN24, from the Venezuelan airwaves because of its reports on the unrest, and state-run television stations have been silent on the protests roiling the country. When it became clear that demonstrators were using Twitter to organize, the president blocked the use of the application within Venezuelan borders.
State-sponsored violence and censorship were two of the main concerns of protestors who gathered in Boston Saturday.
Nicole Blansett ’15, who sent out an email Thursday urging MEZCLA members to participate in the rally, explained that Saturday’s protests shared two main purposes: demonstrating solidarity and generating awareness.
“This second point is really important because silencing protesters, as Maduro has attempted to do through force, violence and shutdown of communication, is something that we cannot allow to happen,” Blansett said.
Daniela Galindo, another demonstrator at the event who moved to the United States from Caracas two years ago to attend Suffolk University, echoed this concern. “I just hope that we can spread the word so that everyone knows what is going on in Venezuela,” she said. “Sometimes people think that we’re just in a normal situation and we have democracy, but that’s not true because everything is so quiet in there. The freedom of speech is not true, so we just hope that the world knows what is really happening.”
Many of the protesters at Saturday’s event came to support family members still living in Venezuela.
“My father’s here, and he’s been here 25 years, but almost all of our family is still there,” said demonstrator Jocelyn Aponte. “So we’re here supporting them. People… they need a change. They need something to happen, and unless we support [them] nothing’s going to go on.”
Blansett estimates that about seven Wellesley students attended the event. Lucia Perez ’14 clutched a bright red piece of butcher paper throughout the event. A quote from Simon Bolivar: “Maldito el soldado que apunta su arma contra su pueblo,” or “Wretched is the soldier that turns his weapons onto his people,” scrawled in black ink across the sign, made reference to President Maduro’s authorization of violence against demonstrators within the country.
Perez, a Venezuelan-American, moved to New York from Caracas when she was six years old.
“I have a lot of cousins and aunts and uncles who still live there,” she said. “And I mean, it’s my home, and I wish I could go back there, but right now things are bad. I fear for my cousins’ safety, for the prosperity of my family.”
Back at Wellesley, Blansett adds that the potential repercussions the unrest in Venezuela could have on neighboring countries is also concerning, perhaps especially to students whose families live in Latin America.
“For many of us, these countries are our homes or the homes of family members, so I felt that MEZCLA was the natural starting point in trying to generate awareness on campus given the direct impact these events could potentially have on members,” she said. “Wellesley students care about freedom and we are given access to information and tools denied to many who are in Venezuela. The least we can do is use social media to spread information about what is going on there and not allow the government to silence the people.”
Social media continues to be a driving force behind the campaign to generate awareness surrounding the political situation within Venezuela. The hashtags “#SOSVenezuela” and “#IamyourvoiceVenezuela” are two of the trending tags related to the protests.
Protesters expressed hope that these efforts to gain exposure and awareness internationally will eventually lead to an end to the violence and oppression within the country.
“I just think Venezuela is waking up right now,” Galindo said. “We have been just quiet for these whole 15 years, and this is a new opportunity and a new chance to be free. We can hope for something better.“