Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Venezuelan Expats Protest Against Government

Scores of Venezuelans residing abroad have participated in protests amidst the heightened poetical tension in their homeland.

In Miami, approximately 700 people participated in a rally that was held days after three people were killed following an anti-government protest in Caracas. 

The marchers, who were mostly made up of the growing Venezuelan diaspora in south Florida, reportedly held signs denouncing the Venezuelan government led by President Nicolás Maduro.

“I went to the protest because I'm a student and I identify with what young people in my country are going through,” said one of the demonstrators at Sunday’s event.  “Venezuelans have already gone through so much and it's a shame that this is happening”.

Hundreds of other expats in other parts of the U.S. as well as in Latin America held protests in solidarity with Venezuelan university student marchers opposed to the Maduro regime. 

“In this age of technology neither Venezuelans or the world could understand what was going on (in Venezuela) because there are no more independent and free media outlets,” denounced María Fernanda Flores, the former vice president of het Globovisión TV network who took part in a protest over the weekend in New York city.  (Globovisión, whose editorial content showed opposition to the Venezuelan government, was sold last year to a group allegedly with close ties to the government.)

“You’re on Your Way Out, Maduro”, “SOS Venezuela” and “No More Lies” were the slogans of the signs held by 300 protesters who gathered at Mexico City’s iconic Angel of the Independence statue on Sunday.

Similar events where held in major cities in Europe and Asia such as in Paris where 200 demonstrators rallied in front of the Eiffel Tower over the weekend.

Social media has played a key part in helping to spread the word about the protests, which was the case in Philadelphia where demonstration organizers relied on Facebook and Twitter to promote their event.  Social networking has also been vital in disseminating information into and out from Venezuela but it has also led to a “virtual battle” between backers and detractors of the Maduro regime.  Despite denials from Venezuelan officials, a spokesman for Twitter accused the government of being behind a disruption in service last week. A global campaign of hackers was then formed and they infiltrated numerous government websites:
On Friday, government domains were plastered with the branding of Anonymous, LulzSec and several other lesser-known groups and individual hackers. By Saturday, it seemed as if the Maduro government could do little to contain the online onslaught…
Over the weekend, hackers coordinated their attacks by communicating on a number of IRC (internet relay chat) forums in a blur of English, Spanish and Portuguese. With each passing moment, new links to defacements and downed sites made their way from IRC to social media…
The PSUV account was (hacked and) then used to circulate images of the police repressing anti-government protesters. Party officials regained control of the account on Monday afternoon.
On Tuesday, supporters of opposition activist Leopoldo López accompanied him as he surrendered to authorities and was placed under arrest for his supposed role in last Wednesday’s post-protest violence. 

I am handing myself over to an unfair justice system,” said López in front of a reported crowd of 10,000 individuals mostly clad in white.  “May my imprisonment serve to wake the people up,” he added.   

López, whose tactics of street protests and direct confrontation with the government has put him at odds with others in the opposition, is expected to be taken from prison to a court hearing on Wednesday.

Maduro lashed out at his Colombian and Chilean counterparts after the former, President Juan Manuel Santos, called on the government and opposition to engage in peaceful dialogue.  President Sebastián Piñera of Chile, meanwhile, called on all actors in Venezuela to respect freedom of expression and human rights.

“Do you really believe you can come to me and give me lessons on democracy President Santos when what I’m doing is defending Venezuela?” asked Maduro in front of a crowd of tens of thousands of sympathizers and employees of state-owned oil firm PDVSA.

That’s enough, dammit!” declared Maduro at the pro-government demonstration where he also labeled López as the “political head of Venezuela’s fascist right.”

Maduro did not mention the U.S. State Department, which blasted the Venezuelan government’s recent decision to expel three consular officials accused of conspiring.

“We have seen many times that the Venezuelan Government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela,” according to a State Department statement issued on Tuesday. “These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan Government to deal with the grave situation it faces”.

Video Source– YouTube user CadenaTres

Online Sources – Reuters; BBC Mundo; U.S. State Department; El Universal; philly.com; La Nacion; The Latin Americanist; VOXXI; Bloomberg; Ultima Hora; Variety; Miami Herald

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