Venezuelans Take to the Streets – and Web

Hundreds rallied in Union Square on Saturday, February 22 against Venezuelan President Nicolas Madura. (Photo by Jefferson Siegel via The Villager

Hundreds rallied in Union Square on Saturday, February 22 against Venezuelan President Nicolas Madura. (Photo by Jefferson Siegel via The Villager)

As social unrest has swept across Caracas and other cities in Venezuela, New York’s Venezuelan community has joined the anti-government protests, both on the streets and on the web, as reported in El Diario/La Prensa recently.

A story by Gerardo Romo published February 28 tells about Darwin Rodríguez, a Venezuelan student of international affairs who has joined the anti-government protests from his East Harlem apartment.

Through Facebook and change.org, he contacted Venezuelan groups from around the world and collected 182,000 signatures against President Nicolás Maduro, which he personally delivered to the Organization of American States’ Secretariat for External Relations. The letter also demands a Democratic constitution for his country.

Darwin Rodríguez has collected 182,000 signatures against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro (Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario.)

Darwin Rodríguez has collected 182,000 signatures against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. (Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario/La Prensa)

How did the idea come about?

I woke up on February 13 reading the newspapers and when I saw everything that was happening I felt a big, deep frustration, because I was away and I couldn’t do anything for Venezuela. I also felt angry because these events could have been avoided by the government but they didn’t want to do so. So I thought about how could I help and started a petition to gather signatures. (…)

How do you think social media is influencing the protests in Venezuela?

If it wasn’t for Twitter and Facebook we wouldn’t know what’s going on in Venezuela. The protests take place on the main avenues and people who don’t live nearby might think everything’s normal. The government controls the media, that’s not a secret to anybody. That’s why social media’s role is so important and fundamental.

Also on Feb. 28 El Diario offers the testimonials of three Venezuelan New Yorkers who tell about their anxieties as they fear for their loved ones back home.

Katiuska Gutiérrez, 47, who works in marketing, says her cousin was beaten up during the February 21 rally that took the life of model Génesis Carmona. She says he wasn’t participating in the protest, but police officers accused him of taking pictures on his cell phone.

“He tried to explain to them that he was only responding to a text from his wife, but they didn’t believe him and started hitting and insulting him. (…)

He was arrested and, inside the patrol car, they kept hitting him on the head. Once inside the precinct the blows kept on coming, until an officer who arrived at the place recognized him from his neighborhood and asked them to let him go.

The other officers told him to text his wife saying he had had an accident. We really don’t know what they planned to do with him.”

Another comment comes from Giselle Chollett, 39, who worries about her grandmother, who lives in an area where there have been a lot of protests.

“The tear gas bombs have arrived where she lives and I’m very worried about her because she is old.”

Political science student Mariana Martín, 24, for her part, is “channeling her frustration” by disseminating as much information about the situation in her country as she can.

I study at Columbia University and I have organized academic events informing [people] about what’s going on. We’ve done many street protests and lots of people from different countries have joined in. We have succeeded in getting other media – not only Latino – to pay attention to what we’re trying to say.”

El Diario has also reported on several protest demonstrations in New York in recent weeks. On February 23, the paper published a story by Cristina Loboguerrero about a demonstration in Union Square  in which more than 1,300 Venezuelans gathered to continue the anti-government protests but were confronted by “Chavista” groups.

During the rally, which lasted a little more than one hour, there were some verbal confrontations initiated by a small group – less than 20 people – that identified itself as followers of Nicolás Maduro’s government.

Also, it was reported that a woman was arrested after she threw water onto a follower of the embattled successor of the late President Hugo Chávez.

A short clip of the confrontation can be seen in this follow-up story [and below].

Another protest took place last Wednesday at Times Square.

The first report on the New York protests, also by Loboguerrero, was about a demonstration of some 300 Venezuelans who walked in front of the U.N. on February 19, asking for international intervention against president Maduro.

“We don’t care about the rain or the lack of a permit. That’s why we had to keep moving,” said Dino Ventrella (42), a member of the group SOS Venezuela which organized the protest, and who has been living in New York for 14 years.

Protesters gathered at 42nd Street and First Avenue and walked toward 47th Street wearing black dresses and waving tricolor flags. Most of them had their mouths covered with tape.

María Gómez, 29, an art student, said that the tape is a symbol of the lack of freedom of speech in Venezuela. “This is how all Venezuelans feel because this government has bullied everybody into being quiet.”

Video of Venezuelans protesting in Union Square:

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