The underlying fear that the next victim of the ongoing conflict in Venezuela will be a friend or a loved one is affecting Venezuelans pursuing life in Madison and sparking action in the city.
Joining together in solidarity for fellow Venezuelans seeking economic opportunity and security within their own country, dozens of Madison residents congregated at the state Capitol Sunday, waving flags, beating drums and singing their country’s national anthem, “Gloria al Bravo Pueblo” – Glory of the Brave People.
Fueled by social and economic problems, student-led protests began in Venezuela last month and are calling for increased security measures, an end to goods shortages and protected freedom of speech, a CNN article said.
The protests turned violent and clashes between protesters and government forces continue, having already claimed the lives of up to 20 protesters and leaving hundreds of others injured and jailed, Reuters reported.
Venezuelan students in Madison expressed the internal struggle they are faced with living here in America as many of their friends and family fight against continued government oppression, lack of basic security and economic opportunity, as well as hyperinflation in Venezuela.
Adriana Velasco, a senior at University of Wisconsin, who protested in Venezuela against the Chávez administration in 2002, said she wished she could return to fight again now.
“We need a total shift in the current government as well as a shift in the current political system,” Velasco said. “How can we strive for a true democracy when we are totally oppressed?”
Velasco’s said her sister’s apartment building was tear-gassed and shot at by government forces during recent clashes.
Giuliana Gonzalez, a sophomore at Madison Area Technical College, arrived in Madison to attend university almost three years ago. She said one of the central reasons she left Venezuela to attend university in America was the extreme violence and lawlessness seen across her country.
In the first two months of 2014, 2,841 people have been murdered in Venezuela – the third highest homicide rate in the world, according to the World Bank Venezuela Violence Observatory. A concern among protestors in Venezuela is that 91 percent of these murders go unpunished.
“Can you imagine sitting here, in class, thinking about your friends and family that are fighting in the streets, and no one around you even knows?” Gonzalez said.
Venezuela’s inflation rate is another point of concern among anti-government protesters, which currently sits at 56 percent, according to the Central Bank of Venezuela, the highest inflation rate in the world. This extreme inflation rate triggers other frustrations among protesters, namely skyrocketing prices and overall shortages of basic staples, ranging from flour and milk to electricity and medicine.
“Ultimately, the only ones that can help us are shooting at us,” Gonzalez said. Gonzalez’s friends, who she says are on the streets protesting now, have become fearless in their fight against the government, as they “have nothing left to lose.”
According to the New York Times, a group of United Nations human rights officials raised concerns Thursday regarding human rights violations committed by the Venezuelan government, including excessive use of force against anti-government protesters, media censorship and allegations of “severe torture.”
Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, District 5, took part in the Madison rally and said it was vital that people use their ability to speak freely here in America to support those struggling for the same right in Venezuela.
“I think for a lot of the Venezuelan students here, it’s a very stressful time because they have family back home,” Bidar-Sielaff said. “It is so important for us to show our support for the Venezuelan people who are trying to make a peaceful change, while having their human rights violated.”