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Expats participate in Venezuelan protests in Boston

Martin Desmarais | 2/26/2014, 10:14 a.m.
Supporters of the anti-government protesters in Venezuela have demonstrated several times in the last week in Boston. Above, demonstrators on Boston Common on Feb. 18. courtesy of Estudiantes Boston

photo

courtesy of Estudiantes Boston

On Feb. 18, demonstrators gathered on Boston Common to show support for the protesters in Venezuela, who are calling on the South American country’s government to reduce violence and provide more access to basic necessities such as food and medicine.

Twice in the last two weeks, Venezuelan national Cristina Aguilera has taken to the streets of Boston to show support for the anti-government protestors back in her native country.

Mirroring the student-led anti-government protests that have swept every major city in Venezuela, the demonstrators here have been voicing widespread dissatisfaction with the government of Socialist President Nicolas Maduro. Concerns center on rising violence in the country and the lack of basic necessities such as food and medicine for most of the country’s citizens.

As a campaign organizer for The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, an organization that advocates for minority and worker rights, Aguilera is no stranger to advocacy, so she said she felt she had to be quick to stand up for the place of her birth.

“We want to be the voice of what is happening in Venezuela because nobody is reporting what is going on. The only reports coming out of there is from the government and it is highly biased,” Aguilera said. “We did this with the hope that more people will find out what is happening in Venezuela.”

Aguilera pointed out that, on Feb. 18, demonstrators in Boston joined over 100 cities around the world — and 70 in the United States — who held similar demonstrations to bring to light the current situation in Venezuela.

The protests in Venezuela started in early February, mostly led by student activists concerned about the rising crime and violence, but the demonstrations have since grown in magnitude and intensity. After the government arrested prominent opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez last week, protestors responded with the one of the largest anti-government demonstrations yet on Saturday, which saw thousands take to the streets in the country’s capital city Caracas.

Deep class divisions in Venezuelan society came to the fore when the late Hugo Chavez was elected to the presidency in 1999, pledging to share the profits from the country’s oil wealth with the poor.

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the western hemisphere. The Chavez presidency survived a coup attempt that many in the international community claim was backed by the U.S. and four contentious elections. Praised among the poor for reducing the country’s rate of extreme poverty by two thirds and cutting unemployment in half, Chavez was criticized for consolidating political power and clamping down on the opposition media.

His successor, former Vice President Nicolás Maduro, has pledged to continue the socialist policies Chavez advanced, but has been plagued by growing inflation and crime.

The most recent report on the growing violence of the protests, from an international news outlet, came from Reuters and reported 13 deaths in the protests so far. The Venezuelan government has publicly stated that over 500 people have been charged in the demonstrations, but only about 50 have been kept in jail, with the rest warned and released. Venezuela government officials also claim that about 150 people have been injured.

Aguilera said that though the protests in Venezuela were initially started by students, she and others joining her on Boston’s streets feel that the students were just giving a voice to all of Venezuela’s people and the fight is for everyone.