On Saturday, Feb. 22, hundreds of Utah’s Latin American citizens assembled on the steps of the State Capitol to show their support for the students who are currently protesting in Venezuela against their government and the reign of current president, Nicolás Maduro.
The event included prayers, speeches and performances of Venezuelan folk songs in support of the numerous protesters, including those who have been arrested or killed by soldiers of the Venezuelan army, who are actively attempting to suppress the revolt.
“[The students] cannot protest without fear for their own lives,” says Thomas Reams, of American Venezuelan Association of Utah, as he addressed the crowd in both English and Spanish. “Right now they are out there fighting for their freedom.”
Protesters were asked to sign a petition that is to be taken to Washington on behalf of the Venezuelan Association of Utah, which organized the event.
“On Wednesday, we met with the Utah senators to ask them to take a petition to Washington,” says Arleny Dimond, principal of the association and also a student at Salt Lake Community College. “We need all of the international organizations and human rights organizations, such as the UN, to take a stand against what is happening to the Venezuelan people.”
In addition to the multitude of speakers and musicians who came out to the event, the participants also banded together to spell out the letters “SOS” on the front lawn of the capitol building to be photographed.
The SOS is in reference to the Twitter hashtag “#sosvenezuela” which has been attached to numerous videos and reports on the protests that have been posted on the website. Twitter has been the primary means of getting information about the current state of Venezuela, since the nation has been put on media lockdown by Maduro.
Other key phrases uttered at the event included a chant in reference to the instigators of the nationwide protests, the Gochos of the Venezuelan state of Tachira, located in the Andes Mountains on the Columbian border.
English translation, “The navy has a ship, the air force has a plane, and the Gochos have the balls to save the nation!”
Despite the air of camaraderie among the protesters, quite a few were surprised by the sheer number of people who joined the protest.
“Last time we did something, we barely had enough people to fill the upper stairs,” says Andres Diaz, one of the featured speakers at the protest. “Today, we filled the whole thing. It’s great to see the unity!”
A Quick Rundown of what’s happening in Venezuela
The revolt began with the death of President Hugo Chavez on March 5, 2013. The two people running for office in the following election were the governor of the state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles Radonski and Chavez’s former vice president Nicolás Maduro.
Maduro was elected amidst allegations of voter fraud being committed by members of the late Chavez’s cabinet in order to retain their control of the country.
The protests against the government and the corruption within it began on Wednesday, Feb. 12, known as International Youth Day. That day is particularly important, since it is a holiday to honor the teenagers who fought in the Battle of La Victoria during the Venezuelan War for Independence in 1814.
The student protesters have met with violent opposition from soldiers and police officers sent in to quell the revolt, with protesters being arrested, beaten and killed as they continued to protest.
Adding fuel to the fire are the efforts of the government to keep news of the protests from leaving the country. This means no local news coverage of the events is allowed, with reporters covering the event being arrested or having to flee the country. This has extended to international news, as the government has threatened to expel networks like CNN for covering the protests.
However, thanks to websites like Twitter, citizens within Venezuela have been able to upload images and videos of the protests and the violent retaliation of the military for the world to see.
At the time of this writing, 500 students have been detained, 148 have been wounded, with 14 deaths in total. The leader of the protests, Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza has since surrender himself to the military police in Caracas as part of a non-violent demonstration.
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