ROCHESTER — A group of local residents from several Latin American countries joined a global effort called "SOS Venezuela" to decry what they say are rampant human-rights abuses in the South American country.
Holding on to signs and Venezuela flags against powerful winds on Feb. 22, the demonstrators at the Rochester Public Market were part of protests that took place across the world calling for global attention and intervention, explained Kelly Mullaney, who organized the Rochester protest in support of her native country. Local protesters represented Puerto Rico, Panama, Spain and the Dominican Republic.
The global movement is being coordinated by "Un Mundo Sin Mordaza" (A World without Censorship), a human-rights organization that is working to raise awareness of the plight of the Venezuelan people, she added. More than 180 cities took part in rallies on Feb. 22 from Sydney, Australia, to Miami and Milwaukee, to Paris and London, according to http://sinmordaza.org/home.
"We say no more dictatorship," said Mullaney, who moved to Rochester from Venezuela in 1994. "No more repression."
On Feb. 12, the young people of Venezuela used the "Day of the Youth" to take to the streets and stand against the government of President Nicholas Maduro because of the everyday violence they are facing and the country’s 56-percent inflation rate, Mullaney said. Everyday staples such as milk and eggs are hard to come by so people stand in long lines to try and obtain them, she said.
"The big joke is there is no toilet paper," Mullaney said.
The government has used military force against the protesters, which is against the constitution, she said. Three people died during the first protest, she said, and more than 200 have been injured since that day.
Secretary of State John Kerry has denounced the Venezuelan government’s use of force to quell dissent, while Maduro has called for a peace conference at the end of February to call for a national reconciliation, according to news reports.
Foreign journalists and news outlets, including CNN, have even been asked to leave the country for what the government says is biased coverage, so that the only mode of communication most people are using is Twitter, said Stefano Daza, a senior at McQuaid Jesuit High School, who came to the Public Market protest with his mother, Gloria Daza Onderdunk. She wore a Venezuela-flag hat as they held a flag and sign of support for their native country.
Conditions in Venezuela have become perilous for her family, she said. Her father, who is in his 80s, has been taken to the hospital because of tear gas thrown at his apartment building, said Daza Onderdunk, who moved to Rochester from San Cristobal, Venezuela, six years ago. The government also has tried to seize his property.
"They are very aggressive," she said of the government forces. "There’s no rights, no democracy anymore."
With media being controlled by the government, a group of Rochester Institute of Technology students stay in touch with family and friends in Venezuela through social media, explained Karen Blanco, who is from the capital city of Caracas.
She said her own family members barely leave their homes because the streets have become so dangerous. But when they do venture out and find supplies at a supermarket, they will send a mass text to let others know.
"It’s pretty sad," said Blanco, a sophomore. "We want to inform everyone about what is gong on to get greater support."