A crowd of people dressed in black, carrying Venezuelan flags and posters covered the center of Times Square yesterday. There were about 400 present, and they had gathered to let the world know they wouldn’t tolerate what was going on in Venezuela, even if they were a continent away.
Standing within the busiest intersection in America, they began to shout. “No to dictatorship, Yes to democracy. No! We won’t accept a dictatorship as the Cuban one. We are students and we want liberty. “This government will fall.” Others carried posters with slogans including “SOS Venezuela”, “World leaders help us,” and “Venezuela I am your voice.”
There are four main messages that the organizers cited as the reason for the event:
- Innocent students are being killed in Venezuela.
- The Venezuelan government took action against a Pacific protest led by students; 3 were killed, more than 100 injured or detained, and many more simply disappeared.
- The Judicial System in Venezuela is controlled by the government and therefore biased, meaning protest is the only venue to expose the injustices
- The armed groups within Venezuela need to be disarmed.
At 6:20 a man stood up and asked for a minute of silence to remember the deaths for violence in the last 15 years in the country. According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV), since 1998 when Chavez rose to power, the homicide rate has quadrupled. It passed from being of 19 to 79 for each 100 thousand Venezuelans, as of December 2013. All of these deaths, which are all but forgotten in the grand scheme of International politics, were remembered, in addition to the students who were killed last week.
The opposition in Venezuela is fragmented as Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado called people to the streets with the aim of bringing the government down, while Henrique Capriles Radonski prefers peaceful negotiation and slower social integration. But regardless of this difference, all of them now support the students’ marches and call for peaceful demonstrations. They hope that to denounce government’s violence, to ask for the liberation of all the students who have been detained or who have disappeared and to demand the disarmament of the paramilitary groups.
President Nicolas Maduro responded through Twitter that “Venezuela is victim of an aggression of Fascist bands of the right against the society and the people, be sure that we will triumph.” He also accused the international media of lying. He also asserted that the students are doing nothing more than vandalism.
After a detention order to Leopoldo Lopez for “terrorism, intentional homicide and instigation to violence” was approved by the Bolivarian Service of Intelligence (Sebin) and signed by a Judge, Venezuelans didn’t know if the leader had left the country or if he was hiding. But yesterday they were reassured that he was there and willing to continue with his cause.
The leader appeared in video calling for a massive march today, in which he plans to separate from the multitude in a certain point to walk alone to the Ministry of the Interior and Justice. He will personally deliver a petition demanding “that all the detained citizens be immediately freed, specially the young who have been followed and that are still in jail and being tortured, that the repression be ceased since it is a right of all Venezuelans to protest, that the paramilitary groups and the ‘collectives’ be disarmed.”
That march has already been blocked by police and the military. Lopez arrived at the protest and then sent out a series of tweets, saying (in translation), “I’m disconnecting now. Thank you Venezuela. The change is in each one of us. Let’s not give up. I won’t!” As of the latest update, he gave himself to the National Armed Forces and is being transported in their tanks to the Ministry of Interior and Justice to deliver the petition.
Venezuelans in New York will gather again on Wednesday at noon in front of the United Nations. This will be another act of solidarity; Venezuelans around the world have been standing together wherever they are to transmit their positive energies and their support to every student, parent, and sibling who is in their native country fighting and risking his or her life for a change.
Photos by Maryna Prykhodko.