Protesters stand against violence in Venezuela

Nearly 100 people gathered on Nicollet Avenue on Saturday to raise awareness about the country’s poor economic state.

by Haley Hansen

In the midst of national political and economic turmoil, University of Minnesota alumna Nicole Rodriguez said she’s concerned for her family in Venezuela.

Empty supermarket shelves make it hard to find essential necessities like toilet paper and bread, she said.

Rodriquez joined nearly 100 people Saturday to protest the country’s political division following President Nicolás Maduro’s order to arrest opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez earlier this month.

Protestors wore face-paint, chanted, held signs and waved flags in front of Orchestra Hall on Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.

“We just want change and we want to do it in a peaceful manner,” Rodriguez said.

Lopez’s arrest after violence in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, angered supporters in the country and around the world.

“We want the world to know that there are things going on in Venezuela that are unjust and need to change,” Rodriguez said.

Maduro has faced criticism since he was elected last spring after former president Hugo Chávez died. His leadership decisions and the election itself have come under fire.

“Since Chavez died last year, things have really gotten out of control,” said University alumna Emily Smythe, who attended the protest.

In the past week, 10 people died and more than 100 people have been injured in the protests overseas.

University marketing associate professor Carlos Torelli, who is from Venezuela and attended Saturday’s event, said the country’s conflicts are caused by a dictatorship “disguised under democracy” and carry worldwide effects.

For example, he said Venezuelan leaders would have to change their political strategies if other countries, like the U.S., stopped buying oil.

“An easy way to get rid of this regime is to stop buying oil from Venezuela,” Torelli said.

Because of the conflicts’ significant impact on countries’ economies and foreign trade, Torelli said it’s important for people get involved and protest the violence.

“People’s needs aren’t being provided for by their government,” said political science senior Ellen Studer, who attended the protest.

Smythe  studied abroad in Venezuela and said she’s worried about her host mom.

Young people have played a crucial role in the efforts overseas, leading some of the protests in Venezuela.

Smythe called the protest successful and said it raised awareness and gave those with Venezuelan ties a way to express their concerns.

“When one community anywhere in the world is going through this kind of oppression it’s important that we all stand against it,” Studer said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.