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Demonstrators on the Diag in solidarity with Venezuelan protestors

(Patrick Barron/Daily)
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By Allana Akhtar, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 18, 2014

While scores of Venezuelans have taken to the streets of Caracas amid anti-government protests, more than 100 people gathered on the Diag Tuesday to show their solidarity with the movement.

Last week, three people were killed when Venezuelan security forces used tear gas and weapons to break up the street demonstrations in opposition to former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s socialist successor, President Nicolás Maduro.

On Tuesday, security forces arrested opposition leader Leopoldo López. The 42-year-old economist and Harvard University graduate surrendered himself to soldiers after delivering a heartfelt speech that inspired numerous demonstrations.

In response to the unrest in Venezuela, two University students created “SOS Venezuela,” a Facebook event posted less than 24 hours in advance of the Diag rally. The event aimed to raise awareness of the government’s violent intervention in response to the mostly peaceful student-led protests.

LSA sophomore Fabiana Diaz and Engineering freshman Fernando Mezquita, the event’s creators, said they felt they needed to bring attention to these protests since the Venezuelan government’s Internet service provider has intermittently blocked the spread of information on Twitter and Facebook.

“With all that’s been going on, we’ve been watching the news and we’ve been watching the web with everything that’s been posted and we really feel a sense of patriotism, to say the least, that we have to do what we can to help the situation,” Mezquita said.

Born and raised in Venezuela, Mezquita has ties to many people still in the city and facing adversity caused by the government.

“I know people who have been directly affected by what’s going on,” he said. “The streets are covered with tear gas daily, people hear shots in the streets at all times, there are parts of the city that are completely unable to be transited due to burning cars, militia, guards just blocking the. It is total chaos at this point.”

Diaz said the protest was successful in bringing the issue to the University community’s attention and spurring dialogue.

“I think the event created a lot of awareness, not just for the University students, but in general,” she said. “I think these voices that were heard today are going to keep carrying on; people are going to keep talking about this for a while.”

Many University students attended the event, including members of Hispanic student organizations and social fraternities. In addition to students, supporters from Toledo, Detroit and Eastern Michigan University who heard about the event through Facebook participated.

Alejandro Arenas, a student at Saginaw Valley State University, heard about the event through Facebook and came out to support “his country.”

“It horrors me so much that my family’s still over there and it’s such a bad situation that we’re really worried,” he said.

Sofia Altuna, a friend of a University student, also came out to support her family in Venezuela. She said she was impressed by the solidarity demonstrated by rallies across the world.

“It’s been nice to see people in New York, in Spain, in France, in Latin America, in places in Asia … it’s kind of nice to see people taking these pictures to know that there is a group of Venezuelans in all these places,” Altuna said. “It’s nice we got the opportunity to do that here as well.”