Every July, part-time UNM student Isolina Viloria flies to Venezuela to see family and friends. The constant presence of political turmoil in her homeland has never proved too severe to deter her from visiting.
But this year is different, the mother of two kids said.
“When I was younger, there were always some political debates, but it was different,” Viloria said. “Venezuela was one Venezuela. Right now, Venezuela’s divided in two… I want to bring my kids over there, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m here.”
Viloria, who said she would not fly south to visit this year, was one of the protesters who gathered in front of the UNM Bookstore on Saturday in support of the anti-government student protests in Venezuela. About 80 people attended the event to express grievances against current Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government.
Viloria said her family moved to the United States seven years ago to escape political tensions in Venezuela. She said the government has been exacerbating the situation since.
“My husband, we met in Venezuela and we married there,” she said. “He was teaching. He worked in an American school. Security, it’s one of the reasons why we moved to New Mexico.”
The case of Viloria’s family is a frequent situation many Venezuelans find themselves in, said Ana Maria Gonzales, a UNM alumna who organized the event. She said the protest aims to back the anti-government student protests currently going on in the country.
“I moved back into the United States in 2005 because of all the problems (Venezuela) has been having at the time,” she said. “Even though, I’m here, my parents live in Venezuela, so I’m still really close to the cause and I support the movement.”
Gonzalez said she started organizing the UNM protest on Wednesday. The event then gained traction through social media, she said.
The Venezuelan student protests kicked off in the country on Feb. 12 as part of a national day of students, Gonzalez said. She said the protests were initially peaceful, until Maduro’s government drove the situation out of hand.
“Everything was pacific,” she said. “The government retaliated against them. The government killed people. A lot of students went to jail. There are so many human rights violations right now.”
Gonzalez said that at the moment, they call for the Venezuelan government to make the country more stable. But she said the government just continues to worsen the situation.
“There is so much violent crime right now,” she said. “There is inflation that is skyrocketing. There is also corruption like you’ve never seen before. There isn’t enough food on the streets. People have to make a four-hour line when staples like milk or meat come to the supermarkets.”
So, the only way to fix the country’s problems is by ousting the government, Gonzalez said.
“Everything that we’re demanding is just to get the government out of there,” she said. “The president is not being responsible. The whole system is failing. He’s just distracting the entire world by blaming, for example, U.S. diplomats. He doesn’t fix anything.”
According to the New York Times, Maduro has ordered three American consular officials to leave the country on Feb. 16. Maduro accused the officials, who he said had been frequently visiting universities, of aiding the anti-government student protests, according to the report.
Yadira Aguero, a Venezuelan who attended the protest, said she decided to participate to protest the country’s social problems, such as the lack of food supplies. Aguero, who has been living in Albuquerque for eight years, said she fully supports the student protests in Venezuela.
“We want justice,” she said. “We want freedom. We fight for the democracy in our country. That’s why we’re here. I have hopes. I think all the people will wake up. We have the hope that soon, it’s all going to change.”
Viloria said the government has also undermined Venezuelans’ freedom of speech.
“The media is very limited in the country,” she said. “The government does not want everybody to know what is going on in Venezuela. They’re taking away some international channels in Venezuela, and that’s not secret.”
Viloria said she hopes the protest would help inform UNM students about the political situation in her country and to urge them to support Venezuelans against Maduro’s government.
Ultimately, she said she hopes peaceful elections will happen in Venezuela so that the violence could stop.
“I hope they can get elections peacefully,” she said. “I really don’t like people dying in my country.”