On January 23rd, a group of approximately 35 people gathered in front of the Parliament Buildings to support the massive demonstrations happening simultaneously in Venezuela in protest against the regime of socialist president Nicolás Maduro. The protesters were holding signs with messages supporting the new interim president Juan Guaidó as a symbol of hope for the country. They were praying for the end of what they consider a dictatorship, and for the opportunity to have legitimate and democratic elections. This crisis brought many immigrants to Canada—several of them as refugees—who fear for their families and friends who are still there. The rally was peaceful and very emotional given the currently unpredictable and dangerous reality being played out in Venezuela. Protesters also thanked the Canadian government for the recognition of Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president.
Carlos Bermudez was one of the protesters on the rally. He is from Venezuela and came to Victoria after a traumatic and violent experience in his country. Back in Venezuela, Carlos said he was working at his dream job, with a company named Polar. After being attacked and kidnapped by armed criminals who put guns to his head, Carlos decided that it was time to leave. He said that although he loves his country, he could not feel safe there anymore. Now, Carlos is married in Canada and hopes that one day his wife can get to know the beauty of his home country. Bermudez was demonstrating for Maduro to leave the presidency and free the country from its current state of corruption, and form what he believes without doubt to be a dictatorship. Carlos also mentioned the inhumane conditions for Venezuela’s population; people are facing starvation and suffering from exorbitant inflation that went over a million percent last year. He wants Venezuela to be a real democratic country with security and quality of life.
Maduro’s legitimacy was questioned by all protesters through their speeches and the messages on signs held at the rally. It was one of the main reasons why Maria Alejandra Faria decided to join the Venezuelan demonstration. She is from Caracas and has not returned there since 2012, being now a Canadian citizen. Maria said she wanted to educate the general public about the facts that have taken place in Venezuela over the last 20 years. She strongly believes Maduro’s elections were fraudulent and explained that:
“Nicolás Maduro overruled the elections procedures. He managed to eliminate all opposition parties aiming to compete for elections against him. He also illegally moved the date of the elections and the election power draw conclusions of his victory based on less than it was stipulated by law. Those precedents make of that elected ‘President’ a total fraud under Venezuelan constitution, and probably under any democratic framework.”
Maria Alejandra said she is tired of these last 20 years of dictatorship regime that hides its corruption under a socialist flag. She states that they use Venezuela’s resources for their own benefit while people suffer from the absence of food, medicine, safety and basic human rights. On the subject of socialism, she warned about how all the information may be being filtered and manipulated by the regime. Alejandra used the term “socialism golden stories,” referring to the propaganda that the government spreads every day in Venezuela. She emphasized that everything is false and manipulative.
“Half of my being is back in Venezuela. Every day… in every young people that is killed by the regime while protesting, and every time a friend is struggling for medicines.” –Maria Alejandra Faria
Victoria Guerrero stated at the rally that she needed to feel part of this very important day in Venezuela’s history. She is from Margarita Island and has lived here in Victoria since 2006. Guerrero reinforces Alejandra’s argument about the effects of Venezuelan government’s propaganda. She explains that there are lots of people who are non-Venezuelans or never lived there who come to her with a completely different view about Chavez/Maduro’s government; people that truly believe how great this governments is for Venezuela based on distorted facts, or even lies. On the other hand, Guerrero also hears from people that simply do not know what is really happening in her country because of the difficulties in accessing true facts and statements. This is why she believes the rally on January 23rd was of great importance in order to share their experiences, create awareness and support the protests that were happening in Venezuela against Maduro’s government.
“People have forgotten how to live because they are too busy surviving.” —Victoria Guerrero
Romina Gianna shared the same thoughts as Guerrero about the positive impact of the rally on creating awareness about Venezuela’s crisis, and also acknowledging Canada’s stance on Guaidó’s interim presidency. Gianna believes that Canada’s official recognition of Guaidó is an important step towards recovering democracy in Venezuela. Romina is from Caracas and, although she has been living in Canada for almost 9 years, her family still lives in Venezuela. She explained with sadness how it hurts her to know what her family is going through; she just wants to be able to visit them with her husband without having to fear for their lives.
“I imagine myself able to go back more often to visit my family. But instead of filling out my suitcase with basic needs like soap, rice or toothpaste; I want to bring gifts and souvenirs.” —Romina Gianna
It is certain that many of the protesters at the rally had their life choices strongly influenced by the situation in Venezuela. For instance, Luz Angela Molineros explained that many Venezuelans travel abroad to get international experience and education, but they usually intend to go back to Venezuela to make a living and stay close to their relatives. Luz Angela went to high school in Colombia, came back to Venezuela and later on she specialized in esthetics. Although she traveled a lot to study and work, she said she would always go back to her country, where she had her business, investments, friends and family. It was very hard for her to leave everything behind and start over in Canada. Molineros also mentioned that her family is now geographically divided with her sister in France and her aunt in the U.S.—all of them seeking a life with dignity and freedom.
The same thing happened to Heidy Lopez. Heidy, who is now a Canadian citizen, first came to Canada to study English as a second language. She thought learning English would be her only activity in Canada, but when she came back to Venezuela, she experienced the effects of Maduro’s government. Lopez struggled a lot with Venezuela’s economy getting worse and worse; also she had a disturbing experience when she was violently carjacked by a man that put a pistol on her head. Both Luz Angela and Heidy expressed their wishes to come back to Venezuela one day to help rebuilding their country. Luz Angela mentioned she wants to spend at least one month every year going to Venezuela to work as a volunteer in social service and contribute to the recovery of her country after more than 20 years of suffering.
“Venezuela is my heart, my everything. It is the land where I was born, grew up, studied, and worked hard to foresee a better and prosperous future.” —Heidy Lopez
The rally was not only composed of Venezuelans, but also people who shared similar experiences in their countries. Liyu Yang, also known as Denis, emigrated from China four years ago to work in Canada. He said that the desire for freedom was the main reason why he left his country, and it is also why he related so strongly with the Venezuelans during this crisis. Yang considers Maduro’s actions unacceptable and heartless towards the people. He asserts that Maduro must “pay for it” in order to bring justice and democracy to Venezuela.
“As a person who grew up in another country under a totalitarian government, I can imagine what they have suffered in the past years. That’s what motivated me to stand with them.” —Liyu Yang
In Maribet Balestena’s case, she had her background influenced by authoritarian governments even before she was born. Her parents are from Cuba originally: Balestena’s mother moving to Venezuela with her family at the age of nine, her father at the age of nineteen. Balestena said that they arrived in Venezuela having only the clothing they were wearing and started a new life there. After achieving a prosperous life with their family, they started to notice some signs from the government of what the country was about to become. They did not want to go down this path again, so they decided to move to the United States. Maribet lived for 30 years in the US and came to Canada last summer. She said she remembers what is like to live in Venezuela with freedom and joyfulness; she wants today’s youth to experience this same feeling, with no more fighting and pain.
“I truly believe that the most significant change is that the Venezuelan people have evolved in their awareness of the ethical values that are most important in a citizen in order to contribute to their country.” —Maribet Balestena
When it comes to safety, the stories shared during the rally painted a disturbing picture about the Venezuela of today. Violence happens on a daily basis while people are trying to maintain their daily chores, such as going to the bank or to university. Back in Venezuela, Victoria Guerrero went to the bank with her parents and witnessed a bank robbery during which her father was used as a human shield as the robber was pressing a gun against his head. She said that luckily no shots were fired and they let her father go. The event deeply affected her psychologically; she did not feel safe anymore while she was there. Maribet Balestena also described an occasion when she was a dentistry student in Caracas and she experienced a riot on the campus of the Universidad Central. Hooded men fired at innocent students and people were throwing rocks and setting tires on fire; she got to escape by running through an alley with her teachers and peers. She said she had to walk about six hours burning in fever, dehydrated and terrified until she found a safe place.
“They stole everything that could possibly be stolen from the natural resources of our country. They destroyed the economy and diverted the funds to their own bank accounts abroad, besides many other unthinkable crimes known to all. Worst of all, they tried to break the Venezuelan spirit, but that is the only thing they couldn’t take away.” —Maribet Balestena
Many stories told by the protesters had the same overarching theme. They all stood there for democracy, freedom of speech, human rights and fundamental needs such as health and safety. The rally was full of emotional moments, especially during through the protesters’ speeches in which they expressed their hopes for the interim president Juan Guaidó. They believe he can bring democracy back to Venezuela by taking Nicolás Maduro and his whole committee out from the power and recovering the country’s economy, making medicine and food accessible again. Even with all these major demonstrations and protests against Maduro’s government across the world, the protesters in Victoria also spoke of their gratitude for Canada’s receptiveness and its recognition of Guaidó’s legitimacy.
There are many reasons that drive people to leave their nation, but what was clear on this blue-sky January morning on the steps of the Parliament Buildings, is that it does not matter how long you have been away from your country, you never stop being part of it. There was not a single person who attended this event who forgot to mention how much they love their country and all spoke of its beauty and richness. They remember what is to be Venezuelan and they are willing to rebuild their country no matter what. If all Venezuelans fighting in their country are carrying the same sense of hopefulness and impetus for change as this rally’s group, Venezuela will be stronger than ever.
“Al revisar mi telefono, vi con gran asombro que el Diputado Juan Guaidó, en Cabildo Abierto, en Caracas, lo habíamos proclamado como Presidente Interino de Venezuela,después de esperar angustiosos días para esa decisión. Fué un trayecto lleno de lágrimas. La emoción de una luz en el destino de los venezolanos. La esperanza de volver a recuperar la democracia. De reunirnos y abrazarnos todos en nuestro País. Después de veinte años de tiranía, de destrucción de nuestros valores y principios debemos emprender la construcción de la Nueva Venezuela.” —Irama Castellanos