Nearly 200 people gather in Boston to protest violence, corruption in Venezuela

On a serene night, under a light dusting of snow, a drumbeat echoed down Boylston Street, keeping time for the chants of “Venezuela, libertad.”

Nearly 200 people, most of them in their 20s and 30s, marched from the Boston Common to Copley Square on Tuesday night to protest what they called the “nightmare” engulfing Venezuela.

In the past several weeks, protests against government corruption, poverty, and widespread violent crime have spread across the South American country. Several protesters, many of them students, were killed in the last few days and scores more have been arrested, according to the United Nations.

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“A lot of Venezuelans have made Boston their home because they have to run from the crime and the scarcity,” said Cristina Aguilera, 31, one of the demonstrators in Boston. “We want to show the communities that have welcomed us that Venezuelans are being killed.”

Like many others at the protest, Aguilera told horror stories of family members in Venezuela caught in a vicious cycle of crime, poverty, and government crackdowns.

Her cousin was kidnapped three weeks ago, she said. Her parents’ house has been robbed several times and her uncle was killed in the violence that has plagued the country.

Under its polarizing former president Hugo Chavez, who died last year, and his successor Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuelan government has grown rich off its vast oil reserves while most citizens struggle to find basic necessities like food and toilet paper, protester Franklin Marval said.

“If you are on the street there and you see a line, you get in the line because there is going to be something you need—food, gasoline, medicine,” said Marval, a 42-year-old Boston Public Schools teacher.

The World Bank estimates that more than 25 percent of Venezuelans lived below the poverty line in 2012, although that number was down from more than 32 percent in 2008.

Meanwhile, gang-fueled street crime has grown worse and many Venezuelans are afraid to leave their homes, many of the protesters said.

There were around 25,000 violent deaths in Venezuela in 2013, up from nearly 22,000 the year before, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, a non-governmental organization that tracks crime in the country.

Now, Venezuelans in Boston fear for the safety of their loved ones who have joined protests in the country.

Luisa Sanabria, one of the protest’s organizers, said that her friends in Venezuela have sent pictures of their eyes made bloodshot by tear gas, and other injuries.

“I’m here because I feel I need to represent them,” she said.

Julio Henriquez, a 32-year-old lawyer, said he came to the United States about seven years ago because the Venezuelan justice system had become too corrupt.

In a cap colored with the yellow, blue, and red of the Venezuelan flag, he guided thick throngs of protesters across a slushy intersection on Boylston Street.

“It’s not that we’re well organized, it’s that we cannot tolerate any more of what the government has done,” he said, explaining the large turnout of protesters. “The recent events in Venezuela have touched a vibe in every Venezuelan.”