As massive demonstrations — some deadly — continued for the 10th day in Venezuela both in support of and against that country’s president, Nicolas Maduro, protests sprung up Saturday in the United States, including in La Cañada Flintridge.
“Our main purpose is not to encourage violent demonstrations in Venezuela. We just want the government to hear our pleas,” said Luis Carasquero, a 23-year-old USC graduate student and La Cañada resident.
“They’re living in a country where you don’t have rights, you don’t have toilet paper, you don’t have essential things and the government refuses to listen to their demands.”
The local event, held at Memorial Park, was set to coincide with the national “#SOSVenezuela” campaign, organized by a group of Venezuelans living in the United States called Jovenes Independientes — Independent Youth — from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in an effort to raise awareness about the situation.
Carasquero’s mother, Maria Ferrer, said she was particularly concerned about misinformation, as the Venezuelan government was denying access to news media and Twitter.
About 10 people turned out for the protest, carrying signs, the country’s sports jerseys and with faces painted with red, yellow and blue to match the Venezuelan flags they carried.
La Cañada resident Tom Peitzman was one of the attendees.
“It’s been interesting finding out how many people are aware of what’s going on and how many people are not aware of what’s going on,” he said. “I think that’s what Luis is trying to do, just raise awareness. To let people know there are people out there who are struggling and suffering who don’t need to be, and I think it’s important to try and support causes like this.”
Carasquero heard about the campaign through Facebook and Twitter. While a larger demonstration was taking place in downtown Los Angeles, he decided to organize a local event where his friends and family could take part..
That included his grandfather, Luis Ferrer, who came to California from Venezuela a week ago in the midst of the civil unrest for a three-week visit with his wife.
“In this moment, Venezuela is really impossible to live,” Ferrer said. “We can’t find the basic food — we don’t have chicken or rice. To buy something, you have to go to several supermarkets because in one you can’t find what you need.”
Ferrer, a retired physician, came to the United States to study in high school and earned his medical degree in Argentina, but returned to Venezuela 40 years ago because it was home, he said.
Back then, he found Venezuela beautiful. Everyone had work, it seemed, and he thought he would never leave, he said.
“Now, I have to. I want to live the rest of my life — I don’t know how many years — I am 84 years old. I want to live better than I live now,” he said. “I want peace and security. I want to sleep and wake up in the morning happy. In Venezuela, it’s impossible.”
It’s hard to live in fear, Ferrer said.
“When you get in bed, every time you’re thinking about your family and what happened when someone’s out,” he said. “Is he coming back? Did something happen to them? It’s not a way to live. It’s not a way to live.”
For his part, Carasquero said raising awareness — in light of the global focus on other events, including the unrest in Ukraine — was the most important thing.
“A lot of people are not aware of what’s going on,” he said. “We’re not encouraging an overthrow. We’re just supporting the current students and other people who are trying to make a difference for my future family, and for my family that’s currently there.”
Follow Sameea Kamal on Twitter: @SameeaKamal.