MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Venezuelans in South Florida congregated in front of the emblematic Freedom Tower on Wednesday to show support for marches against Venezuela’s president.
The thousands that gathered are against the “coup d’etat promoted by the Maduro government.”
“We are out in the streets and fight for our freedom and we want Maduro out,” Ruth Alca said.
The group holding the rally says they are demanding respect for Venezuela’s Constitution, recognition of the National Assembly and freedom for all political prisoners as well as the immediate realization of their general elections.
They are also calling for the opening of humanitarian channels in and out of the country.
“The government is not working. There is no food, nothing. Everything is bad in Venezuela. We need something new,” Eduardo Ortiz said.
Many at the rally were well aware of the hardships faced daily under the Maduro regime.
“The situation is so chaotic people are lost. They don’t have anything else to lose,” Beatrice Alavera said.
The event, meant to show solidarity with their compatriots, comes as violence has picked up on the streets of Venezuela. It’s something the U.S. government is watching closely, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who spoke on the matter Wednesday.
“We are concerned that the government of [President Nicolas] Maduro is violating the Constitution,” said Tillerson.
Last week, opposition groups rallied supporters across the nation as part of a bid to strain security forces by staging anti-government protests in each of the volatile country’s 335 municipalities.
The oil-rich but crisis-shaken South American nation has been convulsed by escalating protests over the last few weeks amid a punishing recession and accusations that President Nicolas Maduro has seized dictatorial powers.
In Caracas, riot police faced off against angry protesters with tear gas used against the crowd. Maduro supporters were also out on the street near the opposition march armed with sticks, reflecting the deep political divide in the OPEC nations.
Authorities have confirmed at least five people were killed during protests last week, as the opposition pushes an agenda that includes calls for an early presidential election and the freeing of jailed political activists.
Seeing momentum on their side, opposition leaders were urging Venezuelans to keep up the pressure across the country last week in an effort to leave security forces too thinly spread to break up rallies.
The opposition says Maduro made it clear to the world he was a dictator when the Supreme Court in late March assumed the functions of the opposition-led Congress.
The court quickly rolled back on the move in the face of an international outcry, but it breathed new life into the fractured opposition movement.
Last week’s government move to ban opposition leader Henrique Capriles from holding office for 15 years also fueled demonstrators’ outrage. Capriles was seen as the opposition’s best presidential hope in elections scheduled for late next year.
Maduro has drawn parallels between his own situation and that of his populist predecessor – the late Hugo Chavez – during a short-lived coup in 2002. He has also warned that an opposition government would slash social benefits like healthcare for the poor and subsidized food.