Students gathered to support Venezuelans demanding a referendum to oust the country’s president in the face of the country’s growing economic crisis on Ho Plaza Thursday.
The campus protest was organized by the Venezuelan Student Association, a group that vice president Isabella Hubsch ’19 said is composed of approximately 20 students. According to Hubsch, the VSA was formed last semester and chiefly serves to unite Venezuelan students at Cornell as a “family.”
“It’s like a home away from home,” she said.
At Thursday’s protest, Hubsch said participants hoped to inform Cornellians about Venezuela’s current economic crisis and “try to represent those at home.” Millions of Venezuelans are currently facing the consequences of plummeting oil prices, food shortages and the highest rate of inflation in the world, according to The Wall Street Journal.
As the VSA gathered on Ho Plaza, tens of thousands of Venezuelans were also demonstrating in Caracas — the nation’s capital — demanding a long-sought democratic referendum to oust the country’s president, Nicolas Maduro. Protests were scheduled to last from noon to 2 p.m. in Caracas, according to VSA co-president Daniela Mourad ’18, although she added that protesters had likely begun organizing early in the morning in order to minimize obstructions from the government.
Several members of the VSA were born in Venezuela and therefore felt compelled to protest the crisis, Mourad said. “We might be far away from it, but for most of us here, part of our families are still over there,” she said.
She added that “seeing [Venezuelans] go through the food shortages, having to send them packages of toilet paper,” is “heartbreaking.”
According to Mourad, the referendum seeks a democratic means to answer a fundamental question: “Is our president fit to run a country?”
Her answer is simple: “He’s proven not to be.”
The Venezuelan government — which owns most of the country’s media organizations — has previously tried to halt protests in support of the referendum by blocking marching routes, according to Mourad. Citizens typically circumvent biased news coverage by circulating information about protests through social media.
VSA treasurer Alejandro Finol ’19 added that the government is also attempting to “block the way for getting the referendum democratically.” Officials first insisted that protesters obtain a sufficient number of signatures and submit a petition for the recall referendum. Once the petition was submitted with almost two million signatures, it was rejected for lacking a step that the government did not previously state was required.
“They always put these tricky blockages to the system that they made themselves,” Finol said.
Venezuelans’ dire need for food and supplies has brought citizens together at home and abroad, according to Hubsch.
“Everyone is being affected by this situation, so everyone’s coming out in support and doing what they can,” she said.
The VSA also plans to hold a philanthropy event this semester to support of the Fundación Andrea el Brillo de un Ángel — a charity organization based in Caracas that helps pay medical bills for Venezuelan children — according to Mourad.