In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Students in U.S. find ways to keep news flowing to Venezuela

Photo of demonstrators along Avenida Francisco de Miranda in Caracas taken by the relative of a Miami Venezuelan.
Photo of demonstrators along Avenida Francisco de Miranda in Caracas taken by the relative of a Miami Venezuelan.

‘My life is here, but my heart is over there.”

So Andreina Nash, 21, tells me on the telephone from Gainesville, echoing the sentiments of fellow Venezuelan-Americans who were glued to their computers and cellphones on Tuesday as massive anti-government demonstrations again packed the streets in Caracas and beyond.

With independent Venezuelan media off the air or censored, they searched for credible information through Colombian news outlets and blogs, and connected through social media, apps, and via text messages with relatives and friends to learn about the day’s developments.

They then posted or emailed nuggets of news to others, becoming a small army of reporters and translators of the extaordinary events in Venezuela for the rest of us.

Nash, a University of Florida marketing and telecommunications student who moved to Florida with her parents when she was 9, took her newsgathering a step further.

With a heavy heart, but an even stronger desire to explain why high school and college students took to the streets in unprecedented numbers risking their lives, she made a YouTube video that has garnered almost 2 million views in just a few days.

“Venezuela in a Nutshell,” narrated in English and Spanish versions, sums up the extraordinary events of the last several days, starting with the impressive Youth Day demonstrations Friday. Made with an Adobe program and a microphone borrowed from a friend, the video explains the reasons for the protests — government control of television and radio, a spiraling economy of food and supplies shortages, soaring inflation, and one of the highest crime rates in the world.

And it catalogs, frame by frame, the brutal violence President Nicolás Maduro’s government has unleashed on protesters, indiscriminately spraying students with gas and killer bullets.

Nash explains that the “unjust and corrupt” government treated the peaceful protesters as criminals, with escalating confrontations ending in violence, when their only weapons were cameras and phones to record “the truth.”

At least three young people are reported dead, and many more were injured and arrested.

It’s impossible to turn away from the powerful images and videos ordinary Venezuelans are capturing and sending abroad.

A family shoots video from their balcony of the moment a young man takes a bullet while running away from the paramilitary police. You can hear the horrified family’s laments and curses at the officers as they film.

In another video, several officers circle a detainee lying on the floor and kick him in the head for what seems like a very long time before they cart him away. The people filming, as well as those around the officers, hurl insults to no avail.

And in yet another, a small victory: A well-coordinated crowd snatches away from three police officers a young detainee in handcuffs. His rescuers cart the man away on a motorcycle and flee themselves.

Makes you want to cheer.

“They’re students who see no future … wow, you have to be so brave to do what they’re doing,” Victoria Azpurua, a Miami financial planner who came here to study 20 years ago and stayed, tells me as she juggles work with her electronic hunt for news.

These young people are brave and bold.

Yet they would follow the two million Venezuelans who have left the country in the last 15 years, Azpurua says, only they lack the resources. Plus, emigrating from Venezuela is difficult.

That may be Venezuela’s salvation, I tell her.

A wise Cuban-American once told me that the Cuban dictatorship’s most brilliant move was to get rid of all its enemies by letting them leave the country every time discontent rose up stronger and stronger. Decade after decade. Exodus after exodus.

Maduro’s government is doing just that, Azpurua says.

Probed about the murder rate — 25,000 homicides in 2013 alone, according to one organization’s tally — one of Maduro’s cronies blatantly crowed on national television: “If you don’t like the crime, leave to Miami.”

For Venezuela’s sake, I hope they stay and fight for their country.

“We moved here for a better life,” Nash says. “But there’s nothing like home.”

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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