Doral Venezuelans call for Maduro’s ouster, end to violence in homeland

In between the jeers and chants, the tri-colored flags and the somber singing of a national anthem, silence overcame a crowd of about 300 supporters of Venezuela’s opposition on Monday afternoon.

They were silent for the imprisoned, for the hungry, the dead.

Then they erupted in solidarity with their compatriots in South America, yelling “Libertad!”

Amid increasingly violent tensions between the Venezuelan government and protesters, which have left at least 35 people dead in the past few weeks, a swarm of supporters flocked to the Venezuelan eatery, El Arepazo 2, in Doral to call for an end to violence and the ouster of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott hosted the rally, which featured a recorded audio message from Lilian Tintori, wife of imprisoned Venezuelan activist Leopoldo Lopez. Lopez was honored with the Governor’s Freedom Award at Monday’s rally in abstentia.

“Our morals are still intact, our strength is still intact and awards like this make us fight harder,” she told the crowd in Spanish.

The fighting in the South American country is intensifying. On Monday, in the Venezuelan city of Maracaibo, hundreds of people fled their homes after tear gas meant for protesters spilled into residences, schools and a hospital, according to the Associated Press.

Security forces deployed the tear gas after a violent anti-government protest in the city. Rescuers took babies and elderly residents to hospitals for treatment.

The recent events have upset 51-year-old Harold Quiroz, who left Venezuela three years ago and now lives in Miami. He came to Monday’s rally in Doral to support the resistance, honor the memory of the dead and call for Maduro’s removal.

Being surrounded by the protesters, old and young, made him happy.

“It gave me hope that in Venezuela there will soon be change,” he said in Spanish.

Another attendee, who gave her name as Elisabeth B. for fear of government retribution, said she flew to Florida from Venezuela on Sunday after marching against the government in Caracas earlier in the week.

“I come here to breathe,” she said, adding she has family in Miami.

A resident of Caracas, Elisabeth said the quality of life in the country has deteriorated to the point of crisis. She recently lost her job as an interior designer because Venezuelans “don’t care if their towels match their sheets or not. People right now are shocked that they cannot afford a carton of eggs with the hyperinflation.’’

The mayor of Doral, Juan Carlos Bermudez, who came to South Florida as a child from Cuba, said he hoped the rally would send a clear sign to “the dictatorship of Venezuela.”

“Don’t ever forget,” he said in Spanish. “Until individual sovereignty returns, we won’t see freedom in Venezuela.”

Following the rally, a group of about 20 protesters linked arms in the parking lot and took turns yelling their grievances at anyone who would listen. At their feet were 10 cross-covered boxes alongside candles to honor those killed during the recent protests.

“They’re killing us,” said Jani Mendez, 42, speaking in Spanish. She was born in Venezuela but now lives in Miami. “There is no medicine, there is no food.”

After wiping her eyes, she said without action nothing would change.

“When you protest,” she said, “people hear you.”