South Florida Venezuelans Remain Hopeful About Regime Change, Despite Recent Violence

Feb 25, 2019

Maria Diaz was confident that Saturday would mark a major step toward the collapse of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

As she walked out of a community forum in Weston on Venezuela’s political turmoil early in the afternoon, Diaz—who’s Venezuelan—learned the opposition had successfully sent some humanitarian aid shipments into the country. Carlos Vecchio, the opposition’s ambassador to the U.S., was also at the event and cheered with hundreds of attendees upon hearing the news. He said pressure on Maduro would only intensify.

Then within hours, deadly clashes erupted along Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Brazil. Maduro’s security forces rebuffed the aid effort using rubber bullets and tear gas. By day’s end, just one aid truck made it across the border and at least four people were killed and more than 200 injured.

When asked on Sunday about the dramatic turn of events, Diaz called the chaos “hurtful.” But she said her hope did not wane.

The international community must keep pressuring Maduro, said Diaz, who lives in Weston. She added that maybe the opposition could force him out within weeks.

Although Maduro quashed the aid effort on Saturday, Venezuelans in South Florida say they remain optimistic that his regime is near its end. They note that more than 50 countries recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president and say there has never been as much pressure on Maduro.

“I’m not surprised that the regime would do something like this,” Connie Pinero said of the violence. “This is a good moment for the rest of our allies to be doing more.”

Pinero, who lives in Pembroke Pines, said the opposition took proper steps to try to force the aid into Venezuela from Colombia and Brazil. Other countries should now strengthen sanctions to further squeeze Maduro, she suggested.

Guaidó gathered with Vice President Mike Pence and other Latin American leaders on Monday in Bogotá, Colombia, to discuss next steps to address the political turmoil. The opposition leader has said “all options are open” to liberate the country from Maduro. 

During the gathering, Pence announced new sanctions against loyalists of Maduro and called on other nations to follow the U.S.'s lead in freezing the assets of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA, the Associated Press reports. The sanctions target four border state governors who the U.S. says helped block the aid effort. 

Pence added that stronger sanctions will be announced in upcoming days against the regime's financial networks and has suggested that all options—including an intervention—are under consideration.

Pinero said she would welcome such a use of force.

“I would support stronger action in that respect,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s politically possible.”

Opponents of a foreign intervention have cited past U.S. coups in Latin America that they say have only destabilized the region.

Natalia Tovar, a Venezuelan who lives in Weston, said any U.S. military action should be a last option. She remains hopeful that a transition of power will occur soon, but is still dissappointed about the failed aid effort.

Maduro said the aid shipments were part of a U.S. ploy to invade. The opposition hoped to persuade military forces to break with Maduro and allow the aid in. More than 100 defected, but most remained loyal to Maduro during the chaos.

On Monday, Tovar criticized Guaidó for not having a backup plan to force the aid into Venezuela. The failed effort jeapordized the opposition's credibility, she said. 

“You’re giving people so much hope for that day, so that when it does not happen you’re gonna lose some type of face,” she said. She argued Guaidó should have tried sending in the aid via more remote, unprotected areas along the border.

Still despite her frustrations, she believes the opposition has enough support to continue pressuring Maduro. And strengthening sanctions against the regime is an important response to Saturday's chaos, she said. 

“It’s time for us to take firmer steps toward getting our government back and getting our country back,” she said.