VALC Rallies Venezuelan-Americans Against Nicolas Maduro’s Socialist Regime

Though he now lives in the District of Columbia, the economic and political crisis ravaging his native country is hitting close to home for Carlos Marquez. The executive director of the fledgling Venezuelan American Leadership Council recalls a conversation a few weeks ago when he offered to send his father some money to help buy food.

“He told me, ‘Son, we found pasta and pasta sauce. That’s all we could buy,’” Mr. Marquez said. “So I told him, ‘Dad, do you need money? I can help you out,’ and he said, ‘No, it’s not a matter of money. There is nothing to buy.’”

The Venezuelan American Leadership Council is one of a number of groups hoping to harness the power of Venezuelan-Americans as the political standoff in Caracas between leftist President Nicolas Maduro and the opposition-dominated parliament worsens. On Wednesday afternoon, the council organized a protest at the Venezuelan Embassy offering heaps of toilet paper — one of a number of increasingly scarce consumer staples in VenezuelaMr. Marquez said he knew the embassy would reject the “donation.” “It will be even more proof that the government doesn’t care about the people; they just care about [staying in] power,” he said.

After an eye-opening return to Venezuela in 2013, Mr. Marquez said, he was inspired to form the Venezuelan American Leadership Council. The grass-roots organization advocating for democracy in Venezuela opened in March. Tensions in Venezuela appear to be peaking under Mr. Maduro, a protege of the late anti-U.S. populist President Hugo Chavez. Wracked by a drought, falling oil prices and a plunging economy, the government recently declared a state of emergency in the country as food and medicine shortages sparked numerous street protests.

Tire manufacturer Bridgestone announced plans this week to leave the market after more than six decades, and Coca-Cola said its Venezuelan suppliers were shutting down temporarily because of a lack of sugar and other supplies.

The political crisis deepened when the opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), scored an overwhelming victory in December’s election, securing a two-thirds supermajority in the National Assembly. Opposition groups that are pushing for a recall referendum to oust Mr. Maduro from power this year accuse the government of stalling the process. “Venezuela is falling apart,” Mr. Marquez said. “There are a lot of Venezuelan groups in the U.S. and they’re all advocating for individual things, but they never work together for the country. An individual voice is much less powerful than a collective voice.”

In addition to pushing for a more cohesive Venezuelan voice in Washington, Mr. Marquez wants his organization to become a resource for activism for Venezuelans in the U.S.

The Pew Research Center estimated that 248,000 Hispanics of Venezuelan origin resided in the U.S. in 2013, but Mr. Marquez said illegal immigrants push that number to close to 1 million.

That number continues to rise as Mr. Maduro’s approval ratings fall. A Hercon poll has found that two-thirds of Venezuelans blame the government for the country’s condition. About 30 percent of Venezuela’s 30 million residents are preparing documents for emigration, the Caracas-based polling institute Datanalisis found.


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