Cash from America is crucial to Venezuela’s protesters

Cash from America is crucial to Venezuela’s protesters
Fri Jun 2, 2017 15:43:35

The near-daily demonstrations that have rocked Venezuela for about two months are sustained by rivulets of material and money that coalesce into a stream of support. Crowd-funding websites like GoFundMe and Generosity are awash in campaigns for protesters -- some raising tens of thousands of dollars -- and Amazon wish lists of gear circulate on Twitter, Instagram and Whatsapp.

(Bloomberg) -- Helmets and goggles come via private couriers or tucked in carry-on bags. Portable radios and gas masks are smuggled across the border or sent on charter planes.

The rapidly growing community of Venezuelan expats holds fund raisers and collection drives in the U.S., Panama and elsewhere while back home, political parties and activists help dole out the supplies before marches. Concrete financial numbers are nearly impossible to come by but the aid is critically important to protest leaders’ overarching plan: Maintain a steady presence on the streets until they force President Nicolas Maduro (or the military) to call new elections.

They failed to oust Maduro back in 2014, deciding to end weeks of demonstrations after suffering dozens of fatalities. They’re being tested even more sternly now. The death count has climbed over 60 while thousands of others have been injured or thrown in jail. But with the oil-rich country’s economic collapse worse than ever and Maduro seeking to further tighten his grip on power, protesters appear more determined this time.

“This fight is a matter of resisting and staying put,” said Samuel Olarte, head organizer for Popular Will, an opposition party. “This type of support will keep arriving as long as the protests continue."

Word of Mouth

Olarte’s office is filled with megaphones still in original packaging, boxes of new Amazon-brand batteries and black trash bags full of t-shirts featuring stenciled images of Leopoldo Lopez, the leader of Popular Will who’s been in jail since the 2014 uprising. Olarte coordinates everything from marches to lunches prepared by neighborhood groups. Message services, social media and word of mouth are used to rally people together.

“The ones who are willing to protest are not the ones with the means,” said Julio Jimenez, a 39-year-old activist in Caracas, better known by his Twitter handle, @Juliococo, which has more than 350,000 followers. “The work at hand is connecting them."

The most widely attended marches seek to reach downtown Caracas, with its presidential palace and ministries.

The vanguards come dressed for battle. Their faces are covered, goggles or gas masks hang around their necks. They wield homemade shields, prepare Molotov cocktails before the march kicks off and wear leather gloves to pick up and throw back tear-gas canisters that security forces shoot into the crowd. Protesters also have to fend off water-cannon blasts and pellets, marbles and sometimes even bullets that are fired at them.

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