A University of Montana student has joined thousands of protesters in Venezuela to demand political change and an end to that country’s violent crime, media censorship and high inflation.
The protests, which flared up in February, have shown no signs of toppling President Nicholas Maduro, who narrowly won the 2013 election to replace Hugo Chavez.
Despite the setbacks, Yhannels Limongi, who attended the English Language Institute at UM last fall and hopes to return, will continue marching in hopes of bringing about change.
“It is extremely stressful,” Limongi said in an email exchange with the Missoulian. “It is an agony seeing that you don’t know what is going to happen next, how many people are going to be killed today or tomorrow.”
Limongi first reported on the protests in a letter to the English Language Institute in late February. That month, Venezuelan students joined hardline opposition leaders in the streets to protest the country’s high rate of violent crime – one of the worst in the world.
Venezuela’s rate of inflation and scarcity of goods also is an issue, Limongi said. Basic products are nearly impossible to get, and the frustration is mounting.
“There’s not meat, chicken, milk, toilet paper and in some cases, even shampoo or razors,” Limongi said. “When you find them, you need to do huge lines, sometimes at 4 a.m., to reach the products before they’re gone again.”
Limongi said the atmosphere surrounding the protests has changed in recent days, largely due to the rising death toll, which currently stands at 30.
Security forces also took control of a plaza in Caracas this week. It had served as a center for protesters, and Venezuelan leaders declared it “liberated,” the Associated Press reported.
“Sometimes I think there is hope, but then somebody else is killed, tortured or kidnapped and my faith just disappears,” Limongi said. “The government has control of all the public institutions. They can do whatever they want and nobody can stop them.”
Limongi said Internet videos and Twitter have become the only reliable connection to the outside world, but even those are growing scarce.
She said more than a dozen newspapers have closed due to a lack of newsprint. Two television news channels accused of fomenting public unrest have stopped broadcasting as well, she said.
Limongi has family and friends in Missoula, and she hopes to return.
“My city is practically militarized, and in some parts, if you are between 16 and 20, they just take you from the streets because they are looking for young people involved in protests,” she said.