Baltimore rally backs Venezuela protests

Carrying protest signs in English and Spanish, opponents of the Venezuelan government rallied peacefully Saturday at the World Trade Center in Baltimore in solidarity with demonstrations in the South American country against the administration of President Nicolas Maduro.

About 80 people had gathered by early afternoon, standing in a circle in front of the building hoisting the country's yellow, blue and red flag, chanting anti-government slogans and listening to Venezuelan folk songs on a boom box. The demonstration was meant to coincide with others taking place in 70 cities around the world to bring international pressure on Maduro's government, which opponents blame for political repression, rampant crime and shortages of basic goods.

"This is all we can do to help speak up for the ones that can't," said Muriel Mendieta, 27, resident of Perry Hall and native of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, who helped organize the event. "All the students are getting arrested or hurt or shot at."

Starting about two weeks ago, students have been involved in coordinated protests across the country. At least eight people have been killed as of Saturday, according to Reuters. Each side blames the other for the violence, and Maduro has singled out CNN for biased coverage. The network reported that credentials of at least seven staff members of CNN International and CNN Espanol were revoked late last week.

Mendieta, who left Venezuela four years ago and now works as an accountant in Baltimore, said half her college classmates have left the country since they graduated because they couldn't find work. She said her family is still there, and she's concerned about her mother, who writes for a small anti-government newspaper in Caracas.

"I'm definitely worried," she said. "They like to strike at people who speak out against them."

Andrea Molina said she also has family back home in the state of Merida, in the northwest portion of Venezuela. She said she visited at Thanksgiving and found difficult to relax and enjoy the time, as going anywhere meant facing roving bands of robbers on motorcycles and slim pickings at restaurants and grocery stores.

"I have friends, the only thing they talk about is how they waited in line for hours for a chicken," said Molina, 34, who has been in the United States for 10 years and works as a mechanical engineer in Edgewood. "Every year it's harder and hard to go back."

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