Venezuelans in Halifax rallied outside city hall on Saturday, joining an international movement demanding that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro permit humanitarian aid to enter the country.
Maduro, whose grasp on power is being challenged by opposition leader Juan Guaidó, has maintained blockades at the South American country’s borders, preventing millions of dollars in international aid — including food and medicine — from reaching its people.
Guaidó declared himself Venezuela’s interim president earlier this year, adding fuel to one of the worst political and economic crises the continent has seen in decades.
But the call for humanitarian aid to enter the country isn’t a matter of politics, said rally participants, it’s a matter of life and death.
“There’s 86 per cent starvation in the country. There’s malnutrition, and people are dying just because they can’t get food, and that’s without counting the fact that they can’t get medicine, either,” said Iara Aguilera, who is from Caracas but now resides in Halifax.
“I have two sisters that have breast cancer, and there is no medicine for cancer in Venezuela. They have to go to Colombia to buy the medicine,” added fellow protester Juliana Fombona.
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Similar demonstrations took place across Canada on Saturday, in cities including Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. The crowd in Halifax favoured Guaidó as Venezuela’s president and said part of the rally’s purpose is to debunk the misinformation they’ve encountered in Nova Scotia when it comes to his role in government.
They reject claims that Guaidó is leading a military coup backed by the U.S. government. Maduro, who still commands the Venezuelan military, has endorsed this theory and claimed that American aid packages will serve as the bridge to a White House-led invasion.
“Nicolás Maduro held elections that were illegitimate last year so it created a void of power,” Aguilera explained. “The National Assembly, (of) which Juan Guaidó was president, had to step up, and he had to take control and he had to take the oath as a president to have a transition government.
“He’s just trying to get Venezuela through that democratic path again.”
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The U.S. and Canada have endorsed Guaidó as the country’s interim leader, with Canada pledging more than $50 million in aid to Venezuelans, most of which will go to non-governmental organizations. But at another demonstration in Halifax on Saturday, protesters said Canada has no place meddling in Venezuelan affairs and should withdraw its endorsement of a particular leader.
“Regardless of if you agree with the Maduro government or the Bolivarian revolution, one must agree that a people, no matter where, are entitled to free democratic processes,” said Mitchell Moxon of Alliance for Venezuela Halifax. “They should be allowed to elect whomever they choose.”
The second rally was not led by Venezuelans, and many of its participants claimed that the movement of Guaidó and his supporters is tied to foreign corporate interests in Venezuelan resources, including oil.