Adrian Walker

With Nicolas Maduro on the ropes, local Venezuelans feel surge of hope

Anti-government demonstrators held raised candles Sunday in Caracas during a day of vigils and prayers called by Venezuela’s oppsition leader, Juan Guaidó.
Anti-government demonstrators held raised candles Sunday in Caracas during a day of vigils and prayers called by Venezuela’s oppsition leader, Juan Guaidó.Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images/AFP/Getty Images

A political earthquake has been unleashed on the streets of Venezuela, and its aftershocks are being felt in Boston.

“It’s the struggle to restore our democracy,’’ said activist Cristina Aguilera last week. “And that starts with the people on the street demanding change from the current regime because they want freedom, they want democracy, they want to have the basic needs that our families are not having right now in the country.”

Over the past two decades, Boston has become home to thousands of Venezuelans, who live and work here but maintain close ties to the embattled South American nation.

They have been glued to the events of recent months, in which opposition leader Juan Guaidó has sought to unseat the country’s official leader, Nicolas Maduro.


The counter-revolution had a bad week, in which the Maduro regime, which briefly appeared on the verge of collapse, displayed surprising resiliency.

Protesting the regime in Venezuela is not new; it’s just gained momentum, said Carmen Plazas, who moved to Boston a few years ago after college.

“I studied communications and wanted to be a journalist, but I knew I couldn’t practice there,” she said. “I was part of the student movement. None of my cohort from college is there. We essentially had to find someplace else where we could find a profession and buy food.”

The question of what should happen next in Venezuela has become a divisive one, particularly on the left, where there is instinctive support for a nominally leftist regime.

That is a huge irritant to some Venezuelan activists, most of them left-leaning themselves. They say they want Maduro out, the sooner the better. They spoke painfully of what they said are misconceptions about the regime.

“Venezuela is not a socialist regime,” said Ronald Elie, a city official who moved to Boston for school in the 1990s, and stayed. “Venezuela is a regime of criminals who are hiding behind rhetorical arguments that Chavez left behind.”


Chavez, of course, is Hugo Chavez, the charismatic former president who created an image of Venezuela as a haven of leftist political activity before his death in 2013.

But long before he left the scene — to be replaced by his hand-picked successor, Maduro — Venezuela’s economy was collapsing.

Maduro has waged war on the country’s democratic institutions as well, devastating the courts and the National Assembly. Guaidó has pledged to rebuild the country’s shattered democracy. But that requires regime change.

It may not help his cause that Washington supports his efforts. Given the long, disastrous history of American intervention in Latin America, “Hands Off Venezuela!” has become a rallying cry.

But for immigrants watching their families struggle with the basics of survival, that view is simplistic.

“For decades it’s been, ‘We don’t want military intervention, but we don’t want to starve,’ ” said Celina Barrios-Millner, a Walsh administration department head and former community activist. “What’s the lesser of two evils? What’s worse: a slow and painful death or blood in the streets?”

Like others I spoke to, she has struggled to stay in contact with her relatives in recent days, because the communications infrastructure has been devastated too. Try staying in touch with elderly grandparents in a ravaged country over WhatsApp.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. Guaidó conceded this weekend in an interview that he overestimated the help his movement could expect from rebel members of the military.


For now, Maduro is winning. But his opponents, viewing from afar, feel something they haven’t felt in a long time: hope.

“Absolutely, I feel hope,” Aguilera said. “Whether this action in the streets continues or not, we’re not going to stop until this guy is out.”

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. E-mail him at adrian.walker@globe.com.