Venezuelans, Cubans demand democracy in their homelands at Miami march
opposition leaders Carlos Fernandez, at center with raised
thumb, and Carlos Ortega, in a white Venezuela T-shirt, move to
the front of the protest march as it heads east on Calle Ocho, Miami.
The two men helped lead a national strike in their homeland.
| Marchers in Little Havana
demanded international help and denounced
the governments in Venezuela and Cuba as “serious threats” to Latin
By Sandra Hernandez
Miami -- Calling for greater international attention to the political crisis in their homeland, former Venezuelan opposition leaders Carlos Fernandez and Carlos Ortega marched together Saturday for the first time since both men fled their country.
"We are marching here because this is the only option we have since we can't be in Venezuela, but we want people to know we are with them," said Fernandez, former head of Venezuela's largest business chamber, surrounded by flags and placards as he led the protest down Little Havana's Calle Ocho. "Being together again today is huge for us, but beyond being able to march again with Carlos, I think this will send a message that our fight is not over."
Fernandez and Ortega left Venezuela in 2003 after helping lead a two-month national strike that paralyzed the country's economy, including the oil sector, but brought few concessions from President Hugo Chávez's government. Ortega, former head of the country's largest labor group, sought political asylum in Costa Rica a year ago; Fernandez now lives in Weston.
Organized by Cuban and Venezuelan leaders, the march called for an end to human rights abuses and advocated greater democracy in both countries, according to organizers like Luis Prieto of Todos Por Venezuela, or All for Venezuela, an opposition group with members in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
"We are here to denounce two governments that pose a serious threat to Latin America," Prieto said.
About 1,500 people walked down Calle Ocho, according to Miami Police Officer Jane Walker.
The march was a stark contrast to last year's protest that drew thousands of Venezuelans including political leaders, beauty queens and entertainers, many of whom left the South American nation because of the national strike.
But this year's demonstration was a sad reminder that Venezuela is one of the most polarized nations in the region.
"I'm here because things are worse than ever. I think this is the least I can do as a Venezuelan, to protest," said Yasmina Sanaderia, who moved from Central Venezuela to Miami three years ago. "I don't think Chávez will allow a referendum and believe the only legacy he will leave are many new tombstones."
Venezuela's opposition led a signature drive for a referendum to recall Chávez. The country's constitution allows for a referendum midway through the president's term in office, which was August 2003. But the national election council is still reviewing the more than 3 million signatures delivered to them by anti-Chávez groups. Chávez was elected in 1998 in a landslide victory.
Cuban groups and local leaders also called for solidarity with dissidents jailed last year in Cuba.
"I'm here to show my solidarity with the people of Cuba and Venezuela," Miami Mayor Manny Diaz said.
But much of the focus remained on Venezuela, where street clashes and random violence have increased in the past month.
Among those calling for international help was Patricia Poleo, a Venezuelan journalist under investigation by military prosecutors for rebellion. Poleo has repeatedly called for Chávez's removal and recently aired a videotape of Cubans in Venezuelan military barracks, according to an Associated Press report.
"I will go back tomorrow and face the courts, though I know I can't get a fair trial," Poleo said.
Sandra Hernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954 356 4514.
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