Crisis in Venezuela touches lives in Colorado

6:56 PM, Feb 21, 2014   |    comments
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LAKEWOOD - A half dozen people are dead in protests that have lasted two weeks in Venezuela. The South American country is rich in oil, but is heavily divided over politics and the economy. It's been a tough time for Venezuelans in the Denver metro area, as they worry about their family and friends back home.

For Luis Zerpa, his laptop at his Lakewood home helps keep him connected to what's happening to his family back home in Venezuela.

"This is explaining what is happening in different states, in different cities in Venezuela," Zerpa said, as he looked at the website for NTN 24, a news channel based in Colombia that is covering events in Venezuela. Its signal is now blocked in Venezuela.

The ongoing clashes between opposition protesters and government forces come in part because of an economic crisis gripping the nation, which has sent inflation above 50-percent and led to widespread shortages of food and basic necessities.

The opposition blames Venezuela's socialist President Nicholas Maduro for the economic troubles, as well as for the violent confrontations between the protesters and security forces.

President Maduro blames outsiders - including the U.S. - for inciting the violence.

"Mari" arrived in Denver from Venezuela five days ago to visit family. She is one of the lucky ones who was able to leave the country. Flights have now been restricted.

She asked us not to use her real name because she fears speaking out about what is happening in Venezuela could lead to retaliation when she returns home.

"It's a situation that affects you psychologically - not only because you feel like you could lose your life, but you can't go out at night. You live in complete paranoia," Mari said. "It's hard. Living in Venezuela is a daily struggle."

Sue Montoya-Ruiz and Kate Gutierrez are helping to organize a rally at the State Capitol on Saturday, designed to attract attention to what is happening in Venezuela. It is set to take place from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

"I'm very worried about what is going to happen," Montoya-Ruiz said. "Most of us are American citizens, but also, we were born in Venezuela, so we feel for our family, for our friends."

Gutierrez said she constantly thinks about her family and friends in Venezuela, most of whom are university students. She fears what the unrest could bring next.

"It just makes me really angry and sad because I have family there," she said. "So, I'm worried about what could happen to them."

It's a feeling born out of being here and knowing they are safe, but fearing what the future might hold for Venezuela and its people.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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