For the past month and a half, the international news eye has been trained on Venezuela and the protests that have rocked the country as pictures of armed soldiers and smoky streets were shared with the rest of the world.
Recently, the men of the UW–Platteville Sigma Epsilon fraternity held a vigil to spread awareness of the events in Venezuela as well as to give support to the Venezuelan students who attend UW-Platteville. More than 100 people attended the event, which was held in the Markee Pioneer Student Center.
The idea for the event came about when senior occupational safety and Spanish double major Nathaniel Knautz, president of the UW–Platteville Sigma Epsilon chapter, received a message from a fraternity brother at Lawrence Technical University, near Detroit. One of its members, a Venezuelan native, reported that a couple of his friends who attended protests in Venezuela have disappeared.
The president of the Lawrence Tech chapter reached out to other chapters across the nation to spread awareness, and Knautz took up the call and helped plan the vigil at UW–Platteville.
The vigil opened with several Venezuelan UWP students talking about their experiences and families in Venezuela. One student shared a story that her parents had received a threatening phone call demanding money in order to ensure their children’s safety.
“I am a person who likes justice and who wants human rights to be respected,” said Jorge Finol, a senior mechanical engineering major from Madison, who came to the U.S. from Venezuela when he was 16 and spoke at the vigil. “I am a United States citizen, but I cannot cut my roots. We need to have an equal opportunity for every student in every country. Venezuela has had dictators in the past, but that is the past. I fear that this type of Venezuelan government is going backwards not forwards.”
Finol showed a video at the vigil that explained the reasons for the protests to give understanding to the audience. He explained that violent crimes, shortages, a media blackout and inflation are what have driven many citizens to the streets in Venezuela to try and bring about change. He cited statistics showing that since Feb. 12, 20 people have been killed in the violence and more than 300 people have been injured. Others now sit in jail and some, like the friends of the Sigma Epsilon member at Lawrence Tech, have simply disappeared.
After the video, Knautz and three other members of the UW–Platteville chapter of Sigma Epsilon gave a speech together.
“We focused on how we can work together to get through these tough times,” said Knautz. “We also talked about how we can educate other students and understand what our Venezuelan students are going through. We want to thank everyone who attended and hope that everyone was able to take something away from the vigil.”
Finol is working to organize a faculty forum on the subject, similar to the one that discussed the protests and issues in Ukraine earlier this month. “The Venezuelan community is trying its best to help what is going on,” he said. “The help that we ask for is not military, it is to create international awareness that human rights have been violated and we are being oppressed.”