Leopoldo Lopez’s wife inspires the young generation of Venezuelans

Amid increasing tensions in Venezuela, pro-democracy activist Lilian Tintori is now speaking to U.S. audiences, in an effort to bring attention to the crisis. Tintori…

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Leopoldo Lopez’s wife inspires the young generation of Venezuelans

Lilian Tintori, wife of detained opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, delivers a speech during a rally in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Amid increasing tensions in Venezuela, pro-democracy activist Lilian Tintori is now speaking to U.S. audiences, in an effort to bring attention to the crisis.

Tintori is the wife of the incarcerated prominent leader of the opposition Leopoldo Lopez, who has been accused of murder and inciting violence by the Nicolas Maduro government.

Lopez, a Harvard educated former mayor and presidential candidate, turned himself in to police back in February.

“Right now he is detained, isolated and kidnapped,” said Tintori, “for thinking differently.”

SEE ALSO: Violence flares again in Venezuela, as US Congress considers sanctions

She made the remarks to a packed auditorium at Miami-Dade College on May 14.

“The students who are outside [of Venezuela] are also my inspiration,” said Tintori. “The peaceful protest is a very powerful tool, here in the U.S. and everywhere else.”

Thousands have taken to the streets in Venezuela, since Lopez called for peaceful protests at the beginning of February.

Lilian Tintori is the wife of jailed opposition candidate Leopoldo Lopez.

Lilian Tintori speech at Miami-Dade College. (Andrea Cruz)

Demonstrations in support of the opposition have also sprung up across the U.S with hundreds marching in several states including Florida, California and Washington D.C.

According to latest figures, nearly 300,000 people of Venezuelan origin live in the United States.

A third of them are American citizens.

“We are here but our head is over there,” said Luis Yllarramendi, as he stood in line with his wife, waiting to hear Tintori speak.

“At this moment I think we can make more of a difference from the outside, because here we have the freedom to do so,” he said. “In Venezuela there is no liberty.”

Increasing violence

In Venezuela, the demonstrations took a violent turn once Maduro’s government decided to step down on any attempts at unrest.

Yllarramendi said he and his wife traveled to Miami 3 months ago on a week-long trip, and then decided to stay on a whim.

“Our neighbors began to send us photos of everything that was happening with the demonstrations,” he said. “Police were shooting into our building.”

SEE ALSO: Congress moves toward sanctions for Venezuela

Confrontations with government forces have left at least 42 confirmed deaths.

Prior to Tintori taking the stage, a video presentation depicted graphic images of injured demonstrators, allegedly at the hands of government forces.

“Today 129 people were detained, almost as many as in this auditorium,” said Tintori. “Today 129 families are desperate, because they probably don’t even know where they are, in what jail they have been thrown in.”

Deteriorating relations

Lilian Tintori visits Miami.

The Venezuelan community in Miami and supporters of Leopoldo Lopez attend Liliana’s speech in Miami Dade College. (Photo: Andrea E. Cruz)

Relations between Venezuela and the U.S. have continued to deteriorate since the death of President Hugo Chavez in early 2013.

Most recently, the U.S. Embassy in Caracas has stopped accepting applications for tourism visas, citing of a lack of consular officials. This, after Venezuela ejected three consular officers in February, accusing them of fueling the protests.

The increasing tensions have left little hope for the thousands of Venezuelans in the southeast United States, who have petitioned for the reopening of the Venezuelan consulate in Miami.

“It’s been affecting us since a while back,” said William Reyes, 48, who attended the Lilian Tintori speech with his daughter. “For any paperwork we need to file, we have to go to other states.”

Reyes’ daughter has not been able to return to Venezuela since 2008, when her Venezuelan passport expired.

Censoring the media

The recent protests have fueled Maduro’s government to continue the censorship practices from the Chavez era.

Flag will be sent to Leopoldo Lopez.

Signed Venezuelan flag that will be sent to Leopoldo Lopez in prison. (Photo: Andrea E. Cruz)

In February, Maduro announced that the Colombia-based cable news channel NTN24 would be removed from the air. He accused the network of inciting resistance and trying to “perturb the psychological climate of Venezuela.”

26-year-old Johana Rios lives in Venezuela, and attended Wednesday’s event in Miami.

“The world has to know what is going on in Venezuela because we don’t have the media outlets to inform the public,” she said.

The next generation

Claudia Bermejos, 42, left Venezuela 8 years ago, but says she is in constant communication with her family to keep them updated about the disturbances.

Bermejos wore a bright-colored cap with Venezuela’s flag, to match those worn by her 7-year-old twin daughters.

The girls were born in the U.S., but Bermejos says the situation in Venezuela scares them.

“The other day she told me: ‘mom, Maduro is going to Washington, I’m not going to school, I don’t want to get killed,’” said Bermejos.

“I had to explain to them, and say ‘don’t worry, he’s not coming here [to Miami,] Washington is far away.’”

Bermejos added she brought her daughter’s to the event, because she wants them to see Lilian Tintori as a role model.

SEE ALSO: The mystery behind the death of Eliecer Otaiza, Venezuelan Ex-intelligence officer

According to Tintori, Venezuela’s youth has been the driving force behind the opposition and the now almost daily protests.

“The students are young, and for 15 years they haven’t experienced liberty,” she said. “They grew up with fear and without dreams, but they are the ones who are defending us now.”

The auditorium filled with colorful flags, not just from Venezuela but also Cuba and Argentina, erupted in cheers as she gave her last remarks.

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