Estimated thousands of members of the Venezuelan exile community in Peru marched the streets of Lima on Thursday night to demand that the Summit of the Americas, which the city is currently hosting, address the socialist-driven humanitarian crisis in their country.
The pro-democracy march faced some tensions as a small group of socialist agitators, who had descended on Lima in support of dictator Nicolás Maduro, confronted the protesters. Peru disinvited Maduro from the summit, citing the Organization of American States (OAS) requirement that its members be free states.
Peru is home to a large Venezuelan refugee community that was forced to flee the socialist dictatorship following the near-total collapse of its economy, accompanied by increasingly violent persecution of political dissidents. Addressing the rally was one of Venezuela’s most famous dissidents, Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, violently arrested in 2015. Maduro’s secret police broke into his capital office and dragged him out of his office “like a dog,” according to one eyewitness. Maduro has since replaced Ledezma with a socialist mayor not chosen by the people.
Ledezma escaped Venezuela in November and has since toured the world demanding an intervention to replace Maduro with a legitimate president. Ledezma told the crowd Thursday night not to lose hope in changing the Venezuelan regime and warned Maduro not to try to attend the Summit of the Americas, which he threatened to do.
“Don’t get dressed, you’re not coming, you’re not invited and are not well received by the Peruvian people,” he said.
The crowd attended the event waving anti-Maduro signs, some reading “Maduro Murderer” and “Enough!” The crowd’s chants included “we want to go home” and, alternatively, “long live a free Cuba,” an expression of solidarity with the Cuban exile community who have expressed solidarity with the Venezuelan cause. High above one of Lima’s most commonly used highways, the Miami-based group Justice Cuba purchased a billboard featuring both Maduro and Cuban dictator Raúl Castro, and reading “Wanted for Crimes Against Humanity.”
Young Venezuelans disrupted a smaller socialist “March of the Peoples,” meant to be a protest against the Summit of the Americas generally. The leftists marched chanting “to Hell with the Yankees” (a reference to the United States) and “the people united will never be defeated,” a common Marxist chant. They also expressed solidarity with Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former socialist president of Brazil now serving a 12-year prison sentence for corruption. They were met by Venezuelan refugees shouting “hypocrites!” and “there is no food!”
“There aren’t even 100 of them, and there are hundreds of thousands of us telling the truth in Peru,” one Venezuelan refugee told Spain’s EFE news service.
The group of protesters also chanted “Thank you, Peru,” a reference to the friendly laws that allow Venezuelans to use their higher education degrees to receive work if fleeing the socialist dictatorship. As political activist Oscar Perez Torres told the Miami Herald, “Peru is playing a starring role in the defense of Venezuelan democracy and, obviously, we’ll never be able to live long enough to thank this country.”
In contrast to the peaceful manifestations against the socialist and communist dictatorships of the hemisphere, Cuban communist agents forced the shutdown of a Summit of the Americas event on Thursday by shouting over the speakers, making it impossible to hear anything they had to say. The mob, shouting pro-Fidel Castro and anti-American sentiments, attempted to silence a U.S. representative and OAS head Luis Almagro, and have intimidated Cuban dissidents who fear state-sponsored mob violence in Lima like the type common in Havana.
The U.S. government is also working to extend its support to Venezuelan pro-democracy activists, even in the face of President Donald Trump canceling his trip to the summit at the last minute. Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to meet with Venezuelan dissidents on Friday, while acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan met with individuals identified as members of Venezuelan civil society on Thursday. Sullivan “reaffirmed U.S. support for the Venezuelan people and their right to elect their representatives through free and fair elections.”