JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The U.S. is now calling Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro a dictator after what many perceive was a fraudulent vote two days ago that gave him nearly absolute power.
According to the Pew Research Center, Venezuelans are among the top asylum seekers to the U.S. and many are calling Jacksonville home.
Just past midnight on Tuesday, police raids snatched two prominent opposition leaders from their homes in Venezuela’s capital of Caracas.
The arrests came just one day after President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Maduro. Anti-government strikes and protests are a daily occurrence as the country sinks deeper into a dictatorship.
It’s a crisis local Venezuelans know firsthand.
“There's no medicine, no food, (There’s a) shortage of everything,” Beatriz Roberson said.
Roberson and fellow Venezuelan Luis Nuñez still have family members living in Venezuela.
“It's like a war zone. There's crime everywhere,” Nuñez said.
La Nota, a Venezuelan-owned business in San Marco, has become the go-to gathering place for local Venezuelans.
Dr. Jose Lepervanche, a professor at Florida State College at Jacksonville, said more than 1,300 people went to La Nota on July 16 to cast a symbolic vote against Maduro, an action that was also taken by Venezuelans living in every corner of the world.
Lepervanche said it shows Venezuelans aren’t backing down.
“I hope that the Jacksonville Venezuelans and the Venezuelans that are living in all the countries can remember that we are the outside supporters,” Lepervanche said.
As many more Venezuelans continue to arrive in Jacksonville, Maria Kellermann said she's ready to help.
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“Trying to bridge the gap and help them with immigrations and refugee processes and asylum processes,” Kellermann said.
Staying organized and united is what those living outside of Venezuela are now doing. Kellermann said right now, it’s the only hope they have to restore democracy to the country they love.
“We cannot give up. This is now or never,” Kellermann said.
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