As the sun poked out from behind the rain clouds, the crowd grew larger just blocks from the White House. The chants got louder too: “democracia sí, dictadura no.”
Roughly 175 people gathered outside the Organization of American States (OAS) in downtown Washington Wednesday, demanding a strong international response against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
The demonstration in Washington followed days of violent protests in Venezuela against the socialist government amid poor economic conditions. Three people were killed on the first day of protests and dozens more were injured.
Back in Washington, Lisette Miroquesada — one of the protest’s organizers — expressed concern for her parents and siblings who still live in Venezuela.
“I’m scared for my family, for what life has become right now,” she said. “We want the violence in Venezuela to stop. They’re killing our students and our families.”
Inside the halls of Congress, members have asked the Obama administration to take action against Maduro’s government. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) requested a 10 percent reduction in oil imports from Venezuela.
The oil and gas sector accounts for around a quarter of Venezuela’s gross domestic product, and the Venezuela was the fourth-largest foreign supplier of crude oil to the U.S. in 2012.
“We must stand in solidarity with freedom fighters in Venezuela that are being persecuted,” she wrote in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. “The U.S. must not stay silent.”
The White House on Tuesday denounced the actions of Venezuela's government, but has not said whether there will be retaliation against it.
Pro-opposition protests have sprouted up in Venezuelan expat communities all around the U.S. But being in the nation’s capital allowed this group of protesters to take their concerns directly to public officials.
Organizers delivered a letter to the office of the OAS secretary general, demanding that the organization use its charter to call for a restoration of free speech rights and new elections within six months.
“We ask that the OAS stop turning a blind eye to the human and political rights violations of the Maduro regime,” read a release from A Voice for Democracy in Venezuela, the independent group that arranged the protest.
OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza called on the Maduro government to “avoid the use of force” and for protesters to “demonstrate peacefully and avoid provocations” in a statement on Monday. A spokesperson for the group declined to comment further, saying OAS officials were meeting at press time.
Spokespeople for the Venezuelan embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment. The embassy on Tuesday sent a several documents to the press, one of which labels opposition groups as “neo-facist.”
There have been few signs of tensions letting up in Venezuela. overthrow the Maduro government, a claim which U.S. officials have called “baseless and false.”
With restrictions placed on the media in Venezuela, demonstrators in Washington said they were trying to spread the opposition’s message as far as possible.
“We are peaceful. We believe in free speech,” said protester Rafael Castillo. “That’s not respected in Venezuela. We want the people to know outside Venezuela what is happening.”
Photos in body by Jordan Fabian.
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.