Venezuelan students mobilize to protest Maduro on Youth Day

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By Kerry Sanders and Erika Angulo

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CARACAS, Venezuela — Millions of students are mobilizing to take to the streets of Venezuela on Tuesday during Youth Day.

The day commemorates the young people who fought and died in the Battle of La Victoria in 1814 during Venezuela’s war for independence, and touts the role that youth play in the country’s economic and social future.

Venezuelan students such as Anna Ferreira, 22, are using Youth Day as a way to protest the country’s government and the current political turmoil.

“We want a better future and the only way we can see that is to stop the regime of President Nicolás Maduro. This year we are closer than ever to get that,” Ferreira, a student at a liberal arts college, told NBC News on Monday.

Students such as Ferreira believe that Juan Guaidó, who declared himself interim president last month, will deliver on his promise to reinstate democratically held elections. The country’s hyperinflation, severe food and medicine shortages, and instability have sent more than 3 million Venezuelans fleeing to other countries.

Ferreira was born just prior to the socialist revolution in 1999, meaning that socialism is the only government system she’s ever known. However, her parents have memories of a different Venezuela under a capitalist economy.

“I hear the stories of the childhood of my parents, the childhood of my grandmother and we want that, we are living with an ideal in our heads of something we believe is possible and we want to accomplish,” she said.

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Maduro supporters, on the other hand, admit the system they believe in may have flaws — including monthly food rations and supply shortages — but they still support a government that began when their hero Hugo Chavez came to power.

At a government-sponsored rally, one Maduro supporter in his 70s, who would not give his name, said that “Guiadó is nothing more than a clown.”

On Monday, Maduro invited the international media to see the launch of a new marketing campaign to promote investment and tourism in the country.

“There isn’t another country with better investment opportunities,” he said as he stood on a stage in front of a giant screen that had played a high definition video showing the country’s natural beauty.

Saying that “we are in the eye of the geopolitical hurricane,” Maduro said he wished “the international media would be fair by reporting this event.”

The Trump administration and around forty nations have thrown their support behind Guaidó until democratic elections are held. But Maduro has vowed to stay in power and has insisted that the United States is trying to topple his government.

In a show of force, the Venezuelan military has held war game exercises for the past two days.

In 2014, three students protesting the government were shot and killed during Youth Day. There were no arrests and no one was held responsible.

Some of the students marching this year say they will never forget that sacrifice.

“We have the ideal, as do a lot of people, that one person makes the change,” Ferreira said, while standing in front of a mural with the painted faces of the students killed five years ago.

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