Two groups — one in favor of an American military intervention to stop the Venezuelan crisis and one against it — gathered Saturday afternoon in front of the U.S. Southern Command in Doral.
The scene mirrored that of a duel, in which both groups furiously exchanged insults from one side of NW 33rd Street to the other, divided solely by about 10 Miami-Dade Police patrols and some military personnel.
The group advocating for dialogue and negotiation arrived first, at about 2 p.m., and settled on the side of the street facing the military compound. While holding signs with messages in Spanish like “No to war! No to coup-plotters!“ and “Humans for peace,” they shouted chants in favor of chavismo and against imperialism. Chavismo refers to the leftist political ideology implemented by Venezuela’s late leader Hugo Chávez.
More than an hour later, at about 3:45 p.m., a group mostly dressed in the colors of the Venezuelan flag and who support interim President Juan Guaidó planted itself on the sidewalk closest to Southcom.
Jack Lieberman, who identified himself as one of the leaders of the Hands Off Venezuela Committee said President Donald Trump is trying to justify a coup d’état or a violent attack against the Nicolás Maduro regime.
Lieberman, a 68-year-old Philadelphia native who has lived in Miami on-and-off for about 50 years, said Trump sent humanitarian aid to use it as part of a political ploy. He suggested that if the American leader really wanted to help, he would send money to Maduro and let the “legitimate Venezuelan ruler” use it as he deemed necessary.
“If there‘s a coup d’état, there will be a bloodbath,” Lieberman warned.
Not too far from Lieberman, a 50-year-old man named René Fonseca held a Nicaraguan flag and another of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, the socialist party of the Central American country, while protesting.
Fonseca said he immigrated to the U.S. in the 1980s, shortly after Sandinismo came to power in Nicaragua, to “closely” protest the American interference in his nation.
Standing in front of what he called a “murderous command,” he said that journalists and international organizations do not report the positive things Maduro has done for Venezuela and that’s why he decided to demonstrate and defend the Bolivarian revolution.
On the side of the sidewalk directly in front of Southcom, 41-year-old Venezuelan Andrés Bermúdez was one of the first to arrive at the counter-protest.
Bermúdez said he was kneeling down while praying at the entrance of his house when he learned about the protest in Doral against the military intervention.
His eyes were closed and he prayed for peace in Venezuela while on his knees in front of statues of the Virgin of Guadalupe and Jesus Christ at his home. On each of his side, his daughter and son — aged 9 and 10 — clasped his hands and listened to his prayer.
Suddenly, his wife, who was reading news on social media using her computer inside the house, called and let them know of the nearby protests. The Bermúdez family, who came to the U.S. legally five years ago, is grateful to the country, he said, so he didn’t hesitate to show his support for the military.
His first thought when he saw the people chanting in favor of socialism was “how does the U.S. allow these people who protest against the ‘empire’ to live here?” Bermúdez said he considered recording them to send the information to Florida lawmakers Marco Rubio, Rick Scott and other politicians.
”How do these people have papers? How do they live here?“ Bermúdez objected. “If you hate a country so much, what do you do here? They might be part of terrorist groups.“
During the protest, while listening to people who agreed with him shout “Freedom!”, Bermúdez fell on his knees on the street and prayed a little more for the U.S. to intervene and for his family to someday be able to return to their homeland.
”I feel outraged,” Bermudez said through tears. “If they don’t help us militarily with weapons, we’re not going to get out of this. The only thing that stops a bad man with a weapon is a good person with a weapon. “
Just when the clock struck 4 p.m., the group against the intervention left. According to the protesters, they had already planned only to be there for two hours and their departure had nothing to do with the counter-protest.
Stefany Rodríguez, a Venezuelan who came to the U.S. at age 11 because her parents were tired of Chávez, said she’s now 25 years old and is still against Maduro, but she’s not in favor of any American influence.
She said she protested Saturday against the U.S. military to criticize the Trump administration. Now she hopes that the president understands that he must get his hands off Venezuela and let its people solve its problems alone.
“I live in the United States because I love this country, too, this country is also my home,” she said. “And a home you criticize to make it better, to make it a better place to live.”