DORAL, Fla. - After a deadly showdown over aid near the Venezuelan border with Brazil, some Venezuelan migrants in South Florida feared for the safety of the advocates for humanitarian aid who planned to defy the Venezuelan military.
A group met to pray at the Iglesia DCN Doral on Friday night and there were other related religious events scheduled for this weekend in South Florida. They are among the estimated tens of thousands of Venezuelan migrants who live in Florida.
Under the direction of Rev. Ricardo Alfonso Fernandez, the DCN Doral members bowed their heads to observe a moment of silence for the activists who have died while fighting for change in Venezuela. A trumpeter played "Taps" during the emotional service.
"I believe this is the time when we bend our knees," Fernandez said.
Some of the members of the church prayed for the victims of a Friday shooting that left Venezuela's Kumarakapay indigenous village in mourning. Opposition lawmakers identified the woman who was killed as Zoraida Garcia, a mother who worked as a street vendor.
Americo De Grazia, a parliamentarian who represents the area in the National Assembly, reported the shooting happened under the command of General Jose Miguel Montoya, who remains loyal to embattled President Nicolas Maduro.
U.S. President Donald Trump has said he wants Maduro to step down voluntarily, but by saying that "all options are on the table" he has implied the possibility of military involvement. Some in South Florida fear the possibility of yet more deaths.
Amid the internal and external political tensions, Maduro's opposition leader Juan Guaidó is leading an effort to deliver humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable communities in Venezuela. Maduro, who announced he was accepting aid from Russia, views the defiant effort as a political strategy.
The Venezuela Aid Live concert that billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson organized in Cucuta, Colombia, with the help of a long line of celebrity volunteers and the government of Colombia brought some comfort.
"It was beautiful, but the situation is so serious it's hard to feel hope, you know, they have killed so many people. The corrupt will fight to protect their businesses and they are ready to kill," said Natalia Sanchez, a Catholic praying in Key Biscayne. "I am frankly scared to tears at what Maduro is capable of against his people. Please pray for us."
Maduro has criminalized his political opposition, and human rights activists have criticized his administration over the treatment of dissenters with reports of extrajudicial killings and torture. On Friday night, De Grazia reported authorities were still shooting at civilians.
#22Feb 10:40 PM GNB persigue a civiles por el Casco Central de #SantaElenaDeUairen, disparan a mansalva a los vehículos y motos que transitan, desde las tanquetas en alta velocidad. Pobladores e indígenas pemones permancen en las calles protestando y bloqueando vías. #Bolivar pic.twitter.com/CnSf85sDWw — Jesus M. Hernandez (@JesusMHD) February 23, 2019
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