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Venezuelans on hunger strike, ask Pope to intercede for release of political prisoners

2015-06-08

Their names are Martin Paz and Jose Vicente Garcia. They are two politicians from Venezuela who announced a hunger strike just outside the Vatican. Their goal is clear: They're calling for their president, Nicolas Maduro to release more than 70 political prisoners. 

Their initial hope was for the strike to coincide with the president's Sunday visit with Pope Francis. But Maduro canceled a day before, citing health problems. The group believes the cancellation was due to their protest. 

MARTÍN PAZ
Politician from Saint Cristóbal (Venezuela)
"We are convinced the cancellation is due to the political pressure we've launched.  It's not just here in the Vatican. We're calling for our government to release political prisoners back home.  But we are also asking Pope Francis, respectfully and with faith, to intercede for political prisoners and human right violations in Venezuela. We're hoping to have the opportunity to speak with senior Vatican officials so we can explain what is really going on in our country.” 

At first, they planned on launching the hunger strike in their home country, but eventually they decided to travel to Rome. Even though this will surely pose a risk when it's time to go back home. 

JOSÉ VICENTE GARCÍA 
Politician of Saint Cristóbal (Venezuela) 
"We made a decision. We left our families, children and wives in Venezuela. We all have children. Martin has a six month old baby. My boy is 15 months old. They are babies, but to put things into perspective, they don't have access to the food they need. We can't get the milk they need, we can't buy diapers. We don't have access to anything and this is why we decided to come here. We're here for them.” 

They are calling on their government to free political prisoners like Leopoldo López, Daniel Ceballos and Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas. In fact, his daughter came to Rome to show support. 

VANESA LEDEZMA 
Antonio Ledezma's Daughter 
"My father is imprisoned right now for thinking differently than the government. They are violating his human rights.” 

To check up on their health, the protesters have a nurse on standby for regular tests on their blood pressure and to make sure they don't face dehydration. 

Along with these two politicians, another 36 people have joined in the hunger strike in Venezuela. They say they're desperate and it's the last resort they have in hoping Maduro's government will listen to their pleas. 


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