During the rainstorm on February 2, Oceanside resident Ana Groening trekked down to Waterfront Park while "many others didn’t make it."
That Saturday, many of Groening's fellow-Venezuelans were slated to meet at the waterfront park in front of the San Diego County Administration Building, off of North Harbor Drive overlooking the San Diego Bay – to proclaim their support for Juan Guaidó, their "interim president" back in Venezuela.
"The supporters called me saying that they were on their way [but] returned home; other ones were too afraid to drive since they got the emergency alerts too."
About forty or so Guaidó supporters ignored the weather reports and converged with Groening at the waterfront park at around 4:30 pm.
Some Guaidó supporters almost lost their umbrellas and Venezuelan and American flags to the strong winds while others were drenched from head to toe. The weather service tweeted a photo of a tree that collapsed on six vehicles by Balboa Park, four miles east from the waterfront venue.
"Our president, Juan Guaidó, calls us again this Saturday to raise our voice of support and worldwide protest by demanding: cessation of the usurpation; a transitional government; and free elections," posted Groening on her Facebook event page.
Because last year's election of Nicolás Maduro as president was contested, the National Assembly considered the position vacant; on January 23 Guaidó took a public oath to serve as interim president.
Groening is a 38-year-old mother and a math-tutor/event organizer; she's also a member of the “Un Mundo sin Mordaza” (A World without Censorship) human rights organization in San Diego. She was born in Berkeley; a few years later her mom and dad relocated her and the family to Caracas (where her parents are from). When Groening was older, she attended protests against former President Chavez; in 2002 at one of the protest marches, she was hit by a marble pellet from a slingshot. "That’s when I thought, this is a pacifist protest and the people that support Chavez and his government come with a lot of rage.
"Chavez was going to be like a 'messiah or hero' but with Chavez as president, the corruption became worse, the people started getting poorer and the country became very dangerous."
In 2006, Groening returned to the U.S. and started her own family in Oceanside.
I met with Groening and her two daughters in 2017 for a previous Reader article.
"I like Guaidó. He is not only humble but he has been in protests like everyone else – and he is young, 35 years old. He has been suffering like everyone else and he has been in other people’s shoes."
Hugo Gabriel was at the waterpark gathering on Saturday; the last time he visited Venezuela was in 2013. "I got there a week prior to when the government announced that Chavez died. We all assumed that Chavez died three months earlier but the government couldn’t hide it anymore and had to make it public. Can you imagine a country without a President for three months? That’s surreal."
On April 19, 2013, then Vice President Maduro assumed office and became the president.
"I saw the country was so deteriorated that I knew inside of me that that was the last time in a long time that I was going to return. The streets were empty after 7-8 pm. Coming from the U.S., where supermarkets are full of different brands of food and products, in Venezuela there was only one brand of a product. It was hard to believe that people were fighting over a piece of chicken and meat because they didn’t know when the supermarket would have them available again ..... and I am talking about middle-class supermarkets."
“People are tired of living in that disastrous day-to-day situation,” Groening said in 2017. “People are being killed, kidnapped, and robbed at world-record rates and in Caracas, the capital city, the murder rate [is about] 150 per 100,000 inhabitants; one of the three highest in the world.”
Fast forward to February 2019, Groening said: "Last week we did another gathering where more than 250 people came to the Waterfront Park. We are doing this second gathering in support of Juan Guaidó and giving thanks to the countries that are supporting Juan Guaidó as a legitimate president of Venezuela. United States is having a big role in this because they were the first supporters – Trump and Pence already told Nicolas Maduro that he needs to leave the power."
On February 3, President Trump was featured on CBS's "Face the Nation." In the interview with Margaret Brennan, he said that U.S. military intervention in Venezuela is an “option” and said that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro requested a meeting “a number of months ago” and he declined.
According to other mainstream outlets, there are large pro-Maduro rallies and supporters; I Google-searched for San Diego based pro-Maduro advocates but had no luck in finding any.
"There may be Venezuelans in San Diego that support Maduro, but it may be a very small number and I don’t know them personally," Groening said. "I do know that in Venezuela, they did a manifestation and maybe in another area of the U.S. there [are supporters]. There are Americans that are confused because they think this was a coup against Maduro, [as-if] Guaidó took the power out of nowhere and wanted to substitute Maduro. One of our purposes is to educate people that this was not a coup, because under the Venezuelan constitution, it says that the president of the National Assembly can be an interim president while calling for elections."
"At this point Venezuela needs U.S. military intervention," Gabriel said. "They need humanitarian help – like what happened in Panamá with Noriega. I don’t agree with all the decisions that Trump makes, but I have to be honest and recognize that he has been a tremendous supporter of Venezuela and we are very grateful. I don’t think any other U.S. president would've taken the [stance] he is taking right now."
The waterpark gathering only lasted about 45 minutes (of the scheduled 90 minutes) because the temperatures dropped and the rain and winds intensified; Groening sent everybody home "for safety reasons."