BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The Carnival season is celebrated in many countries around the world, but one nation is suspending many of their festivities this year. Instead of revelry in the streets of Venezuela, there are thousands of protesters. According to the country's consulate office there are roughly 480 Venezuelans living in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans area. Many are watching the unrest in their homeland very closely.
"All the local media is completely shut down. Right now you turn the TV on and it's cartoons," said Guillermo Sanchez. Sanchez is the owner and Executive Chef of Lava Cantina in Baton Rouge.
With the socialist government in control of all media, Sanchez relies on social media to get the latest news on the revolt in the nation of 29 million. With a skyrocketing crime rate and inflation now over 50%, students took to the streets for peaceful protests. But some have turned violent, and at least 14 people have been killed, including a beauty queen and professional boxer.
"Actually one of the girls who died, I know her personally," Sanchez said. "The sad part is those killings have prevented more people to keep protesting, because their moms and dads tell their kids 'Don't do it, it's not worth it, your life is not worth it.' But others say 'No, it is because it's the only way we can change things.'"
Sullivan's Steakhouse General Manager Leo Verde now anxiously checks in with family members multiple times a day.
"People hate each other. It's never happened before. I'm 50 years old and I've never seen hatred out of Venezuelans toward Venezuelans," Verde said.
He says former president Hugo Chavez and his handpicked successor Nicolas Maduro have turned his beautiful oil-rich country into a communist state.
"We used to be the 1st producers of cattle and beef in all of South America. Now we don't have beef. There's no toilet paper," he said.
Now both men watch and wait, hoping this is the tipping point.
"More than worried I think I have hope, hope that this is finally going to make a difference, going to be able to change, we can actually have a normal government instead of the dictatorship we've been having over the last 15 years," Sanchez said.
"Young human lives are being wasted every day for no reason at all, and the world needs to be aware what's going on in Venezuela," he said.