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Government-linked Venezuelans abroad are targeted with harassment

© AFP/File / by Leila MACOR | Venezuelan opposition activists protest against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, on May 15, 2017

MIAMI (AFP) - 

Protests against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro have unleashed a witch hunt abroad, with groups of emigrants identifying government-linked Venezuelans on social media and targeting them with insults and booing.

Opposition critics accuse these individuals -- known as Chavistas -- and their relatives of enjoying the fruits of living abroad as their home country spirals into crisis mode, with anti-Maduro protests leaving 42 people dead and hundreds more wounded and arrested since they began April 1.

The anger is intensifying on an international scale: in Miami, Florida last Sunday former Venezuelan minister Eugenio Vasquez Orellana and his partner were booed at a bakery and ultimately forced to leave.

Similar episodes have hit Chavistas and their relatives in Madrid, Spain and Sydney, Australia.

The public shaming "crosses the line," according to Eduardo Gamarra, a Latin American politics expert at Florida International University.

"If they have not violated any law in the United States and are here legally, they have every right to be where they want," he told AFP. "Bullying and reprisals are harassment and can have legal penalties."

But Jose Colina, who founded and directs the Organization of Venezuelans in Exile, said the public humiliations are a form of "justice."

"It is not tolerable that these individuals, after they destroyed the country, and are responsible for the chaos that Venezuela is experiencing, seek to exonerate themselves," he said.

"In Venezuela there is no justice -- the victims must do justice in our own way -- and these acts of repudiation are one of them," he said.

The phenomenon is not new but recently has gained visibility as tensions flare in Venezuela.

Protests at the homes and businesses of officials or ex-officials with links to Chavismo -- the left-wing ideology created by Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chavez -- are broadcast on social media via accounts dedicated to promoting the harassment of those individuals living abroad.

On Wednesday, Maduro denounced the fascist escalation" against his supporters, whom he called the "Jews of the 21st century."

Senior opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara meanwhile took to Twitter to speak out against the harassment, writing "it is not right, morally or politically, to harass the children of government officials."

by Leila MACOR

© 2017 AFP