A Venezuelan activist, living in exile in South Florida, is going to Puerto Rico to help victims of Hurricane Maria, saying if he can’t help his countrymen, he wants to help someone.
In a small townhouse located on a dark street in the city of Doral, where other six people live, Juan Diego Amado spends his days lying in bed while his thoughts drift back to his hometown’s streets in Venezuela where he witnessed young warriors fight and die with the hope of a free country.
On a recent Thursday, the 32-year-old activist attended a meeting with an organization called Sunrisas. His eyes glowed as he said he was leaving to volunteer in Puerto Rico on Oct. 9th. It was the first time in a long time he felt optimistic after suffering from anxiety attacks and nightmares, he said.
Amado spent months taking part in street protests, ones he said looked more like outright warfare, where security forces shot rubber bullets, tear-gas, and even live ammunition. Amado was part of the Youth Resistance, a group of young fighters that marched in the streets carrying wooden shields and sticks as symbols of resistance. He said he always stood in the front line, and in his fight for his country’s freedom, he saw people die in front of him.
In August, he said came to the United States to avoid becoming another political prisoner.
“It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make,” Amado said. “But I knew I could do more from here than from a prison cell.”
Amado hid for three days after he was told the Venezuelan National Intelligence Services wanted to arrest him. According to Amado, officials entered his house and threatened his family in order to get his location. He left to Colombia and arrived two days later in Riohacha. After that, he said he made the decision to come to Miami.
“Of course I was scared,” Amado said. “But my conviction has always been much bigger than my fear. I grew up with the necessity to serve, to help people and through politics, I saw a way to do it. But I feel I can help more in the streets than by being a politician.”
He said he was considered a leader of the confrontations by many civilians. He started receiving attacks from the government once he started gaining recognition among protesters and in his social media accounts. He filmed and posted videos showing police brutality, which were reposted by international news agencies. The attacks against him slowly became more and more violent, he said.
Officials from the Venezuelan National Intelligence Service refused to give their names and made it clear they did not want to talk to a reporter. They’ve been asked about Amado several times, a man over the phone said with a hostile voice.
“There’s an arrest warrant for him but we all know the coward left the city,” the man said.
Amado said he has spent years helping people through the non-profit organization he founded in 2010 in Venezuela. After spending a month sleeping in his friend’s 3-year-old daughter’s room in Doral, he feels he finally has a purpose again, he said. His desire to help people is stronger than his fear.
“He’s been very involved helping the victims of the hurricanes. This is the first time I’m seeing him excited over something,” said Edward Garcia, one of Amado’s roommates. “I’ve been trying to cheer him up ever since he got here but he barely even spoke. He spent the entire day watching news and talking on the phone. I was a little worried but I just thought he felt homesick.”