Actress and singer Maria Conchita Alonso stood amid hundreds of fired-up Venezuelan-Americans in front of the White House Friday afternoon, holding her rescue Chihuahua Tequila with her right hand and an American flag in her left. She raised the flag to her lips.
“They’re going to kill me, those Communists!” she said gleefully.
Born in Cuba, raised in Venezuela, now an American citizen based in Los Angeles after 30 or so years in this country, Alonso was on a grueling two-day tear through Washington to advocate for U.S. sanctions against the Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro. Government forces have abused protesters demonstrating in several cities, according to human rights observers. At least 41 people have been killed since February, including nine security officers. Alonso wore a sticker with the hashtag of a bourgeoning expatriate protest movement, #SOSVenezuela.
She’s been an outspoken foe of late Hugo Chavez and his successor for years — remember her celebrated shouting match with Sean Penn in LAX in 2011? Penn has expressed support for the social goals of the Bolivarian Republic. In chummier times, the pair co-starred in the 1988 film “Colors.” Alonso also starred in “Moscow on the Hudson” (1984) with Robin Williams, and on Broadway in a production of “Kiss of the Spider Woman” in 1995, and she has appeared in numerous other films and television shows.
On Thursday, she unveiled for lawmakers on Capitol Hill her new video of the song “Escucha Mi Eco” — “Hear My Echo” — in support of the student demonstrators. The video shows Alonso sitting on a motor cycle and strumming a guitar on Mulholland Drive overlooking the San Fernando Valley — “You know why? It looks like Caracas!” The piece cuts to scenes apparently of Venezuelan security forces attacking demonstrators.
Alonso was up past midnight Thursday, communicating with students in Venezuela and sending emails to reporters. By early drive time Friday, she was chatting with Washington disc jockey Pedro Biaggi on radio El Zol 107.9. Then it was back to the Hill — Tequila in tow — where proposed sanctions legislation was advancing in Congress.
And now here she was on the pedestrian portion of Pennsylvania Avenue NW, alternately accommodating fan requests for selfies and talking about the issue, as Tequila lolled contentedly. The dog was named for the beverage she had sipped just before making the trip to the shelter to make the adoption a few years ago. Tequila was wearing a tag that said, “Emotional Support Animal,” which Alonso said was handy in getting the Chihuahua past security into federal buildings.
“The important thing here is we need the world to know what’s going on and for the Venezuelans to know that they are not alone,” she said. “No matter where we are in whatever part of the world, we are sending our echo, and the more we talk, the bigger the echo will become.”
A spokeswoman for the Venezuelan Embassy said that since that nation currently does not have an ambassador in the U.S., the embassy could make no comment on Alonso’s activities nor on the demonstration in Washington. She said a comment from the government in Caracas was pending.
Then Alonso was off to an interview with the Voice of America, and planning later to attend a rally outside the Organization of American States. Meanwhile, more demonstrators streamed onto Pennsylvania Avenue. They had come by bus and car from 19 states, making it the broadest representation of Venezuelans in this country ever, declared Ernesto Ackerman, a medical equipment salesman from Miami. He acknowledged that it may not have been the largest rally number-wise, since a Venezuelan demo in Miami alone can get awfully huge.
The crowd carried American and Venezuelan flags, and sang the sonorous Venezuelan national anthem, twice. They carried signs in English — “Sanction violators of human rights” — and chanted in Spanish — “Who are we? Venezuela! What do we want? Liberty!”
The sanctions bills would cut visas for certain officials and freeze assets.
“We don’t want to hurt our brothers down there,” Ackerman said. “We want to get those sanctions to the people who are the dictators.”