Lucas Koerner | Caracas | Venezuelanalysis
Four people were killed across Venezuela Monday in the latest round of violent anti-government protests convened by the opposition.
Protesters took to the streets to block roads and highways throughout the South American country in a “great national sit-in” organized by the right-wing opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD).
According to National Assembly Vice-President and hard-right Popular Will party leader Freddy Guevara, the goals of the mobilization were to “unmask the true face of the dictatorship” and “create ungovernability”. The opposition coalition called on its supporters to take to the streets indefinitely at the beginning of April in a bid to force early presidential elections among other demands.
While turnout was significantly smaller than previous mobilizations last week, the day was punctuated by deadly violence.
Two dead, three wounded by sniper fire in Merida
According to National Ombudsman Tarek William Saab, two Merida state government workers were killed and three more wounded when a pro-government rally reportedly came under sniper fire from a nearby apartment complex in the southwestern Andean state.
Jesus Leonardo Sulbaran, 42, was shot in the head and died Monday afternoon, while Luis Alberto Marquez died of a gunshot wound to the occipital lobe at 1:30am Tuesday morning. Merida public transit worker and University of Los Andes student Daniel Infante was also shot in the head during the rally and is currently in critical condition.
Jesus Leonardo Sulbaran, 42, was shot in the head in an alleged sniper attack. (@GobAlexisR)
Merida Governor Alexis Ramirez accused the opposition of perpetrating the attack, dispelling rumors circulating on social media that the killings were carried out by pro-government “colectivos”.
“They are manipulating on social media spreading false information that Chavista colectivos [are responsible]. We want to refute this: they are state government workers who were massacred in the sit-in launched by the right-wing, where they are taking away the people of Merida’s right to free transit,” he declared in a public statement.
The governor also indicated that the state ombudsman, Camilo Bastos, was grazed by a bullet during the altercation. Venezuela’s Public Prosecution has dispatched national and state attorneys to investigate the incident.
One dead, five injured in Lara
Meanwhile, in Lara state, a youth was killed under unclear circumstances during an anti-government protest in the town of Tocuyo, Lara state.
Protesters turned violent Monday evening, besieging the local town hall with homemade explosives and reportedly setting the entrance ablaze, confirmed Mayor Teodulo Medina, who reportedly had to call in army personnel to protect the building.
Anti-government demonstrators set fire to the town hall in Tocuyo. (Alba Ciudad)
Orlando Johan Jhosep Medina, 23, was shot in the face with a shotgun round at approximately 12:30 am, resulting in his near immediate death. Medina was the son of a local Chavista leader and employee of the Municipal Council of Moran. He is reported to have been demonstrating at the time of his death. A district attorney has been comissioned to investigate the homicide and 14 arrest orders have been issued.
According to Lara Educational Director Mirna Vies, a local government food warehouse was also ransacked Monday evening by demonstrators, who reportedly stole 40 tons of food items earmarked for 175 educational institutions in the region of Moran.
A Mercal government food warehouse was ransacked. (Alba Ciudad)
Another local business, known as Café Cardinal, was looted during the unrest.
In a separate incident in the Lara municipality of Iribarren, a 16-year-old was allegedly shot and wounded by National Guard personnel, family members have told local media. Authorities have yet to issue a public statement.
In Barquisimeto, four National Guardsmen were reportedly injured during a confrontation with anti-government protesters who blocked a bridge and attacked bystanders with gasoline. One official was wounded by gunfire and the other three by blunt objects.
One killed, three wounded in Barinas
In Barinas state, Venezuela’s Public Prosecution has dispatched national and state prosecutors to investigate the death of Renzo Rodriguez Roda, 54, who died of a gunshot wound to the chest near the town hall of Bolivar municipality.
The circumstances surrounding the killing remain unclear, though both the state governor and the opposition hold each other responsible.
Three other people were wounded in the southwestern state, including a National Guard lieutenant coronel and a police officer, who was hit by a bullet in the neck.
Vandalism and destruction in Caracas
In the capital, opposition demonstrators once again shut down the Francisco Fajardo Highway, setting up burning barricades with tubes, tires, rails, fences, and other items.
According to Transport and Public Works Minister Ricardo Molina, opposition supporters broke into a maintenance depot belonging to the ministry, where they reportedly caused severe damage to the installation and vehicles.
Protesters damaged government vehicles. (Wilmer Errades/AVN)
Among the damaged vehicles were freight trucks, tow trucks, a tractor-trailer, a tanker truck, and an ambulance, resulting in an estimated US $430,000 in losses, not including additional damages to facilites.
The minister additionally indicated that protesters had stolen barrels of motor oil from the depot, which they proceeded to dump over the highway.
Demonstrators soak highways in motor oil. (Wilmer Errades/AVN)
Additionally, President Nicolas Maduro confirmed Tuesday evening that the total cost of damages resulting from over three weeks of opposition demonstrations had reached US $140 million.
Venezuelan AG: 26 killed since April 3
During a press conference in Caracas on Tuesday, Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz confirmed that 26 people had been killed since violent anti-government protests began on April 3, including 22 adults and 4 adolescents.
Among the dead are seven people killed directly by opposition protesters as well as three individuals killed by authorities, for which three police officers have been indicted and 14 arrest orders issued.
Ortega additionally revealed that 437 people had been injured in the unrest, including 182 cases of common crimes and 247 violations of fundamental rights.
Likewise, the top prosecutor disclosed that 1289 people have been arrested, of whom 217 will have preliminary hearings this Tuesday. Sixty-five people have been indicted and jailed, including 9 in relation to the April 8 attack on the Supreme Court’s administrative office in Chacao and 10 in connection with the violent incidents in El Valle on April 20.
Ortega vowed carry out her constitutional duty to uphold justice and prevent impunity “without any kind of political discrimination”.
She also placed a call for national “dialogue” as the only solution the current standoff, warning “politics must not drive us to war”.
“No one wishes upon this country a scenario of civil war and, even less, foreign intervention…I repudiate it,” she declared.
The MUD has announced another day of protest for Wednesday in which it has convened its supporters to march to western Caracas, despite failing to unveil the final destination “for strategic reasons”.
The western Caracas municipality of El Libertador has denied the MUD permission to march to the city’s working class, traditionally Chavista downtown since a thwarted 2002 coup attempt triggered by a diverted anti-government march to Miraflores Presidential Palace that saw 18 killed by opposition sniper fire.