National Guard Sargent Second Class Giovanni Pantoja was killed in El Trigal, Valencia, during a confrontation with protesters this afternoon. He was shot by a bullet which struck him “in one of his eyes”. A second soldier was struck in the leg by a bullet, possibly during the same disturbance.
The video below shows a group of National Guard soldiers in a confrontation with an unseen force down the street. At the end of the video, you can see a group of soldiers dragging a dead or injured companion to safety:
Anecdotally, I know exactly where this event took place. The building on the left through the video is a bodega. My family and I have walked down this same street to that bodega hundreds of times.
We’ve been in contact with our family throughout the evening, and the fear they and their neighbours have is that the National Guard will attempt to take some sort of retaliation against the neighbourhood for the death of the sergeant. Naturally, given the seriousness of the situation, we’re hearing a lot of rumours of large concentrations of National Guard in the area, but it’s all very hard to confirm at this time.
Judging from the fact that there were demonstrations yesterday and there appear to be many today as well, it looks like people are less willing to let this go on account of the carnaval than some might have thought (or hoped). I’m seeing the usual suspects on the list of “places with protests” today: Valencia, Caracas, Maracaibo, and Maracay.
Here are a couple of pictures from today, playing on the uncertainty regarding the protests continuing through this holiday weekend.
From Puerto Cabello, where some people showed up to protest in bathing suits. The white sign on the right says “Welcome, This year your beach is the street”:
There was no information posted along with this picture, but it shows the same sentiment as the one above:
And this sign (which I believe is from a demonstration in Las Mercedes, Caracas today), which reads, “We’re not ‘missing’ Carnaval, we live with a clown president”
And this is a picture from the demonstration in Las Mercedes today:
One from Valencia, at around noon today:
Today Henrique Capriles said about the protests, “Protests have a peak and things calm down, but this will continue because the economic crisis will lead to an economic crisis and Nicolas [Maduro] is not doing anything to avoid an economic crisis.” He continued, “This isn’t a game of strength. The government has the strength [force/power]. This is a game of ability.”
He also made this prediction: “If things continue this way, the government will continue to eat itself away, until we get to a moment like el Caracazo. This could take a week, a month, we don’t know.”
This is a video montage put together by the Ministerio Publico (Public Ministry) of footage taken by several security cameras in Caracas on February 12. The video is really interesting because it captures from new angles the demonstration that lead to the deaths of Juan Montoya and Bassil Da Costa.
There are the events the cameras captured:
- A colectivo armado on the move down a street at 0:22.
- The same colectivo retreating “after exchanging rocks” with unseen protesters around 0:40.
- Some members of the colectivo firing on protesters and a residence starting at 1:18.
- A new group of armed men entering the same street and firing on protesters starting at 2:05.
- A pickup truck entering the same street from an area that was blocked off by the National Guard (implying that the National Guard let this truck through) at 2:49.
- That same truck returned the way it came, and this time it was transporting an injured Juan Montoya, who subsequently died at 3:18.
- A group of students throwing rocks at security forces/the colectivo armado on the same street but from a different camera at 3:47.
- The same group of students is fired upon after moving towards SEBIN agents and colectivo members.
- Bassil Da Costa is struck by a bullet in the head, killing him instantly starting at 4:32. At 4:58, the video points out that Neixer Arellano was shot in the left leg and Nicolas Yanes was shot in the left ankle, presumably while transporting Bassil.
- After the body of Bassil is removed from the scene by the students, a vehicle with SEBIN agents enters the street at 5:25.
- Starting at 5:47, you can see SEBIN agents picking up shell casings from the ground and pointing them out to other agents for pick-up.
The death of the Sergeant Pantoja is an escalation. The government line that violent fascists are behind the protests finally has traction. With this death, Venezuela has taken one step closer to a much darker, much more damaging scenario than the one it finds itself in now. Far away as that scenario might still be, each step closer to it warrants sombre reflection.