WARNING: This update contains graphic images of severely injured and potentially deceased protesters.
Venezuelans took to the streets of their cities and towns today to take part in a massive protest never before seen in the country: the Gran Plantón Nacional, or “Great National Sit-In”. The protest, the details of which were revealed yesterday by Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD), involved citizens sitting down to block traffic on the country’s main road arteries.
Since organized sit-ins of this scale have not taken place in Venezuela before, the MUD stressed the nature of the event throughout the day yesterday. Among the main points the MUD wanted Venezuelans to understand was that the sit-ins would be peaceful and last the whole day, that everyone had to come prepared with food and water, and that the sit-ins could not involve physical objects like cars or tree branches.
Some images from early in the day show crowds of demonstrators, some standing and some sitting, seemingly confused by the nature of the sit-in. By the early afternoon, specially in Caracas, the event was fully underway as planned. In Caracas, the main sit-in was at the Altamira interchange of the Francisco Fajardo highway. Below, a show of the crowd there in the early afternoon:
The creative and camaraderie of protesters was in full display today, as participants walked on uncharted territory together.
An acrobat, draped in the Venezuelan flag, set up a performance ring from an overpass while demonstrators sang folk songs and enjoyed her performance:
Demonstrators passed the time by reading books, chatting and playing card games on the pavement:
At approximately 2:30 PM, National Assembly vice-president Freddy Guevara spoke to the crowd at the Altamira interchange. During his speech, he called for more peaceful street action against the Maduro regime, and said that “there will be no return to normal as long as the dictatorship exists”. The picture below shows Guevara, wearing glasses, speaking to demonstrators:
A video showing the mass of protesters at the Altamira interchange in Venezuela. The man speaking seems to be either Freddy Guevara or National Assembly president Miguel Pizarro:
In Maracaibo, Zulia state, demonstrators participated in the event during a torrential downpour:
A video from El Trigal, Valencia, in Carabobo state from around the noon hour:
As Night Falls, Barricades Begin to Come Up
Despite the fact that the MUD was adamant that today’s sit-in could not involve any type of physical objects, Twitter users from around the country are reporting barricades coming up as night begins to fall.
Below, an overturned vehicle on the Francisco Fajardo highway is on fire at approximately 5:30 PM:
The video below shows a barricade including burning tires on the Francisco Fajardo highway, with the main sit-in down the road:
Capriles: Protesters “Murdered” In Merida, Barinas States
Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles tweeted this message at approximately 4:40 PM EST time:
WARNING: I’m told that more Venezuelans have been murdered by paramilitary groups in Merida and Barinas! Many injured!
While the national media has not picked up the story yet, Twitter users began sending messages, videos and pictures of what appear to be gunshot victims at a demonstration in the state late this afternoon. The video below is being circulated as showing medics taking away a 26-year-old student who was shot in the head by a pro-regime militia in Merida earlier today;
Several images circulated on Twitter show an individual who has been identified as a university student named Daniel Infante, laying on the floor suffering from trauma to the head. Below, the images:
El Nacional also reports that two more people may have been killed by pro-regime militias during unrest in Barinas state, although no more information on the cases is available at this time.
Guevara: Calling Elections “Won’t Stop Protests”
At the concentration in Altamira today, National Assembly VP Freddy Guevara told demonstrators that the MUD would not sit down to dialogue with the PSUV anymore, given the regime’s proven track record of calling for dialogues in order to relieve pressure on itself, and of making promises only to break them later. For Guevara, the PSUV only wants dialogue “to demobilize [the opposition] and buy time”.
Guevara also stressed a point he made in recent weeks, which is that the opposition will not stop its campaign of peaceful street protests even if the regime calls for elections, since other demands have to be met as well, including freeing all political prisoners in the country and removing the magistrates from the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court.
For his part, National Assembly deputy Henry Ramos Allup told reporters earlier today that Venezuelans had to be hesitant about any call for dialogue from the PSUV, since Maduro “is a con-man and a liar”. Allup said:
The best dialogue we could have is to call elections, free political prisoners, respect the National Assembly and open up a humanitarian corridor.
Sporadic Violence Marks Protests in Other Cities
While the demonstration in Caracas was largely peaceful, regime authorities violently repressed sit-ins in other parts of the country.
In Barquisimeto, Lara state, demonstrators and National Guard soldiers fought on the Macuto bridge:
National Guard soldiers dispersed protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets on the main highway connecting Guarenas and Guatire, just west of Caracas:
In San Carlos, Cojedes states, demonstrators sat on a road and raised their hands in a gesture of peace before a row of heavily-armed National Guard soldiers:
Somewhere in Delta Amacuro state (likely Tucupita), a crowd of pro-regime supporters (wearing red, the PSUV’s colour) attacked opposition demonstrators as they performed the sit-in:
NGO: NBP “Special Brigade” Repressed Protest in La California
The Programa Venzolano de Educacion Accion en Derechos Humanos (PROVEA), a Venezuelan NGO, alleged today that a “special brigade” of the National Bolivarian Police (NBP) was involved in protest-repression activities in La California, Caracas.
Through its Twitter account, PROVEA provided these images of police officers it claims are from the NBP’s Direccion Contra la Delinquencia Organizada [Organized Crime Directorate]:
The officers are not wearing the uniforms that NBP officers wear when policing protests. NBP officers wear bright reflective vets and tan shirts, as in the image below:
Below, a video of the “special brigade” officers repressing protesters in La Candelaria, Caracas early this morning:
Woman Dies After Suffering Head Injury on April 18
47-year-old Almelina Carrillo Virguez died last night after suffering a head injury during a pro-regime demonstration in Caracas on April 18. On that day, Virguez was taking part in a pro-regime march in the La Candelaria neighbourhood, when someone throw an ice-filled bottle from a building onto the regime supporters. The bottle struck Virguez in the head.
Virguez’s death marks the 20th protest-related fatality in the month of April.
National Assembly vice-president Freddy Guevara reacted to the announcement of Virguez’s death by saying:
We are sorry to hear about the murder of Almelina Carrillo. Violence cannot be the way we choose as a people to work out our conflicts. Democracy!
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