Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz held a press conference today in which she confirmed the fact that Juan Pablo Pernalete, a 20-year-old student killed during a protest in Caracas on April 26, died as a consequence of having a tear gas canister fired at his chest from close range. Diaz also confirmed that the tear gas canister had been fired by a National Guard soldier.
Diaz’s comments become the definitive, official version of Pernalete’s killing, and directly refute a host of theories put forward by other regime officials that sought to absolve the authorities of responsibility in his death.
During her press conference, Diaz said that five eye witnesses to Pernalete’s killing had come forward, and that forensic tests had determined that Pernalete had suffered fatal shock to his chest.
Diaz also stressed that a medical examination of the bruising on Pernalete’s chest match the dimensions of a tear gas canister, and that chemicals found on tear gas canisters were also found on the shirt that Pernalete was wearing when he was killed.
Holding a tear gas canister in her hand, Diaz said:
Pernalete was hit by an object (…) After a series of examinations on the body and the testimony of five witnesses, the presence of residue on [his] t-shirt matches the components of a tear gas canister which, by the way, is heavy.
Diaz also provided an official update on figures pertaining to the last two months of unrest, including:
- 55 fatalities (52 civilians and 3 police officers)
- Over 1,000 injuries (771 civilians).
- 1,475 protest-related criminal investigations, including 1,329 for “crimes against persons” and 150 for property damage.
- 165 “open investigations” involving “armed civilian groups”.
AG Diaz’s Confirmation Puts to Rest Regime Theories
Pernalete’s death struck a never with Venezuelans as emblematic of the senseless loss of life caused by the Maduro regime’s violent repression of protests.
While media reports immediately after Pernalete’s death became known cited eye witnesses as claiming that he had been struck in the chest by a tear gas canister at point-blank range, the regime quickly went on the offensive to refute the story.
Just a few hours after Pernalete died, PSUV vice president Diosdado Cabello said on his weekly television show that Pernalete could not have been killed by a tear gas canister, since National Guard soldiers were “far away” from the neighbourhood in which Pernalete was killed at the time of his death. Cabello’s assertion was disproven a day later, when previously unreleased video showing Pernalete’s last moments alive showed thick clouds of tear gas in his vicinity.
Later, the regime conceded that Pernalete had in fact been killed when he was struck in the chest by an object, but that the object that struck him could not have been a tear gas canister. On April 29, Minister of Communication and Information Ernesto Villegas showed images that he claimed pointed to the “strong possibility” that Pernalete had been killed by a captive bolt weapon, like the ones used to kill livestock.
AG Diaz: Military Courts for Civilians are Illegal
During the same press conference, Diaz spoke on the use of military tribunals to try protesters, a move that she pointed out violated “several” constitutional principles.
Diaz, who as attorney general heads the Public Ministry, also attempted to set the record straight on which government body is in charge of wielding justice:
The Public Ministry is the arm of justice, governance and legality [to] guarantee peace.
As attorney general, Diaz heads the Public Ministry, which is the government body in charge of the administration of justice.
As of last week, at least 200 civilians had been tried by military tribunals in the country, a move that is illegal according to both Venezuelan law and international human rights principles.
Power Outage in Caracas Leaves Hospital in the Dark
A power outage that affected large sections of Caracas this morning left the J.M. de los Rios Children’s Hospital in the dark, leaving healthcare workers to work by flashlight.
The video below shows doctors performing a medical procedure by flashlight at the hospital this morning:
The video below shows more scenes from the hospital in the dark:
Hospital staff were also forced to pump air into the lungs of some patients by hand, since respiration machines at the hospital do not have batteries that would allow them to operate during an outage.
Panic in Caracas School as Tear Gas Crowd Engulfs Recess Yard
Teachers and students at the Instituto Humanidad in the Montalban neighbourhood of Caracas lived through tense moments today as tear gas fired by National Guard soldiers engulfed the schoolyard during recess.
The school principal told El Nacional:
We were having recess when they started to yell, “tear gas!”, and we had to lock the children in a classroom with air conditioning.
The principal also told the newspaper that she at one point in her life supported Chavez, but that she has become disillusioned with the Bolivarian revolution. She said:
I used to be a chavista but this isn’t what they promised us. They [state security forces] have to side with the people because those who hold power have food and medicine, but the people do not.
A teacher by the name of Hernan Gonzalez told the newspaper that the school was eventually evacuated due to the persistence of the toxic gas. Gonzalez said:
We had to take the children out through the back door. We had to call their guardians to come pick them up.
The image below allegedly show National Assembly deputy Richard Blanco carrying a student away from the school during the evacuation:
All throughout the morning, National Guard soldiers clashed with protesters in the neighbourhood. The videos below shows a group of protesters getting tear gassed in the area at around noon this morning:
Unrest, Violent Repression Continue in Caracas
At least 82 people were injured today during unrest in Caracas as state authorities prevented an opposition march from reaching the offices of the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) in the western part of the city today.
Today’s protests was the 54th consecutive anti-regime street action that the city has seen this year.
In the Bello Monte neighbourhood of the city, a Voluntad Popular (VP) coordinator named Jean Mayora was shot, presumably by either the National Guard or National Bolivarian Police forces that were repressing protesters in the area at the time. The image below shows Mayora being taken away to receive medical care on a motorcycle. He appears to have been shot in the wrist:
Below, footage of a National Guard shield wall and armored truck engaged in a skirmish with protesters in Bello Monte:
In the early afternoon, an armed individual fired a weapon into the air in an attempt to disperse the crowd of opposition demonstrators. The individual was photographed by journalists from the NTN24 news network, and can be seen below:
The video below shows protesters running after the armed individual in an attempt to capture him. The armed individual managed to escape:
The video below shows panicked protesters leaping off an overpass on the Francisco Fajardo highway in Caracas in a desperate attempt to evade the authorities that were repressing the protest:
Below, protesters flee as National Guard soldiers saturate the area with tear gas:
Protesters Killed in Trujillo, Bolivar
Unrest in the town of Valera, Trujillo state claimed the life of a man named Anderson Abreu Pacheco during the overnight hours. Abreu’s death was confirmed by the mayor of Valera, Jose Karkom. The circumstances of Abreu’s death are not entirely clear.
Valera was the site of significant unrest last night.
Below, an image of a bank on fire in the town last night:
The town’s city hall was also attacked, allegedly by pro-regime armed civilian groups known locally as colectivos armados (“armed groups”):
Meanwhile, in Bolivar state, a 22 year old man named Augusto Puga was shot in the head during a protest in Ciudad Bolivar and died in a local hospital shortly after the event. Puga was a student at the Universidad de Oriente.
These two latest deaths bring the total number of fatalities since anti-regime protests began on April 1 to 60.
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