Venezuelans took to the streets of their cities and towns today in an unprecedented 90th consecutive day of protest against the regime of president Nicolas Maduro.
The protests, which began on April 1 in rejection of a pair of Supreme Court rulings that essentially stripped the National Assembly of all of its power, have left at least 80 people dead as the regime turns to increasing brutality to repress the largely peaceful demonstrations.
The Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) called on Venezuelans today to march to their local offices of the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), the country’s electoral body. The march was organized in rejection of the election for the Constituent Assembly, which is scheduled to take place on July 30.
A deeply unpopular measure, the Constituent Assembly will likely result in a new national constitution, a move that critics of the regime have decried as a naked attempt by Maduro and the PSUV to cement dictatorship in Venezuela.
90th Day of Protest Marked by Familiar Marches, Repression
In Caracas, protesters were out in the Altamira neighbourhood of the city prior to the start of the march to the CNE offices. Shortly after 9:00 AM, a garbage truck pulled up to a busy intersection in the area and dumped trash on the road to block traffic in the area:
Later in the day, protesters marched in the rain towards the east of the city, hoping to reach the CNE offices:
A group of protesters stopped at the spot where Neomar Lander was killed on June 6 after being shot in the chest by a tear canister fired by a National Guard soldier:
National Guard Attack Journalists, Prevent Them From Conducting Duty
In Caracas, the march to the CNE took protesters onto the Francisco Fajardo highway, which connects the eastern and western parts of Caracas.
In the early afternoon, National Guard soldiers began firing tear gas at journalists who had congregated in the area to cover the march, and prevented them from covering the event.
Below, a group of journalists is shrouded in tear gas along the highway:
The video below shows National Guard soldiers shoving the journalists away from the highway:
20+ Students Arrested, Taken Away in White Unmarked Van
A group of at least 20 students was arrested in the El Rosal neighbourhood of the city today for participating in today’s protest. The students were taken away in a white, unmarked van.
The students had apparently attempted to escape the repression on the street by fleeing into a bank. Shortly thereafter, National Bolivarian Police officers entered the bank, robbed the students of their cell phones and other belongings, and arrested them.
According to the Federacion de Centros de Estudiantes [Federation of Student Centres], 15 of the students attend the Universidad Simon Bolivar, while the others attend other institutions in the area.
In the video below, the students yell the name of their university (Simon Bolivar) to the press as they are taken to a waiting van:
The video below shows National Bolivarian Police officers loading the students into the van:
The video below shows a thick cloud of tear gas choking the air as the last students are loaded in the cramped van. As the tear gas engulfs the van, the officers begin to close the doors:
The video below shows the van driving away, followed by a large contingent of National Bolivarian Police officers:
The image below shows some of the students in detention, waiting to be loaded into the van:
The students were arrested as part of a wave of repression that swept through the neigbourhood in the early afternoon. Security forces fired tear gas indiscriminately in the area, affecting even people who were not participating in the protest. The images below show people affected by the tear gas in the area this afternoon:
Unrest, Arrests Elsewhere
As usual, Caracas was not the only place in Venezuela that saw unrest today.
On Margarita island, protesters also attempted to reach the regional headquarters of the CNE. The image below shows a group of protesters on the island facing off against security forces, with a cloud of tear gas in the background:
Three More Killed in Unrest Bring Death Toll to 6 in 36 Hours
Yesterday, three people lost their lives in the protests and looting events that have become characteristic of Venezuelan streets over the past three months.
Late last night, El Nacional added two more individuals to the list of fatalities, with another fatality announced this afternoon.
The first was an 18 year old man named Victor Betancourt, who was killed while protesting in the city of Cumana, Sucre state. No further details on his death are available at this time.
The second was a 20 year old man named Luis Paz, who was killed last night after being run over by a vehicle in Maracaibo, Zulia state. Paz was allegedly part of a group of protesters who had blocked a road on the Circunvalacion 1 area of the city.
The third was a 19 year old student named Alfredo Figuera, who was shot in the head while protesting in El Limon, Aragua state on Tuesday June 27. Figuera was declared brain dead on Wednesday, and died this afternoon.
The total number of people killed in the unrest since April 1 now sits at 83.
Public Ministry Charges Former NG Chief with “Systematic Human Rights Violations”
The Public Ministry has formally charged General Antonio Jose Benavides Torres with the “commission of serious and systematic human rights violations” over his handling of the anti-regime protests. Until June 21, Benavides Torres was the commander of the National Guard, which is the main repressive force in Venezuela.
On that day, Maduro shuffled his cabinet and named Benavides Torres the Chief of the Capital District, which is an administrative region that includes all of Caracas.
According to the Public Ministry, Benavides Torres’ role as the head of the National Guard during much of the anti-regime protests resulted in a series of crimes, including:
… the excessive use of force during the repression of protests, the use of non-authorized firearms, the improper use of equipment [Note: this could mean using shields to beat protesters, for example], the cruel treatment and torture of detained persons, as well as warrantless raids and damages to property, among others.
Benavides Torres has been summoned to appear before the Public Ministry to answer to the charges on Wednesday, July 5 at 10:00 AM. It is unlikely that he will comply with the order.
The Public Ministry also said that there were currently 450 open cases under investigation for “violations against fundamental rights”, including 23 cases involving death.
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