Human rights groups and reporters on the ground confirmed on Wednesday the death of one person and over one hundred injured in protests against socialism in Venezuela, following an announcement by President Juan Guaidó on Tuesday that the nation’s troops had finally stopped answering to dictator Nicolás Maduro.
Guaidó urged civilians to take the streets and surround their local military outposts to support the soldiers who had accepted him as their commander in chief, as Maduro loyalists still remained at the very top rung of the military chain of command. An estimated thousands responded to Guaidó’s request, particularly in Caracas, where a small number of Maduro soldiers began shooting at protesters and running them over with armored vehicles.
The Venezuelan non-governmental organization (NGO) Provea reported on Wednesday that at least one man, identified as 24-year-old Samuel Enrique Méndez, was killed in the chaos following Guaidó’s declaration. The group did not specify how Méndez died, only that he lost his life in protests in Aragua state.
Venezuelans present in Aragua posted videos of individuals helping Méndez reach the local hospital, which failed to revive him. Those carrying him draped a Venezuelan flag over his body and sang Venezuela’s national anthem as they approached the hospital.
#30abril Asesinado Samuel Enrique Méndez de 24 años, durante protestas en la Ciudad socialista de La Victoria #Aragua. Momento cuando es ingresado al hospital Benítez. El joven es sobrino del diputado Ismael Garcia pic.twitter.com/OmGhPYRxod
— Gregoria Díaz (@churuguara) April 30, 2019
Pueblo de la Victoria lleva en hombros y rinde honor cantando el Himno Nacional de #Venezuela al joven Samuel Márquez (20 años) quien protestaba hoy, 30 abril en la #operacionlibertad #OperacionLibertadAragua información y video suministrado por .@jrramirezc pic.twitter.com/QG1gIlqvil
— Alexandra Belandia R (@abelandia) April 30, 2019
“Witnesses blame paramilitary colectivos,” Provea’s official Twitter account noted. Colectivos are armed chavista gangs that Maduro has for years used to intimidate, attack, and kill protesters. They are extremely effective against anti-socialist protesters because the regime of late dictator Hugo Chávez banned private gun ownership in the country, leaving law-abiding citizens ill-equipped to face off against socialist thugs who operate outside of the law.
Provea’s tally puts the death toll in protests against Maduro at 54 for 2019 so far, 80 percent of which were protesters killed by police, Maduro’s military, or colectivos.
Another 109 people have suffered injuries at the hands of Maduro’s forces, official troops and otherwise, according to the NGO. As there is at press time no available list of casualties, it remains uncertain how many were the product of Maduro-allied soldiers using armored vehicles to plow into the crowds in Caracas. As the situation appeared on video, at least two armored vehicles were used to attempt to injure and kill a crowd of protesters. At least one person can be seen falling under the armored vehicle in the footage.
NTN24, a Venezuelan outlet, caught up with protesters on the ground Tuesday. One of them, a young man identifying himself as Miguel Pérez, appeared in shock, repeatedly telling the cameras that the soldiers were running them over.
— NTN24 Venezuela (@NTN24ve) April 30, 2019
“They passed a small tank over them, they blew them up inside,” Pérez says. “They ran over a protester, a citizen, a Venezuelan who just thought we could do better … we need support.”
A Venezuelan NGO that focuses on tracking dissident arrests, the Venezuelan Penal Forum, reported on Wednesday that Maduro’s forces had taken 119 political prisoners in the past 24 hours, 11 of which were adolescents. The group did not specify how many of those were minors or what their alleged crimes were.
Among those arrested were at least 11 doctors. United Doctors of Venezuela, an advocacy group, confirmed that 11 of their members were now under the custody of Maduro’s police on Tuesday, arrested throughout the country. Most of the doctors were arrested in Zulia state, which has experienced the brunt of an electrical crisis that has left much of the country in the dark for months.
The total number of arrests represents a 15 percent increase in the number of political prisoners in the country in the past 24 hours. Alfredo Romero, the director of the Venezuelan Penal Forum, held a press conference Monday announced that the number of prisoners of conscience they had identified on the island stood to 775, a drop from the 1,683 people detained for their political beliefs in the aftermath of Guaidó’s inauguration in January
Romero emphasized that not all those arrested have vocally opposed Maduro.
“We have found some detentions that never cease to amaze, detentions of audio technicians who helped set up a sound system at a Juan Guaidó rally,” he noted.
Guaidó published a video late Tuesday once again urging Venezuelans to stay on the streets until Maduro officially left power. He refuted Maduro’s claims that the military remained loyal to him and published, on his Twitter account, a list of dozens of meeting points around the country for those who wished to join and support him.
Mañana continuamos con la ejecución de la #OperaciónLibertad. Iniciamos la fase final y estaremos de forma sostenida en las calles hasta lograr el cese de la usurpación.
— Juan Guaidó (@jguaido) May 1, 2019
In light of the violence on behalf of the Maduro regime, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated the longstanding Trump administration policy that U.S. troop intervention was possible.
“Military action is possible. If that is what is needed, that is what the United States will do,” Pompeo said on Tuesday night.