Human rights group operating on the ground confirmed the deaths of four people Thursday since President Juan Guaidó announced the removal of socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela this week. The youngest protester killed was 14 years old.
Guaidó, who has been legally president since January but blocked from serving as Maduro refuses to leave the presidential palace, announced early Tuesday that the nation’s military leadership had finally agreed to no longer take orders from Maduro and recognize Guaidó as their commander in chief. Guaidó urged Venezuelans to take to the streets, flood the nation’s military bases, and help soldiers who wanted to oust Maduro stand their ground.
Maduro has responded by failing to leave Caracas and employing the forces loyal to him to brutally repress and kill civilians. At press time, he remains in the presidential palace, Miraflores, while Guaidó continues to urge civilians to take to the streets.
The Venezuelan Observatory for Social Conflict and the Venezuelan Penal Forum, two national non-governmental organizations (NGOs) tracking political repression, both published reports Thursday confirming four deaths in the Guaidó protests. The Observatory documented 239 injuries since Tuesday and both groups agreed on the identities of the four dead: 27-year-old Juribith [or Jurubith] Rausseo; Samuel Méndez, 24; Yosner Graterol, 16, and Yoifre Hernández Vásquez, 14.
The Venezuelan Observatory has documented 57 deaths at the hands of Maduro forces in protests in 2019.
“There has not been a use of proportional and targeted force,” Marco Antonio Ponce of the NGO said, according to the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional. “Security corps officers show up shooting their firearms [into crowds of protesters] ad that is why we have this lamentable number of dead. These people are using lethal force with the goal of murdering or doing the most damage possible to protesters.”
Footage coming out of Venezuela this week showed unarmed, peaceful protesters around the country facing off against tear gas, live fire into crowds, and armored vehicles plowing into them.
The Venezuelan Penal Forum documented 240 arrests of political prisoners since April 30 nationwide. Far west Zulia state recorded the highest number of arbitrary detentions at 92.
— Alfredo Romero (@alfredoromero) May 3, 2019
The Venezuelan news broadcaster NTN24 claims the death of a fifth person, 15-year-old Yonder Villasmil, who was reportedly present near a protest in Mérida state when Maduro forces gunned him down. The news agency did not confirm whether Villasmil was part of the protests. Venezuelan journalist Leonardo León reported that Villasmil was merely watching the protest, not partaking in it, when a member of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB), Maduro’s repressive domestic military, killed him. The killing appeared to take place after the NGOs published their tallies for Thursday, hence Villasmil’s absence on their lists.
#ATENCIÓN Yonder Villasmil, de 15 años, fue asesinado en la vía panamericana #Mérida, se encontraba cerca de una tranca en la entrada del Liceo Santa Elena de Arenales cuando cayó durante la represión de la GN el #1May pic.twitter.com/F7yxkAP6yq
— NTN24 Venezuela (@NTN24ve) May 3, 2019
All those killed are believed to have been shot to death.
José Hernández, father of 14-year-old Yoifre Hernández Vásquez, told Venezuelan reporters that he took his son to protest to Altamira, the flagship meeting point in the Caracas areas that Guaidó announced on Tuesday.
“When the repression began, he told me, ‘dad, I’m going forward,'” Hernández said. “I was at the top of [Altamira] and I saw some paramedics take him away to a clinic.”
Maduro’s forces – many of them teenagers themselves – have targeted children for assassination for years. Among the earliest and most prominent victims of this tactic was 14-year-old Kluiverth Roa, who was shot to death in 2015 while walking home from school in western Táchira state. Spotting police brutally attacking a protest, Roa’s last words were reportedly “stop the repression!” before a GNB officer shot him.
Venezuelan NGO Provea published a year-long tally finding that Maduro’s forces and the roving socialist gangs known as colectivos have killed 57 people since the beginning of the year. Most were shot to death and the victims range in age from 14 to 68 years old. The vast majority were men or boys. Of those killed this week, only one, Rausseo, was a woman.
While his forces were killing minors, Maduro spent Thursday at a socialist event announcing funding for youth programs. State propaganda network VTV reported that Maduro announced 2 million bolivars ($325.83) in funding to reward members of socialist indoctrination groups.
“We will finance these young people, we will give them land to produce, as this is a grand plan of change and rectification,” Maduro reportedly said.
Aprobé recursos por más de Bs. 2 mil 900 millones para fortalecer la capacidad productiva de la juventud venezolana e impulsar Programas y Proyectos de la Gran Misión Chamba Juvenil en los 24 estados del País. ¡Juventud Productiva! pic.twitter.com/zScbHxoV77
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) May 3, 2019
Late Thursday, Guaidó used Twitter to urge Venezuelans to remain in the streets and protest, but suggested they attempt to avoid situations where Maduro forces could easily kill them.
“I asked all of you to maintain the massive, peaceful character of the protest and not put your lives at risk,” Guaidó wrote. “We will win this struggle by keeping the weapons from turning on the people.”