Death comes at night in many of Caracas’ neighborhoods, when people protest against the Nicolas Maduro regime by banging on pots and pans. Soldiers and paramilitary gunmen appear suddenly, hunting opposition activists they call “the squalid ones.”
The beleaguered Maduro regime has answered the challenge posed by Juan Guaidó’s becoming interim president of Venezuela by stepping up attacks on opponents, green-lighting operations that increase the number of dead day by day, according to human rights organizations.
At least 29 deaths at the hands of regime forces had been registered as of 5 pm Friday, Marco Antonio Ponce, head of the Venezuelan Observatory for Social Conflict, said by phone from Caracas.
But the real number is believed to be higher. The tally does not include half a dozen victims who remain unidentified or dozens of others shot, wounded and fighting to survive.
The violence has started to trigger alarms abroad. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres Thursday called for a “transparent and independent” investigation of the protesters’ deaths.
That same day, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also expressed its concerns, even though the number of dead was lower at the time. The commission “is closely following the violent events in Venezuela, in the context of today’s protests, which have already left at least 16 dead, dozens of injured and arrests,” it wrote on its Twitter account.
Ponce and other groups that have studied the violence in Venezuela say the deaths are the result of government repression as well as extrajudicial executions during crack downs on the growing social unrest.
Such executions were first identified as part of a pattern during anti government protests in 2014, and by 2017 they had become a systematic part of the repression, Ponce said.
Two clear trends have emerged from the deaths in recent days. One is that the repression begins when protesters start banging their pots and pans from inside their homes.
Those kinds of protests usually start after sundown in less well-off Caracas neighborhoods once bastions of support for Chavismo.
“The security forces and the colectivos (paramilitary gangs that support the regime) arrive quickly and fire tear gas, buckshot and bullets at the homes,” Ponce said.
That has led neighborhood residents to look for ways to defend themselves, including the use of firearms. They also build street barricades in attempts to block the attackers from entering the area.
As a result, there have been a string of “confrontations of security forces and colectivo members against citizens, fostering a wave of violence,” Ponce added.
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