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Protests Still Spreading in Venezuela, Despite Political Repression

Illustration by Leonardo González. Used with permission.

Protests are spreading across Venezuela, and the number of deaths is only rising, as the crisis between the government and the opposition boils over.

Both the Bolivarian National Guard and government-sponsored armed forces have been accused of attempted assassinations. Social media users and non-governmental organizations have also recorded a slew of human rights violations. According to Amnesty International's report on Venezuela, the police are taking protesters to military courts, where they can be arrested without evidence:

Las autoridades venezolanas están utilizando el sistema de justicia de manera ilegal para incrementar la persecución y los castigos contra quienes piensan diferente [Acciones ilegales con el fin de reprimir] incluyen las detenciones sin órdenes judiciales por parte del Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional (SEBIN), el procesamiento de activistas pacíficos por delitos “contra la patria” y la imposición de medidas de prisión preventiva sin justificación y campañas difamatorias en medios de comunicación contra miembros de la oposición, entre otras medidas.

The Venezuelan authorities are illegally using the justice system to augment the persecution and incarceration of those who think differently, including the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN), arresting without warrants, prosecuting peaceful activists for crimes “against the nation,” and implementing unjustified preventative detention methods and slanderous campaigns across media platforms against opposition members, among other such methods.

As unrest has spread, Internet users have circulated some of the most vivid imagery from protests. For example, a woman dubbed “María José” to protect her anonymity, recently channeled the famous scene from Tiananmen Square, stopping a Bolivarian National Guard armored car by standing in its path.

Hans Wuerich proved his fearlessness in another way, showing up to protests naked from the socks up, carrying nothing but a Bible. Police later sprayed his body with rubber bullets.

The hashtag “That Could Have Been Me,” (#PudeHaberSidoYo) was also widely spread on social media and used as a slogan by a group of artists protesting in front of the Ombudsman Office. The phrase comes from Yibram Saab Fornino, the son of Venezuelan Ombudsman Tarek William Saab, who made a public video asking his father to end the police crackdown on demonstrators, and mentioned the case of Juan Pernalete, who died after being hit in the chest by a tear gas bomb launched by a police officer at point-blank range:

Condeno la brutal represión por parte de los cuerpos de seguridad de la nación de la cual fui víctima el día de hoy, como [también lo fue] el joven Juan Pablo Pernalete, de 20 años de edad, estudiante universitario a quien le quitaron la vida debido al terrible e inhumano uso los gases lacrimógenos, luego de que sufriera un impacto en el pecho. Ese pude haber sido yo.

I condemn the brutal repression of the nation by security bodies, whose victim I became today, [much like] Juan Pablo Pernalete — a young, 20-year-old university student whose life was taken from him due to the terrible and inhumane use of tear gas, after he was hit in the chest. That could have been me.

Netizens also circulated images of people inside the protests, including a popular video of a man playing the cuatro (a traditional musical instrument) and started an online campaign called #AdoptaUnCivil (“Adopt a civilian”), in which they would share the name and work of civilians, trying to highlight their participation in Venezuelan political and community life. Their goal was to contrast narratives that depict the national political history as driven by military men:

Damn, I really like this idea #adoptauncivil https://t.co/1IaEwjbPig

#AdoptaUnCivil José Ignacio Cabrujas. From his fine pen came one of the most accurate descriptions of what it means to be a Venezuelan.

Protesters hoping for help from outside the country got some bad news last month, however, when the Venezuelan government said it plans to leave the Organization of American States.

Follow our coverage of Venezuela with more articles about the latest events on our special page.

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