An on-the-scene report from  a contributor in Mérida who asked to remain anonymous.

We knew today would be tense, but we only grasped how bad it would get at around 1:15 p.m., when a text came in saying the first wounded protesters were arriving at CAMIULA, the small hospital ULA runs for its students.

Today’s opposition rally was one of the biggest seen in Merida in years. It gathered in front of the ULA’s Social Studies faculty, a traditional rallying point, and moved toward downtown aiming for Plaza Bolivar, where the State Governor’s office operates. That’s exactly where pro-government protesters decided to gather, as they always do…acting as Alexis Ramírez’s private militia.

There were cops in full riot gear all over the city, but they were not acting alone.

At first things seemed to go smoothly: opposition marchers moved along the narrow streets of Merida’s old downtown core, facing increasingly thick police cordons.

But the calm was shattered two blocks from the Governor’s palace.

There were cops in full riot gear all over the city, but they were not acting alone. According to reports from witnesses, right behind them, protected by their shields, a mob of colectivos started to throw glass bottles and stones at opposition protesters.

Some marchers ran away, others tried to break the cordon to get at the colectivos. As they did that, the police started to fire plastic buckshot — perdigones — freely. A shower of stones and pellets fell on hundred of scared, tired, furious protesters. All of that in the tight colonial streets of merideño historic centro.

Things got out of control quickly.

Police and colectivos were coordinating tactically, working side-by-side in an integrated way to intimidate the opposition march. That’s new.

In a matter of minutes chaos took over. People moved quickly, trying to get as far as possible from the police-sponsored mayhem. As protesters tried to regroup and take another route to the Plaza Bolívar, police on motorbikes arrived and without even parking started firing pellets at everyone: men, women, children, from the oppo encapuchados to students and grannys. A student tells us how she got a beer bottle right in the head while trying to protect a friend’s aunt. She was marching with a group of 55-65 year old women.

Witnesses tell us things then got really ugly. A couple protesters managed to light a couple  police patrols on fire and throw a few stones back. Soon everyone decided that running was a better idea.

As the march dispersed, one witness tells us he saw colectivos beat running protesters to the ground, as police bikes passed right by them, ignoring the violence.

whatsapp-image-2016-10-26-at-17-05-20Police forces ignoring officialist violence is not something new. We are used to that. But this seems to have been something different: police and colectivos were coordinating tactically, working side-by-side in an integrated way to intimidate the opposition march. That’s new.

As this scene developed in downtown, another group of colectivos breached into ULA’s med school, tearing down doors and taking computer and tv’s from administrative offices.

Initial reports talked about a couple wounded. They were being evacuated by the Bomberos Universitarios, an emergency and rescue team formed by the university. Henrique Capriles tallied 50 wounded overall. We’ve heard reports several are having surgery right now after pellets impacted their faces, but have not been able to confirm them.

Local reporters have even asked people with no emergency conditions not to go to CAMIULA, since the place is already beyond capacity with people hurt at the march.

As this scene developed in downtown, another group of colectivos breached into ULA’s med school, tearing down doors and taking computer and tv’s from administrative offices.

As we write this at 6:23 p.m, riots are still developing in Las Américas avenue, a stronghold of guarimbistas on 2014 protests. Once again, apartment buildings are flooding with tear gas and barricades block the streets. A very well remembered image for people there. It’s déjà vu.

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