Monday was a weird day in Mérida. It started with a big turnout for the Plantón, MUD’s nation-wide sit-in around the country at approximately 5:00 a.m., preventing people from getting to their jobs and trying to convince them to join the protests instead. Surprisingly, the idea succeeded. At 9:00 a.m., Mérida’s usually crowded avenues and streets looked more like empty skate parks.

As the morning went on, more and more people joined the activity and, eventually, just as in 2014, barricades started to be lifted in Merida’s three main avenues. The situation, however, seemed to be developing smoothly: no violence had been reported.

That changed in the afternoon.

At about 4:00 pm, increasingly violent riots erupted around Campo Elías viaduct, a traditionally pro-opposition working class area, and the epicenter of the local 2014 guarimba movement.

“It was 3:30 p.m. when the group of pro-government colectivos, (represented in Mérida by the Tupamaro movement) started confronting the protesters on the other side of the viaduct” Vanessa, one of the protesters on site tells us:

“They started shooting fireworks into the air… they were trying to scare people out, I guess. After protesters realised that the detonations were not firearms they stopped caring about them, and that’s when the tupamaros took their guns out: they had both pistols and what looked like rifles. They were not even covering their faces, they were proudly showing off their guns.”

“It was like a chess game” José, a member of ULAs first aid voluntary squads says. “They moved a little bit, then we moved a little.”

Vanessa says that at this point opposition protesters began to feel uneasy, as some people started running away.

“Me and my friends decided to hide in a nearby parking lot, behind some cars. The Tupas passed right in front of us, weapons in hand, and started shooting towards the mass of protesters,” she says.

“They charged at us with everything they got, pulled out their guns and started shooting… I could hear the bursts of bullets… People started running everywhere. There were people shot, I helped some of them myself,” José tells us.

Both Vanessa and José agree that, at this point, someone opened fire from the protesters’ side. And some other protesters affirm they saw a member of the incoming colectivos fall to the ground in the ensuing chaos.

Police left the place after dissolving most demonstrators, but pro-government colectivos supposedly took their place, looting and vandalizing two supermarkets and residential complexes in the area.

A free-for-all erupted. The tupas fell back a little and eventually headed back the way they had come, but not before taking part in a brief but intense shootout in which a real bullet almost got Vanessa.

The tupas’ decision to retreat from the scene might surprise you, but the police quickly took their place.

As the police arrived, they started shooting pellets at us, and tear gas, and were taken in by area neighbours who were getting ready their molotov bombs, rocks and whatever else they could get their hands on. The police started asking people around to give them the guys they were looking for, but all they got was insults from the neighbours. At that point one of them saw me recording them and that’s when they pulled the middle finger at me and shot a tear-gas cannister which landed right next to us.

At around the same time, a voice-note recorded by another the member of ULA’s First Aid team started making the rounds on Whatsapp. It described the situation as little short of a war: people shooting in the air, some even wielding improvised spears, had moved right into the core of the protest. Chaos ensued, people started running in all directions, in panic, not really knowing what was going on.

A few minutes later, the first reports of protesters wounded by firearms started to appear on social media. Pictures of the Red Cross paramedics flowing into the area flooded the internet:

The Ombudsman, took to his twitter account to stake out his position with regards to these events.

Later on, Merida’s governor, Tupamaro leader Alexis Ramirez said “there were snipers on Merida’s buildings,” and claimed the violence was started by rightwing protestors, pinning the blame responsibility on Mérida’s Primero Justicia Mayor, Carlos García, who then blamed Ramírez back

Unofficial reports from ULA’s first aid volunteer group say there were over 50 people wounded in protests this Monday, most of them with minor injuries.

Two fatalities have been confirmed: Jesús Sulbarán, supposedly a worker at the PSUV-run State Government, who was shot dead in the neck in still unclear circumstances, and Luis Márquez, part of ULAs government-aligned labor union, also shot in the head. Also an ULA student who works at Tromerca (the state-run company in charge of Merida’s Trolebus) was shot in the head and is currently in Merida’s Hospital Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Violence apparently increased after the shootout, once supposed pro-government gunmen breached local residential complexes, damaging and burning cars parked inside, however reports on this are contradictory and details are still unknown.

Simultaneously, fierce riots took place in Ejido, a Merida suburb. Earlier, the plantón had taken place at Centenario (Ejido’s main avenue). A source tells us a group of hooded protesters burned down a FONTUR (national urban transport fund) stall. Later, a Trolebus station was destroyed in the ensuing confrontation between protesters and the State police, in which a police patrol was also burned down.

Police left the place after dissolving most demonstrators, but pro-government colectivos supposedly took their place, looting and vandalizing two supermarkets and residential complexes in the area.

All through the night, we heard Whatsapp reports of police forces shooting and tear-gassing the residential areas involved in the riots.

Universidad de Los Andes activities were suspended, and armored vehicles (known, inaccurately, as tanquetas) left GNB headquarters south of the city to patrol traditionally restive parts of the city in what seemed to be a show of force, though one consisting mostly of sporadically shooting a couple of tear gas canisters in middle class residential areas.

Neighbours of the most badly affected areas are organizing to take care of their wounded in improvised operating rooms like this one:

The situation is the first major incident in Mérida since the TSJ-aggedon, but sadly, violence in in the city isn’t new. Paramilitary groups have been systematically attacking opposition rallies with guns for at least four years, occasionally under the police’s noses. Unlike other places, in Mérida these colectivos are broadly seen as a sort of private militia under the Governor’s direct command.

The violence seen in Monday’s protests has the town on edge.

Can we prove it? No. But it’s an open secret around town. In part because their attacks on countless anti-government demonstrations have multiplied since Governor Ramírez won the regional elections of december 2012.

The violence seen in Monday’s protests has the town on edge. Violence begets violence, and if people get shot, they eventually start shooting back. This is great news for a government desperately trying to delegitimize the peaceful character of most opposition protests.

Strong leadership is urgently needed to guide the years of pent up anger, otherwise terrible scenes like the ones lived this week in Mérida might end up spreading throughout the country.

10 COMMENTS

  1. I am in the US. My blood boils when I read of the continued abuse the Venezuelan people endure on a daily basis at the hands and at the end of gun barrels of these criminal cowards.

    I am closer to 60 than 50 in age, I have no relatives in Venezuela and I am of European heritage. I still wish that I was next to the people that simply ask for freedom to decide their own destiny. I believe that my sentiments are shared by millions of people around that world. Maduro and his cadre are a microcosm of Stalin, Mao and Castro. The only difference is that social media did not exist when these tyrants rose to power. Keeping their crimes against humanity was easier at the time. The world is aware of the government’s crimes against its own people.

    I admit that I am glad to hear that the people have begun to defend themselves.
    This government has placed tens of millions of people in a situation where they have nothing to lose by fighting back. I can happily imagine Maduro’s head on a pole in front of Miraflores. Next to Delcy’s, Padrino’s and so many others.

    I can not get my head around the military remaining a single entity. How can honorable men serve such a corrupt government? Lillian’s letter to the military and security forces must have emotionally moved at least a small percentage of these people. When she said that they have the opportunity to be the next heroes of the Venezuelan nation, how could it fall on deaf ears? There will be a time when these soldiers will be required to answer for oppressing and harming the people that they are sworn to protect.

    Your cause is just. Your cause is the cause of freedom loving people everywhere in this world.

    Viva Venezuela!

    • As for the army…my thoughts

      Some are scared, as any signs of disloyalty could result in loss of job, harm to family, etc. They don’t know who to trust, who they can talk openly to, as the military is full of informants (thanks Cuban military advisors!). It’s extremely hard for any group of rebels to form together to plot, to communiate, etc, that is the key that the regime is spending tremendous resources to guard against. These men may carry out their duties through following the motions, trying to do what they can to limit malandros and harm to protestors without risking their positions.

      Some are young men brainwashed, who may hate the terrible situation and dislike Maduro, but strongly identify as Chavistas or at least as against “them, the opposition they have been told is terrible all their lives.

      Some enjoy the relative perks of military, better access to food, etc, than the rest of the country.

      Some are simply thugs, who enjoy the power that comes with wielding weapons against the defenseless and also truly hate opposition.

      The leadership are making money hand over fist, and are sure to hand out crumbs to those at the mid level to keep them from straying.

  2. “Violence begets violence, and if people get shot, they eventually start shooting back. This is great news for a government desperately trying to delegitimize the peaceful character of most opposition protests. ”

    But it eventually comes at a greater cost for the government, as they’ll start losing their enforcers when these realize they can’t continue attacking the people in complete impunity, also this will infuriate people even more when they keep seeing how the police and guards merrily join the colectivos in the repressive attacks.

    The people has the right to defend their lives in the case of inminent death, and a squad of bikers raining gunfire at a group of people is as deadly as it can be.

    On this time, there was only one armed non-chavista person in a group of thousands, the next time the colectivos won’t be so lucky, and no, I’m not encouraging violence in any way, it’s just the logical progression of what the regime is doing, they’ll keep pushing the people so they shut the fuck up and go back to wait for death in their houses, and eventually more people will become even more angrier and daring against the regime.

  3. Hi, I am from Mérida and I was involved in monday’s plantón I can confirm everything on this article, Alexis Ramirez is widely known to support paramilitary groups known as colectivos or tupamaros, everyone in towns knows, everyone knows where they live and many of them have been identified.

    Sadly some sources like BBC Mundo have wrongly reported the situation at Mérida as an oficialist demostration being attacked, we need help spreading the word, we need help to defende ourselves from the criminals and assasins that rule our town.

  4. Yesterday’s AN session in part discussing the Colectivos problem was very illuminating: 11 speakers, most with truthful local information–shots/Colectivos didn’t start in Merida until soon after a 3-4pm meeting of Colectivos from different Merida neighborhoods was convened, as evidenced by a printed handout convoking the meeting; Monagas/Barinas Colectivos are convoked/paid/even armed by the Chavista Governors’ offices; when Colectivos aren’t repressing peaceful marches, they are frequently involved in kidnappings/holdups/extortion, particularly of small business owners and agricultural/livestock producers….

  5. When the demonstrations started in Syria Assad was warned that shooting the protesters will lead to civil war. He did not listen. The rest is history.

    Yes, when people are shot the time will come when they shoot back. The result is civil war.

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