Ciudad Bolívar Chronicles: The Murder of Augusto Puga

Shocking violence in Ciudad Bolívar as police shoot tear gas and live rounds at medical students

Wednesday’s march in Ciudad Bolívar, which cost one life, will go down as one of the most shameful episodes in the current crisis. The day started with a planned march to our regional CNE office, in accordance with MUD’s National Strategy. 

But a day earlier, on Tuesday, 18 medical students had been arrested, and 10 of them —the men— were still being held. The 18 had been arrested in galling circumstances: they were actively trying to evacuate a protester wounded by the security forces minutes earleir when they were picked up. All afternoon, the security forces had been in breach of “university autonomy” — the rule barring regular security forces from University Campuses— and had gone into the decanato, the Dean’s Office, itself. In those circumstances, there was little chance of the focus on CNE sticking in Ciudad Bolívar.

Instead, protesters demanded freedom for the medical students who had become political prisoners just a day earlier. The political leaders at the front of the crowd kept trying to lead the crowd toward the CNE, but the march route took them near decanato, the site of those arrests a day earlier. Many protesters decided to stay, saying they “will not go to the CNE to hand letters to the politicians.”

The march leadership crumbled, and the radicals took over. Things got violent fast: the protesters blocked the street adjacent to the decanato and the security forces immediately turned up, shooting tear gas canisters and rubber pellets.

This is how much tear gas they used:

At about 2 p.m., the police apparently ran out of non-lethal ammunition and started shooting real bullets. The first-aid brigade (consisting mainly of medical students) had set up a space in a lecture hall to tend to the many wounded. They were soon overwhelmed with protesters who had suffered gunshot wounds.

One person I reached out to sent me this video, shot largely inside that lecture hall. It’s long, but I urge you to watch as much of it as you can. It’s simply staggering; a war zone:

The first aid brigade was not prepared at all to deal with that. They had just started the initiative and hadn’t received many donations yet. They barely had gloves. If you go to 3:10 in the video, you can see a guy trying to take a bullet out of someone’s leg using his fingers. 

The Police and GNB were not just trying to repress the protesters they got inside the decanato and kept shooting at the protesters who were seeking refuge in the building.

It’s at that point that Augusto Puga, a medical student, was shot in the head.

He didn’t die immediately. The medical volunteers struggled to figure out what to do. One group wanted to take him to the lecture hall. But they had to wait for the gunshots to stop first. When all the shooting stopped, they tried to grab him as fast as they could, but the police started shooting again. They were so scared that they accidentally dropped him and ended up dragging him to the room.

The police apparently ran out of non-lethal ammunition and started shooting with real bullets.

Go to minute 4:00 and see when they take Augusto to the lecture hall. They put him in the floor to try to save him. All they had was gauze. Some are afraid that the police will get in and finish the job, so they try to barricade themselves into the lecture hall using chairs (minute 9:12).

There’s a short truce. They take him into an ambulance. Students helping Augusto get arrested by the police. One of them even gets his cellphone stolen. They want to call someone to take him in a car, but the phones aren’t working and the GNB is not letting any car inside the building. They’re cut off.

The only thing they can do is beg the police to stop shooting, so they can take Augusto out. At the end of the video, some girls get down on their knees and scream “he is going to die” towards the police.

They still have to take care of the other wounded, but the truce has ended and the police is not standing down. They get on a rooftop and, with the help of some ladders, they manage to get all of the wounded out to a spot where a car is waiting to carry them off.

Augusto Puga was in the operating room for an hour. He did not survive.

That was Wednesday. Protests continued on Thursday, and spread throughout the city. Feelings are running high in Ciudad Bolívar, and it’s easy to see opposition leaders are losing control over the protesters.

Thursday’s protest was announced as a silent march in honor of Augusto.

Instead, it ended with people shouting “murderers” at the police station while taking down images of Chávez and of Governor Francisco Rangél Gómez.

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