Paul Moreno was a 24 year old medical student, just like most of my friends, just like me. He was run over by a pick-up truck that had no license plates in Maracaibo last week as he volunteered to help wounded protesters.

A day later, he received his Doctor’s title at his funeral, surrounded by all his fellow Green cross volunteers. The image of his mother crying as she held his white helmet with a small green cross stamped on it over his coffin has stayed with me.

Maybe it always will.

Augusto Puga was a 22 years old Nursing student from Ciudad Bolívar. He was shot in the head last Wednesday. His friends tried to save him while a police squad raided their university. A video showing their overwhelming impotence shocked me like I thought these protests couldn’t anymore. These kids were there, in an overcrowded lecture hall, brimming with the wounded, seeing their friend bleed to death while all they had to help him was a box of gauze. They did their best and managed to take him to a hospital while trying to keep people as calm as possible.

I can’t stop thinking about their friends, the guys who tried to help them.

Augusto didn’t make it.

Maybe it’s because they were almost my same age, or because they both were studying to become health professionals, maybe it was the brutal circumstances in which they were killed. I don’t know.

But something about their deaths hit me hard.

I brood on how unfair it’s that Paul was murdered while helping wounded protesters, or over Augusto’s head bleeding over the dusty floor of some lecture hall turned triage station. I can’t stop thinking about their friends, the guys who tried to help them. Dealing with patients is hard, especially when you know the simplest condition can end up being lethal. These kids are just students, just like me. I know how terrifying it is to try to help someone when you have never done it before, when you have no experience. The first time I saw someone shot or run over, it was in a hospital Emergency Room, I was scared stiff, even though the guys laying on the gurney were malandros: people I’d never seen in my life. I had to do nothing, I was surrounded by doctors who knew the best way to react.

I can’t even grasp the desperation the guys helping Paul and Augusto must have felt seeing their friends suddenly becoming their patients. They had no one to ask for help, they had to act in a situation no one should ever face.

I don’t think I could deal with it. I’d be too scared.

This is what a dictatorship does to you: it kills you or leaves you too shocked to fight back. Forget tear gas, or pellets, or even bullets. Fear is their real weapon, and they want you to know it.

They’ll never graduate, they’ll never have a family, or a job, they’ll never get to see the country they dreamed of.

But that’s exactly what Paul and August lacked. They, just like any other Venezuelan born long enough to remember there was a life before The Revolution, but not long enough to actually live it; aspired to something better, something my whole generation can’t define very precisely, yet we still know it’s real. They knew we can be so much more than this ruined, corrupted country we somehow still manage to call home. They knew this could change and they were ready to do their part. Paul and Augusto, just like so many others died because they were brave enough to oppose a system that wants to see us bow, lower our heads and accept our “destiny” without complaint.

They’ll never graduate, they’ll never have a family, or a job, they’ll never get to see the country they dreamed of. They’ll never go to a supermarket and buy all the Harina PAN they want without wasting a day standing in a line, or go to a hospital and be sure they’ll have the medicines they need, or take a walk in the street without fearing for their lives. Damn it, they’ll never know what it’s like to live instead of survive. They sacrificed that so we could have the chance to do it.

There’s no way to stop the truck that killed Paul, nor is there a way to deflect the bullet that hit Augusto, but there’s a way to make their sacrifice count. I think about it and realize that we can’t afford to lose this time. It really is a critical turning point in this country’s history, we didn’t choose the burden we’re carrying but although heavy, we have no option but to endure it. The fate of over 30 million people lies on the shoulders of kids like Puga and Moreno, who chose to believe that we can make a difference.

Robert Baden Powell once said that we all should try to leave this world a little better than we found it. I think that’s the target we all must aim at, and even though I never met any of them, I bet Paul, Augusto and all of those who have died out there in the streets, thought that too.

We’ll not let you down.

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  1. Deeply moving, inspiring, article. Excellent writing. Those who aspire to be doctors, and dedicate so much of their lives to that aspiration, with such exceptionally fine and disciplined minds, must be the finest and most courageous people in the world. The regime shows its true colors, killing those who are dedicated to healing.

    I lived in Caracas during those times when there was plenty. A por puesto was un real (Bs.0,50 – not the “bolivar fuerte”). Your compassion and perception obviously extend well beyond mine – I never imagined that anyone could not know what that was like. No one should think that was all only petro-dollars. That was a free-market economy. You guys can get it back, along with your democracy.

  2. You and people like you can and will make the difference the Venezuela. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, its the triumph over fear.

  3. The raw emotion that you have exhibited will move many people.
    The regime shows its fear by its increasingly erratic and oppressive actions.
    Maduro and his band of criminals are one day closer to the end of their reign of terror.
    No matter what the official lies are, no matter how many people are falsely accused, they can not stop the truth from exposing their crimes to the world.
    Reality always bats last and the top of the ninth is upon this repugnant regime.

  4. La Hya…all these crimes have to go to the International Court..Do not rest until Maduro and those responsible are behind bars in the International Court…Just like Milosevich de Serbia…

  5. People that have read my comments here know that I am an American of European ancestry.
    I believe that the struggle for human rights is everyone’s fight and that even one person living under the tyranny of an unjust system, for one day, is unacceptable.
    I have been hoping for US intervention in Venezuela. Maduro’s belief that the US will not become actively involved, empowers him. The so called “soldiers” that defend this narco-terrorist regime will soil themselves and will desert in high numbers if they believe that they will be facing a truly superior military.

    I came across this article and it is food for thought. Perhaps the US restraint is in the best interests of the Venezuelan people.

    Joseph M. Humire is the executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS), a DC-based, global think tank. And the co-editor of “Iran’s Strategic Penetration of Latin America” published by Lexington Books.

    23 May 2017

    For months the protests in Venezuela have been escalating and, last week, The Miami Herald revealed an audio recording suggesting that military snipers could be used against the Venezuelan protesters.
    The implications of such an action would undoubtedly be an escalation of force in an already violent situation. Such lethal force by the military on Venezuelans could provoke the opposition to seek weapons and other arms to defend themselves.

    Undoubtedly, they would turn to the U.S. for support. The Trump administration should not listen.

    Anyone certain that they know what to do about Venezuela should be ignored. The situation on the ground is much more complex than a simple civil war between the regime and opposition elements. Wars are never that clean. What is brewing in Venezuela is a situation more like Syria, with various factions and extra-regional actors, far different than anything we’ve seen recently in Latin America. U.S. intervention without good intelligence would be counterproductive at best and could lead to a full-blown regional conflict.

    Moreover, such a move would fall right into the military plans of the Venezuelan regime and their external allies.

    An ongoing political-military buildup has been taking place in Venezuela over the last decade. While the country is short on food and medicine, there is an abundance of military armament courtesy of Iran, Russia, and China. This buildup culminated this January with a joint, multinational military exercise called Zamora 200, in which over a half million military members and civilian militiamen rehearsed Venezuela’s defense to invasion by a NATO force led by the United States and Colombia. Colombia began talks with NATO in late 2016 to potentially become a full member. The wargaming exercise conducted in Venezuela obviously had this in mind.

    The Zamora 200 military exercise had three distinct phases, the last of which culminated in the breakout of a civil war. The Venezuelan regime wants the world to believe that Plan Zamora, which is the real-time execution of the military exercise, is a civil-military plan to quell the insecurity and instability in the country and prevent any so-called “coup d’etat.” In reality, Plan Zamora is likely designed to manufacture a coup, catalyze a civil war, and provoke the U.S. to intervene.

    This is a tactic taken from Cuba’s counterintelligence playbook on disinformation and deception, planned and perfected for years throughout the Havana- and Caracas-led Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). In Bolivia, according to several independent reports, President Evo Morales allegedly concocted an autogolpe (self-coup) in 2009 by framing a fake terrorist plot that drew out his political opposition in Santa Cruz. A year later, in 2010, a similar event took place in Ecuador when then-president Rafael Correa shouted from the police headquarters in Quito to apparently try and provoke the police to fire their weapons at him.

    The late Venezuelan caudillo and Maduro’s mentor, Hugo Chávez, was also accused of staging the 2002 coup d’etat to consolidate power and deflect blame to the U.S. for “intervening.”

    Thus far, the Trump administration has been prudent, reverting to sanctions and strong rhetoric to stand up for human rights and protect U.S. national security interests. It seems President Maduro is not satisfied, telling President Trump to “get your pig hands out of here,” implying that U.S. intervention is already underway.

    In reality, it is the Venezuelan regime that has already brought foreign intervention into Venezuela by calling on Cuba, Iran, and Russia to circumvent its sovereignty and provide lethal aid to its violent suppression and intimidation of the Venezuelan people. Just last month, both the Russian and Iranian defense ministers met with Venezuela’s defense minister, Vladimir Padrino López, in Moscow to confirm they will send strong military and armed support to Venezuela.

    What the Venezuelan regime and its extra-regional allies are looking for is a way to blame the Trump administration for what their policies have created in the country. A civil war is the only way the current regime and its allies can maintain power; however, the regime cannot simply go to war against its own people. They need a clear enemy and, if the Trump administration changes its policy to anything that can be portrayed as interventionist, it will make itself into the enemy that the Venezuelan regime and its allies crave.

    • Agreed. Cuba and other mentioned parties have incentives to leave Venezuelans fighting among them selves, dragging Colombia down with them and creating a great deal of damage to the regional interests of the US, and global interests such as the Panama Canal, Global cocaine supply chain, etc.

      Also, having Venezuelans left behind killing each other after having plundered all that was worth anything, helps clearing their escape and guaranteeing a 20 year grace period from investigations (optimistically, it could drag for a generation like in Central America, or three like in Cuba)

      Lastly, its always good business to have people fighting and ordering new weapon systems, ammunition, and consultants…

  6. “This is what a dictatorship does to you: it kills you or leaves you too shocked to fight back. Forget tear gas, or pellets, or even bullets. Fear is their real weapon, and they want you to know it.”

    They’ve been at it since 2002.


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