Paul, Augusto, and Fear

Paul Moreno and Augusto Puga were just like me: young medical trainees trying to make a difference. Their murders shook me to the core. Then I realized shaking me to the core was exactly the regime's goal.

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.

Juan Carlos Gabaldón

Medical doctor from Merida, currently studying Medical Parasitology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine