It was mid-afternoon on May 30th and most of the protesters were already heading home. But not Luis. Luis was hiding out in a Cruz Verde paramedics’ pickup truck, a sort of mobile medical unit that moves across the protests. He was dizzy and was not responding to the commands of his caretakers. He was vomiting. He realized that he had just lived through one of the most frightening moments of his life. He stayed there, hidden from the security forces, unable to stop shaking or vomiting, for a full 20 minutes.

“Officers have shot rubber pellets at me, tear gas canisters have whizzed by very close to me, the ‘ballena’ has hit me, but this was the time I really felt in danger,” Luis told me as he thought back on it.

Luis not his real name, for soon-to-be-obvious reasons is in his early 20s. He speaks with purpose, each sentence perfectly formed. His confidence seems well beyond his years.

The memories aren’t clear. Luis struggles to piece together how long the assault in that one corner of Chacao really lasted. He was, as he puts it now, “too lucky” to get away.

“There is not much chance of getting out of a situation like that twice. These days I’m more cautious”, he told me.

On May 30, he’d arrived to a march departing from Plaza Altamira at noon. His face uncovered, he started to walk with a river of people, mostly students, towards downtown Caracas. It didn’t take long before the repression started. He was prepared for this; since the protests began, 61 days earlier, he has been on the streets again and again. He was out there in 2014, too.

Officers have shot rubber pellets at me… the ‘ballena’ has hit me, but this was the time I really felt in danger.

“Since everything started, I’ve been there,” he tells me proudly. Every day, as soon as he gets off of work as a program developer, he grabs his backpack and darts off to protest.

On that day, he was right on the front line, volleying back tear gas canisters, a job that is not easy but that he is not afraid to do.

“La salida es la calle” the way out of this is street protests he insisted, still convinced of this maxim despite what he went through.

It took him about a half an hour to walk to Chacaito, where the confrontation between the Resistencia and security forces was already well underway. He put on his mask, his goggles, his helmet and gloves: a “uniform” his partners in the fight have made their own.

Luis doesn’t know the name of any of the guys who were with him that day. Sometimes they exchange a couple of words, but always wearing a mask; they’re his anonymous companions on the streets.

“I usually go by myself, unless someone calls me. That day I went by myself,” he recalls.

He stood there for a couple of hours, resisting and returning the attacks. Between rubber pellet detonations and tear gas canisters, he decided to stand with the “resistance” for hours, until three o’clock in the afternoon, when he decided that the battle that day was over for him. He put everything back in his backpack and started to head back to Chacao.

La salida es la callethe way out of this is street protests he insisted, still convinced of this maxim despite what he went through.

He didn’t know the worst was still to come.

Close to the Supreme Tribunal building in Chacao, he saw as a group of people feeling, but he decided to keep walking, this was not the first time that he’d seen people running for no reason.

Moments later, amid screaming and noise, he saw a swarm of 60 or so National Police (PNB) motorbikes.

Shit.

Then he ran. He made it about 50 meters before he realized that the demonstrators who were near him had dispersed and some of the bikes were coming after him. He forced his legs, running to survive now. No match for motorbikes, he sprinted for another 20 meters or so and he was cornered.

He knew what was coming next: he’d seen police take the protesters on their motorcycles. It happened to a relative, too, back in 2014. But the officer didn’t force him onto the bike.

Instead, he kicked him. Hard.

In a matter of seconds, he watched as four police officer circled him. They pushed him into a corner and beat him. And kept beating him.

All the cops were wearing gas masks, he couldn’t see any of their faces, but he presumed that they are really young. He could sense the hatred in their blows: they beat him on the head, kicked him, punched him, elbowed. They seemed to be enjoying it.

But the officer didn’t force him onto the bike. Instead, he kicked him. Hard.

He put his hand in his pockets and he bent his head to protect himself. He tried to ask for help, he tried to explain that he wasn’t doing anything wrong and was heading home, but the blows did not stop.

He could hear the violent shouts of the police, “quédate quieto,” stay still . And then, “we’re going to arrest you.”

In the middle of the beating, he could hear the voice of a fourth member of the group. A woman’s voice. He didn’t get to see her face but he figured she wasn’t wearing a gas mask because her voice was clear.

“Don’t hit him, aflojen,” she said.

“One of them was angry at me, he wanted to steal everything I had and keep hitting me. I felt his hatred. They wanted to hurt me”, he remembers.

Luis tried to stay strong as they kicked him. He tried to protect his face. One of them managed to grab the cell phone out of his pocket, they tried to get him onto the motorcycle but in the struggle, he fell to the floor and one of the police fell on him. They snatched his bag, with his “tools” of resistance, his clean clothes, and his job ID. In the middle of the escape they ripped his shirt. Bizarrely, he still had his wallet in his pocket.

“One of them was angry at me, he wanted to steal everything I had and keep hitting me. I felt his hatred. They wanted to hurt me.”

His head was spinning. He doesn’t know when or exactly how he managed to get away. He ran down the middle of the street, in panic, listening to the screams of the people on the street. He tried to cry for help. He heard rubber buckshots being fired at him, but none of the pellets hit him. He kept running until he saw the Cruz Verde truck in a corner. Safety.

I ask him how long the beating went on. He’s honest, he says he just can’t say.  

The amazing thing is that Luis feels lucky.

“If they’d caught me I wouldn’t have slept in my bed, I might be still behind bars. Thank God I got away,” Luis said.

After hiding out in the Cruz Verde truck for 20 minutes, he was taken Salud Chacao, the municipal health clinic that tends to wounded protesters almost daily. He still has bad bruises on both sides of his body and on his head. None of his injuries were life-threatening.

Luis has always known the risks of going out onto the streets. He knew all along it wasn’t just the risk of being arrested, he knows people die out there. He has seen the video of the moment when Neomar Lander was killed and the countless videos of demonstrators being arrested. He’s still out there.

If they’d caught me I wouldn’t have slept in my bed, I might be still behind bars. Thank God I got away.

The very next day after his assault, bruised and sore, he was back out protesting.

“I’m more cautious now, more prudent especially now that I don’t have my equipment,” he says.

His family asks him to be careful. But they don’t tell him to stop protesting. They have the same convictions.

“If we let fear overtake us, we will lose, because this is going to get worse, he tells me. “There’s no turning back now: if we give up we lose the country.”

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