The father of a Venezuelan man gunned down by authorities this week made a very personal appeal to President Nicolás Maduro — saying the president had been his co-worker and had met his son as a child.
Speaking to reporters at the Caracas morgue, David Vallenilla said he had been Maduro’s supervisor when they both worked at the Caracas Metro. And he said Maduro had met his son, David José, when the boy was just a child.
“Friend, I call you my friend because I always thought you were a very centered person....It’s in your hands to clear this case,” Vallenilla said, addressing Maduro as he choked back tears. “Nicolás, please, I’m not going to say that we’re seeking justice because that word is overused, but I don’t want this [his death] to be forgotten.”
The shooting of the 22-year-old medical student was caught on video and has become the latest symbol of the government’s excessive use of force. Almost three months of anti-government protests have left at least 75 people dead, the vast majority killed by security forces. There have also been a handful of government sympathizers and officials murdered amid the escalating violence.
On Friday, swathes of Caracas and other cities were temporarily shutdown as protesters blocked streets to reject the 22-year-old’s killing.
“The entire country should be paralyzed [Friday] to show our indignation over the Armed Forces that represent death,” said opposition lawmaker José Manuel Olivares. “All of Venezuela needs to know that they killed David Vallenilla. We cannot allow death to be normalized.”
Maduro has publicly scolded the military and warned them not to fire pellet guns and firearms at the crowds, but this week has seen at least two close-range shooting deaths.
The prosecutors office said it’s investigating Vallenilla’s death and also has arrested three officials, pending additional investigation, for the June 19 death of Fabián Urbina, a 17-year-old who was shot to death as he and a mob of protesters chased down security forces.
Demonstrators are demanding general elections, the release of political prisoners and humanitarian aid. While the vast majority of demonstrators are peaceful, a combative and violent minority have been clashing with police.
Maduro, whose term ends in 2019, accuses the mobs of being criminals and “terrorists” bent on toppling his socialist government.
On Friday, Vallenilla described his son as a law-abiding citizen who was finishing his studies to become a doctor.
“He was not a criminal. He was not a criminal,” Vallenilla said. “He was my only son.”
The coalition of opposition parties is calling for more protests this weekend.
Follow Jim Wyss on Twitter @jimwyss