Military members of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro regime opened fire on demonstrators near the border with Brazil, leaving at least two dead and 14 wounded as of Friday afternoon. The incident occurred as a crowd of civilians from the indigenous community tried to block the passage of a convoy sent to the border to keep humanitarian aid from entering the country, opposition Congress members said.
Americo De Grazia, an opposition leader, reported through his Twitter account that the first victim was Zoraida Rodríguez, an indigenous woman of the Pemón ethnic group who lost her life to a gunshot wound during the clash. The woman was a food street vendor who was in the area during the incident in the community of Kumaracupay, about 40 miles from the border.
Hours later, De Grazia reported that a second critically injured victim also had died despite efforts to save his life.
“Another wounded Pemon dies in #Kumarakapay, Rolando Garcia. And three more are seriously injured. For a total of 2 dead and 14 injured,” De Grazia posted in Spanish on his Twitter account.
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In another Twitter post, De Grazia also confirmed that the indigenous community in the area was detaining National Guard Gen. José Miguel Montoya, who is accused of commanding “the tragic assault.”
Versions of the incident published on social media had previously reported that some soldiers were being held by representatives of the Pemón ethnic group, and that they requested the presence of Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López.
The mayor of the town of Gran Sabana, Emilio Gonzalez, had previously confirmed that at least 12 community members were transferred to medical centers with bullet wounds and at least three of the wounded were in serious condition.
Alberto Delgado, one of the injured, said from the bed of the hospital where he was treated that he had decided to go out to protest because several of his relatives were suffering from illnesses.
“I did this for my grandfather, who has been sick in bed for six years; I did this for my uncle Jorge William, who is in a wheelchair; I’m doing this for my uncle, Cipriano López, who is doing dialysis every week and we have to spend money,“ Delgado said in statements posted on social media.
“I was shot in both legs and I hope that all Venezuelans see this. The only person responsible is named Maduro and he has to leave now. We’re going to get this criminal out,“ Delgado added, according to social media posts.
Another man who was at the scene of the shooting expressed anger over the death of Rodríguez, accusing members of Maduro’s military of shooting indiscriminately against the population.
“The military fired at our countrymen, where they kill a female fighter in the community,” said the unidentified witness, who said he was a resident of the border city of Santa Elena de Uairen. “Military arrived, passing the main highway 10, and we will not allow that anymore, enough.”
In a sign of the growing discontent from the population in the area following the attack, a military post was set on fire in the region’s airport, reported Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been following events in Venezuela closely.
“Tense situation developing on the #Venezuela #Brazil border. Reports that indigenous people in the region just burned the National Guard post at the airport after two members of their community were murdered this morning by soldiers,” the senator wrote in his Twitter account, posting a photo of the small installation on fire.
The clash came a day after Maduro ordered the closure of the border with Brazil to prevent the accumulated humanitarian aid in the neighboring country from reaching Venezuelans.
According to the news portal La Patilla, the attack took place at 6 a.m. Friday, when members of the security body of the Pemón ethnic group tried to stop the passage of soldiers who were heading to the border with the Brazilian city of Pacaraima.
La Patilla also reported that about seven trucks with military personnel managed to pass after dispersing the demonstration.
The attack was immediately condemned by Venezuela’s internationally recognized interim President Juan Guaidó, who demanded that those responsible for the attack be held accountable.
“In the community of #Kumarakapay, 2 troops fire... on Pemones... Our solidarity is with them. It will not go unpunished. #22Feb,“ Guaidó posted in Spanish on his Twitter account.
Guaidó, who together with the opposition-led National Assembly is trying to bring humanitarian aid across borders with Colombia, Brazil and other neighboring Caribbean countries, added that this is the time of the Venezuelan armed forces decide whether they are on the side of the Venezuelan people, or continue supporting the tyranny of Maduro.
The effort to get the aid into Venezuela is scheduled to take place on Saturday.
“Between today and tomorrow you will define how you want to be remembered,” he said. “We already know that they are with the people, you have made it very clear to us. Tomorrow you can prove it.“
El Nuevo Herald writer María Andreina Malave contributed to this report, which will be updated as more information unfolds.