By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Two demonstrators were killed by gunfire and thirty arrested Wednesday in Venezuela, as protests against embattled President Nicolas Maduro entered a second week.
Maduro promised to tighten the screws on demonstrators Tuesday night, hours before the protest, promising a more aggressive response against what he termed a “coup attempt” by the “right wing”.THE GROWING ROLE OF “COLECTIVOS”
The two demonstrators killed were attacked by government-affiliated gangs known as “colectivos” as they arrived and opened fire against the demonstration.
Early Wednesday morning, as anti-Maduro protesters were gathering, one of his most avid supporters, Trujillo governor Henry Rangel Silva, went on state television network VTV and said that “colectivos were taking care of keeping the public order.” Rangel’s comments seem to confirm what local media has been saying for months: “colectivos” and National Guard work in tandem to put down anti-government demonstrations. Rangel Silva, a former Defense Minister, is on the U.S. Treasury's OFAC blacklist as a "drug kingpin."
“The colectivos are the ones that take control of the demonstrations now,” Rangel, a former Army man, said during a television interview. Hours later, a boy of 17 lay dead, reportedly after “colectivos” shot up the protest he was attending.
So far, eight people have been killed, all of them by gunfire, while protesting Maduro since April 4th, including a boy as young as 14. This new round of nation-wide protests, the most violent since 2014, was triggered by the attempt from the Maduro-controlled Supreme Court to overtly usurp the functions of the National Assembly. The Court recanted, partially, after Attorney General and long-time Chavista Luisa Ortega, said the move was “a breach of Constitutional rule.”MADURO’S RESPONSE
Maduro held his own counter-demonstration Tuesday afternoon, in the street adjacent to the Presidential Palace and just paces from his office, at which he said he had “defeated” those protesting against him, just as news was arriving of a 17 year old demonstrator killed by gunshot one mile from where he was talking.
“They tried to seize power and we have defeated them,” Maduro told a crowd of military leaders, cabinet members, civil servants and ruling party faithful at around 1:30 p.m., minutes after local media confirmed Carlos Jose Moreno, 17, had died from a gunshot wound to the head in San Bernardino, formerly a pro-government neighborhood, while protesting Maduro’s rule. Moreno was shot in the head at about 11:00 a.m. by “colectivos”, which arrived and opened fire against the demonstration.
While Maduro was still talking, news arrived of yet another casualty: a 23-year female student in a Catholic, private university in the Venezuelan Andes, identified by local and social media as Paola Ramirez. Ramirez was protesting against Maduro when, according to newspaper El Carabobeno, “colectivos” also attacked the demonstration she was in.