Venezuela: Maternity hospital attacked as death toll rises

May 20, 2017
Opposition protesters employ burning barricades to create chaos on the streets of Venezuela.

A maternity hospital in Venezuela's Miranda state was attacked on May 17 as the death count in ongoing violent anti-government protests rose to 53. 

Three newborns and one pregnant woman in labour were evacuated from the Carrizal Maternity Hospital after the facility was besieged for two consecutive days by opposition demonstrators. 

According to the hospital’s director, Doctor Natalia Martinho, smoke was entering the hospital from the barricades of burning rubble erected just 50 metres from the building by protesters, endangering the health of patients.

The barricades reportedly prevented doctors, specialists and all but two of the hospital’s 12 nurses from arriving for their shifts, leaving Martinho on duty for 36 hours alongside two residents.

The attack comes as violent opposition protests demanding early presidential elections enter their seventh week, with new deaths being reported as opposition supporters clash with authorities, attack public institutions and state security personnel, and blockade roads nationwide. 

Manuel Castellanos was shot and killed on May 17 in the vicinity of an opposition protest in Tachira state. The 46-year-old was reportedly making a purchase when he was shot in the neck and subsequently rushed to the hospital. 

Following an investigation, the Public Prosecutor’s office ordered the arrest of three National Guard sergeants to be charged with the murder.

The arrests follow the indictment of two National Bolivarian Police officers and a state police functionary for the killing of two other protesters in Tachira. 

Located along the south-western border with Colombia, Tachira has long been a hotspot of violent clashes between anti-government protesters and authorities.

An army barracks in La Grita, Tachira, was besieged for six hours by masked militants wielding Molotov cocktails on May 17.

Six alleged paramilitaries have also been arrested by authorities elsewhere in the state in a separate incident.

Venezuela’s Defence Ministry has ordered the deployment of 2000 National Guard personnel to the border state to re-establish law and order.

In Lara state, the local newspaper Ciudad Barquisimeto reported the kidnapping and murder of local socialist activist Pedro Josue Carrillo, whose body appeared on May 18.

According to alleged eyewitnesses, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) member and community organiser was kidnapped two days earlier by masked men who were overheard saying, “pick him up, this one is a Chavista”.

“[Carrillo’s] remains were found in Quibor with burn marks and signs of torture, common practices of Colombian paramilitarism,” said local PSUV leader Juan Campos. 

Meanwhile, new details have emerged surrounding the deaths of Diego Arellano and Yeison Mora.

On May 17, Justice Minister Nestor Reverol revealed that according to autopsy results, Arellano – a 31-year-old student protester in San Antonio – was killed by an 11.03-millimetre metallic sphere fired from close range, indicating that the killer was “among the demonstrators”. 

Twelve similar metal spheres and a makeshift pipe bomb were also discovered at the crime scene near to where the National Guard was positioned, suggesting that they were being fired by the demonstrators. 

Reverol also noted that the steel ball bearings are similar to those that caused the deaths of Miguel Castillo and Armando Canizales earlier this month. Despite the forensic evidence implicating protesters in the killings, the opposition has continued to blame the deaths on state security forces. 

In Barinas, Alexis Mendoza, the uncle of 17-year-old Yeison Mora, has accused opposition protesters of causing the death of his nephew. Mendoza indicated that Mora was on his way to the hardware store with his brother when he crossed paths with the demonstration and was shot in the head. 

According to preliminary autopsy results announced by Barinas Governor Zenaida Gallardo, the impact to the youth’s right infraorbital nerve “was not caused by a firearm but by a marble”, which was presumably fired from a makeshift weapon used by protesters. 

In response to the findings, Mendoza condemned the opposition for allegedly using his nephew’s death as “propaganda” to fuel further anti-government protests. 

According to data compiled by Venezuelanalysis, 12 people have been killed directly by opposition supporters since April 4, while eight deaths have occurred at the hands of authorities. A further five deaths have resulted from accidents caused by anti-government barricades, while eight people were electrocuted during an attempted looting. Twenty deaths have still yet to be accounted for.  

[Abridged from]

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