It was meant to be a moment of celebration, the commemoration of one of the major milestones that led to Venezuela’s independence from its Spanish colonizers 200 years ago. Tuesday’s bicentennial festivities for the Battle of San Felix included a military parade and the inauguration of a new public square, which filled the streets of Ciudad Guayana.
As night fell, President Nicolas Maduro rode through the city in an open-top Jeep, waving at the crowd while wearing green military garb and the presidential sash. State-run broadcaster VTV showed a livestream of the event on national television.
Suddenly, President Maduro motioned to cover his head and his security team hopped on the hood of the Jeep. The live signal cut to the image of the newly unveiled statue of local hero Gen. Manuel Piar, but the microphone picked up audio of an agitated woman yelling “wait, wait — the President was hit.”
Within minutes, videos appeared on social media sites showing another angle. Maduro and his entourage had been pelted by what some identified as eggs and trash. In one video, the man filming can be heard yelling “damn you!” at the end.
While the scene was unusual, it wasn’t surprising. Since the beginning of April, massive protests have formed in the capital Caracas and other major cities calling for Maduro’s resignation and for the government to set a date for the delayed state elections. This comes as the country faces a crippling economic crisis, which has nearly bankrupted the oil giant and led to national shortages of food and medicine.
At least four people have been killed and hundreds injured in the wave of violent protests that have rocked the country since April 1.
In the city of Valencia, 20-year-old student Daniel Alejandro Queliz died Monday when a bullet struck him in the neck during a protest.
Enrique Moreno, 19, said he was present at what he described as a “peaceful protest” and said he was “just a few meters away” from Queliz when police began to open fire.
“They (the police) wouldn’t stop shooting at us, so we decided to run into one of the nearby residential buildings to hide. I was able to run and, thank God, none of the bullets reached me,” Moreno said. “By the time Daniel started running, he had already been hit. I turned around and he asked me for help. I wanted to help, but the bullets kept flying. We tried to tell them a student had been hurt, but they kept shooting at us.”
The office of Venezuela’s attorney general said Wednesday that two of the officers involved in the incident have been arrested and are expected to face criminal charges.