'They shot at us,' say injured Venezuela protesters
February 24 2019 02:43 PM
A bus burns down during a protest in the border city of Urena, Tachira
A bus burns down during a protest in the border city of Urena, Tachira, after President Nicolas Maduro's government ordered a temporary close-down of the border with Colombia

AFP/Ure?a

Edinson Cisneros gasped and wheezed as he tried to talk -- he was one of the protesters struck by rubber buckshot fired by Venezuelan security forces breaking up border demos demanding the entry of emergency aid from Colombia.
The main crossing points on the Colombian border became flashpoints for unrest Saturday as Venezuelan security struggled with twin tasks: keeping Venezuelans from leaving to get aid stockpiled in Colombia, and stopping people crossing the border with aid packages.
Cisneros, 24, was in a large crowd that tried to reach the Francisco de Paula Santander border bridge, the crossing point that links Urena, Venezuela with Cucuta, Colombia.
"They fired tear gas at us," said Cisneros, 24, as he was treated for his wounds in Urena.
With a tube up his nose, sitting on a stretcher, Cisneros showed AFP his battered body: an open wound on his abdomen, and rubber pellet injuries on his chest, an arm and a leg.
"The people couldn't stand it and we lost strength. And when we were trying to catch our breath" the Venezuelan National Guard soldiers "came and they shot at us again," he said.
Cisneros was on the verge of losing consciousness after he was stuck, but saved when other protesters rushed him to a medical center near the bridge.
The violence in Urena escalated through the day. A group of hooded protesters stole some local buses and drove them towards the bridge to use them as battering rams against the military barricades.
Then the youngsters set fire to one of the buses. The blaze spread from the vehicle and damaged a home and electricity cables before firefighters rushed in to douse the flames.
The Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro has closed the border to prevent the entry of the foreign aid, which he claims is part of a US plot to overthrow his leftist regime.
The humanitarian aid effort is being organized by Juan Guaido, the 35-year-old leader of Venezuela's National Assembly who declared himself interim president and is calling for new elections.
Guaido set Saturday as the day he and his supporters would try to get aid by truck or on foot across the border into poverty-stricken Venezuela -- but the effort was met with resistance from security forces loyal to Maduro.
"We were going toward the roadblock (on the bridge) and the National Guard was shooting indiscriminately," said another Urena protester, 28-year-old Luis Polanco. 
Three lawmakers attempted to negotiate with the military in the afternoon, but they too were met with tear gas.
"The deputies arrived, they started to walk and (the troops) pushed back with pellets, tear gas, with everything," said Polanco, who was struck on his ankle by a rubber bullet.
The medical center that treated Cisneros and Polanco received around 50 patients on Saturday, mostly struck by rubber pellets, chief medic Soralis Medina told AFP.
That included serious cases, such as one patient with a pellet "directly in the eyeball."
Both Cisneros and Polanco are victims of Venezuela's deep economic crisis, where food, medicine and survival basics hard to find. 
With hyperinflation projected to reach a jaw-dropping 10 million percent in 2019, the Venezuelan Bolivar currency is so worthless that Colombian money is used in the border region.
Cisneros, a butcher, earns 50,000 pesos (around $20) a week. 
"It's not enough for anything," he complains. And he's one of the lucky ones: the minimum wage in Venezuela works out to just $6 per month.
"You can't live like this," said Polanco, an informal worker and father of two.
"And now that help is arriving they have it over there (in Colombia) and they don't want to let it come in," he lamented.
Two trucks loaded with aid were set on fire Saturday afternoon as they made their way across the bridge from Cucuta. Guaido supporters who were escorting the vehicles blamed Maduro loyalists for the blaze.
One of the Guaido supporters, 29 year-old street vendor Marcos Blanco, was hit just below his right eyebrow by a rubber pellet fired by Venezuelan security.
"It's as if they hit you on the head with a baseball bat," said Blanco, who was holding his shirt to his right eye in an attempt to staunch the bleeding.
There was also unrest on Venezuela's border with Brazil, where at least two were killed, according to one rights group.



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