Once the prime example of a thriving South American nation, for over two decades now, Venezuela has been on a downward spiral. An incremental but steady erosion of democratic principles, as well as failure to shore up the economy and maintain basic infrastructure, has led the country to an unprecedented and multifaceted crisis. It is a crisis that is no longer only political, but economic and humanitarian.
At our partner Foro Penal’s request, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights conducted a fact-finding mission to the Brazilian side of the Brazil-Venezuela border from March 30 to April 2, 2019. The primary goal of the fact-finding mission was to collect victims’ testimonies and document the violations suffered by the Venezuelan population living in the communities along the Brazilian border. These communities were directly affected by the violent repression of armed forces and other groups under orders from Nicolás Maduro who aimed to prevent the attempted entry of humanitarian aid to Venezuela from Brazil on February 23, 2019. The violence documented during the mission covers different related incidents between February 22-28, 2019.
These are the stories of the survivors and witnesses of those violent acts who were forced to flee to Brazil to seek medical attention and safety.
“Nobody expected something like this to happen. It was 5:30 am when we heard the first shots. One of my daughters ran outside our house to see what was going on and I followed her. I thought the police were chasing a thief or something, but then my phone rang. It was the doctor I work with at the community health center. She was telling me that there were many wounded people and that she needed me to go as soon as possible to help her there. I raced to the health center. I was afraid because my daughter had left the house too and I didn’t know what was happening. When I arrived and saw all these neighbors and members of my own family there, wounded, I tried as much as I could to not think of them as my family. It was really hard to remain focused and not go crazy with desperation.
When Zoraida arrived I could immediately see how serious her wound was. I could only provide very basic care because our center lacks everything. It was all so hectic and there were so many wounded people that I didn’t see my own brother had been shot. It was my father who told me that my brother Alberto [Delgado] had been taken to the hospital in Santa Elena. I also left for Santa Elena with other wounded people to tell the doctors there what I knew. As we were driving to Santa Elena, we had to cross another town and the community there wouldn’t let us pass because they are Maduro supporters, but we managed to continue.”
“When the communal guard and some of the villagers stopped the pickup truck with soldiers and made them step out, I approached them and started yelling at them “When will you stop harassing us?”
My son Wilmer asked me to take his 4-year old son to a safe place because the military soldiers were coming. I took him somewhere safe and then I received a text message saying that my [other] son Alberto had been shot. When I returned to check on him, I saw blood everywhere, as if a cow had been slaughtered.”
“Around 5:30 am on February 22, we heard all this noise from big trucks approaching and went outside our houses to see what was going on. My neighbors and I approached the trucks and started confronting the military officers about why they were coming to our town. When soldiers started shooting at us, I saw how Zoraida was shot and then her husband.
I never thought they would shoot at us. We were unarmed. we wanted to confront them about why they were coming to our town like this but never expected them to attack us like this. They used live ammunition against us… Kumarakapay is a very quiet town, nothing like this had ever happened. I saw how everybody was being shot at, how the officers wanted to kill us… I laid down on the floor, thinking it could only be a nightmare but giving thanks to God that my children were still sleeping.