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One Dead Man Carries Another: The Death Toll of the Venezuelan Protests

The Venezuelan government has blood on its hands.
21 February 2014, 7:00am

Photographs courtesy of El Nacional

He was standing on a street corner when they shot him in the head. Four people, maybe five, carried him around looking for an ambulance, a car, a motorcycle. The body was slippery; they had to take turns. They lifted him by his arms and legs, with that puzzled solidarity that comes when you’re helping the wounded in riots.

One was applying pressure on the wound with a piece of cloth, trying to stop the bleeding. They walked like that for a couple of blocks without finding anyone who could help them. Finally, they ran into a policeman who, after hearing one of the young men cry for help, agreed to make a trip to a nearby hospital in the centre of Caracas, Venezuela.

Bassil Da Costa, the wounded man, and Roberto Redman, who helped carry him, met each other that evening, the 12th of February, during a Youth Day march organised by students and the Venezuelan opposition. Both Da Costa and Redman are now dead, some of the first casualties of the violence that began after a crackdown on the march. A week later, chaos still reigns on the streets.

Roberto Redman (in the black hat) helps carry Bassil Da Costa's body.

Da Costa, a 23-year-old carpenter, had never participated in a protest before; he lived in Guatire, a suburb of Caracas, and only marched because his cousins were going. Redman, a 31-year-old pilot, attended all the demonstrations he could, and lived in Chacao, the middle-class neighbourhood in Caracas where most of the recent protests against the government have taken place.

Redman wrote in his Twitter biography that he was a guarimbero, a term officials use to describe protesters. At 6:25PM, Redman tweeted, "Today I was hit in the back with a rock, hit in the nose with a helmet, breathed tear gas and carried the kid who died, and what did you do?" A few hours later, he was dead – like Da Costa, from a shot to the head.

The details of the two deaths – which have reverberated throughout the international press – has been reconstructed through videos, some of them created by fans, others by professionals. Yet Venezuelans who relied on traditional media wouldn’t have heard about Redman or Da Costa, thanks to censorship of television stations and newspapers by the government.

The Venezuelan authorities are so desperate to keep people in the dark about the demonstrations and the violence that they were even blocking images on Twitter to prevent photos of the protests from circulating.

Erick Redman, father of Roberto, marching days after the murder of his son. (Via Twitter)

Da Costa was two years old when Hugo Chávez led a failed coup attempt in 1992. Redman was nine. It's been 16 years since the deceased president won an election for the first time, in 1998 – that’s more than half of the both of their lives. They haven’t known a Venezuela without Chávez, and Nicolas Maduro – the country’s current president – is little more than Chávez’s stupider, more brutal heir.

They look around at the inflation and shortages of goods, at the country’s staggeringly high homicide rate, and wonder what the hell the people at the top of the country are doing. It’s dangerous to protest in Venezuela, but it’s also dangerous to let things continue. Many banners are scrawled with the slogan, "Mum, I went to protest for Venezuela. If I don't come back, it means I left with her."

Translated from Spanish by Jose Tomas Vicuña