That feeling that, I imagine, you feel when you’re cornered and you feel you’re about to be killed

Esta mierda es de la izquierda!Today, at 3:27 pm, saw the start of a Cadena de Radio y TV. Nicolás Maduro speaks to pro-government students at a meeting in Avenida Universidad in Caracas. In his nearly 60-minute speech, he rejects, among other things, attacks to Unefa in Táchira. He’s right, they were unforgivable. But while he insisted on protecting the “public universities”, I could not help but wonder: what about the attack against UCAB? And, even more, something that others like me were wondering via Twitter: “@robertodeniz: Maduro dice estar muy indignado por lo sucedido contra la Unefa. Nada dice de la paliza que le dieron a estudiantes e[n] la UCV“. Here, I tell a story that needs to be told. A chronicle of the attacks on UCV Architecture students that took place last Wednesday March 19, 2014.

Since it came via WhatsApp, I can tell you exactly at what time I heard. On Wednesday, March 19th, at 8:01 p.m., a friend writes me, “for those who say the colectivos are peaceful. My brother, who wouldn’t hurt a fly, just got beat up at the Architecture School.”

My friend’s brother didn’t want to talk about it, which I respect. But one of his classmates texted me: “whenever you like I’m available” to talk about it. Another wrote. “I’m ready to tell the story, count on me.”

For security reasons, I will not use their real names. Instead I’ll call them Diego and René.

Diego, 21 years old, went to spend the day at UCV’s Architecture School because “there were some conference, a movie forum, and later in the afternoon they’d called a students’ assembly.” René, who’s about to turn 23, arrived at UCV at 1 p.m. for the assembly, which was called to talk about what comes next, “go to an active strike, a total strike, keep on going to class…what to do?”

After several hours in the assembly, at 3:30 p.m., Diego, René and dozens of UCV Architecture students take a break for lunch. As they come back, they notice that the placards reading “Safety”, “Liberty”, “Justice” and “Respect” they’d placed on the highrise’s wall which faces out to the highway, across from the Universidad Bolivariana, were being taken down and replaced  by a group of 8 people they couldn’t identified. “Infiltrators” is what Diego called them.

Now the highrise sported a single word: Chávez.

René says the students decided to block all access points to the classrooms, “the fire escape stairs, the two elevators that were working and the central stairwell to the highrise. We blocked them off with chairs, tables, desks. Everything we found, to make sure they stayed where they were.” Diego says, “we blocked up the infiltrators in the stairwell because we didn’t know what to do. It seemed some of them were armed.”

The students, who had gathered to organize their semester, now just look to protect themselves.

The infiltrators who had switched around the placards claimed to be UCV students, and say they want to negotiate their way out of the highrise. In the meantime, Diego and his classmates discussed whether it was better to just leave them locked up in the stairwell overnight, since “it was getting dark, the campus was empty. Waiting was more dangerous for everyone.”

After hours of negotiations – including a cameo from a pro-government classmates and members of the School’s Student Center – Diego, René and their classmates step aside to let the infiltrators out of the highrise. Right then and there, on March 19th at 6:15 p.m. saw the start of at least 30 long minutes of terror.

René says “not even a minute” had passed since they decided to let the infiltrators out when “into the door [to the building] comes a guy who’s not wearing a shirt, with a white t-shirt covering his face and a gun in his hand saying ‘the colectivos have arrived.’” According to Diego, the encapuchado “threw in a tear gas cannister, and that’s when it all kicked off.”

The man wasn’t alone, behind him “there were a bunch of others.”

Some students set off running towards the cafeteria, others hid under the “security stand” – a piece of furniture in the way into the building.

René, Diego and about 20 others decide to run to the far side of the School. They try to get into the classroom, but they’re locked shut. When they come to the end of the corridor, they find the emergency exit shut with a padlock.

René says they gave up trying to smash the padlock with a chair when a classmate yelled that there are gangs on motorcycles just outside. They realize they’re cornered, trapped. They have a corridor off to the left, another off to the right, but both converge on the same spot: all roads lead to the encapuchados. 

In what René describes as “a moment of calm” when they figure the colectivos are busy trying to free the infiltrators from the inside stairwell, Diego and nine classmates get as near as 100 meters from the building’s main exit. Thinking the coast is clear, they run towards it. Just then, out of nowhere, “a tear gas canister is lobbed.” Diego says “it went off just next to me and I choked.” The group of ten has to run back to the “trapped corner” together with their other classmates.

René – who hadn’t moved from the spot at the far end of the building – says that as he heard the tear gas canisters going off he looked to the left, looked to the right, and saw masked figures on both sides, armed with sticks and tubes.

“You can imagine the terror of that moment, feeling cornered…I said to myself ‘this is it’. At some point I thought there was going to be a massacre, because some guys had guns in their hands.”

Out of terror, René and his classmates climbed up “one on top of another” to try to create a kind of human shield, protecting one another somehow. Diego managed to hide under “a pile of old furniture that’s no longer in use.”

The students who tried to break through the colectivo picket to get out of the building were badly beaten. Those on the outer edge of the “pile” – the human shield of students – including René, tried to cover their faces as they were beaten with tubes and sticks.

HuellaIn this photo you can see the imprints from boots left on some of their faces. Other pictures show broken, bleeding heads. Diego is still hiding at this point “under a desk”, not moving for fear of being detected, but “hearing everything and seeing everything.”

As the students are beat, the infiltrators yelled out “the colectivos have arrived”, “so this is how you’re going to overthrow the government?”, “Chávez lives” and “you’re a bunch of fascists and that’s why we’re beating you”.

One takes a moment to grafitti a wall: “esta mierda es de la izquierda” – this shit belongs to the left.

Diego, still hiding under his desk, is in shock. He can’t believe the screams from the women as they’re beaten. “The cries were horrible.”

René, in his human pile, grabs on to two friends to protect them. His eyes sting from the tear gas. “I was choking, crying.” He doesn’t know how long this is going to last. “What’s going to happen?” he wonders, “who’s going to stand up for us?”

Diego says he managed to see that some of the infiltrators were women and he saw “one without a face covering or anything.” When one of the women yelled out “we’re moving out! we’re moving out!” René thinks it’s all over. But no.

The armed groups only let the women out. Not the men. After telling them to “not play the fool”, they order René and his classmates to strip, leaving them in their underwear. They then open the way and tell them to run, as they try to beat them in the head and legs with tubes and sticks. René grabs his pants and his shoes and starts running. “Luckily I managed to dodge them all,” he says, but not everyone was so lucky. As he’s just about to reach the door, an infiltrator tries to block his path, but René dodges him as well.

René’s indignation boils over when he realizes that “there were two firemen sitting there in the corridor, wearing gas masks, just looking”, and when he gets out into the street and gasps for air, the firefighters don’t even try to help. They just say “get out, get out, quickly, there are motorbike gangs around.”

René and some of his classmates run to the Metro station about half a kilometer from the School and feel relief for the first time. It’s around 6:45, UCV is deserted and the sun is out of sight. Yet even after all that, René doesn’t go home. He stays to help take the wounded to hospital, and later another friend to a clinic.

For Diego, the ordeal was longer. Half an hour after the beating has finished, he finally crawls out from his hiding place and realizes they’ve made his classmates strip, since “right there I see all these clothes, shoes and backpacks tossed about.” As he goes out onto the street “there are firefighters on the door to the faculty. But they said nothing, and didn’t approach me. I left running.”

After hugging a friend he meets outside, Diego goes to look for his car but when he reaches it he realizes they’ve smashed his windshield on the driver’s side. Although he can barely see out the front, Diego drives as best he can to bring his classmates, who had reached the Hospital almost nude, their clothes.

Thinking back, René sums up: “Fear, terror. That feeling that, I imagine, you feel when you’re about to be murdered and you’re cornered. That terror of looking left, looking right, and realizing you’re trapped. I was in a corner, literally.”

For his part, Diego says, “I was amazed…I’d never, ever lived anything like that…it’s something that changes you. A before and after in your life.” He says “his best friend at university can’t stop crying. Her eyes are swollen. And she wasn’t one of those who was beaten up.”

But Diego isn’t going to report any of it to the police.

“In this country they don’t pay any heed to that. I know there’ll be no justice.”

14 thoughts on “That feeling that, I imagine, you feel when you’re cornered and you feel you’re about to be killed

  1. There was this long-time rabid chavista guy on Twitter whose son get beaten up by the colectivos during that attack. He posted a series of really desperate messages asking who is going to be responsible for his son who didn’t deserve that, and if having supported this Revolution was worth it.

    He was only met by silence and Schadenfreude. Predictably, he ended up deleting most of it. There are still screenshots and RT’s all over.


    • saw the screenshots of the desperate messages, as well as photos of the young men in the metro, wearing only underwear and socks. Anabella and Bárbara: any chance you can translate this into Spanish and publish it, here, and say in Panfleto Negro.
      I’m sorry about your friend’s brother and his fellow students. And I know how traumatizing it is to go through a near-death experience at the hands of the unscrupulous or corrupt. I hope you are all able to talk it through to your nearest and dearest. Many times over.


  2. Absolutely disgusting. A similar attack, not so vicious, happened in another Faculty a week ago, with the girls stripped of their blouses. All UCV, and I believe UCAB, classes have been cancelled until nuevo aviso. The UCV is not an economically-upscale university, but one based on merit generally, cutting across all socio-economic classes. This type of barbarianism is condemned by the large majority of Venezuelans, is typical of this type of Govt. regime, and will not stop until the Regime is eliminated, and, hopefully, those responsible at the top for these and other Human Rights violations will pay.


  3. Chavez is the creator of this method of control by terror and it is una lástima that he will not be around to be prosecuted, along with the thug Maduro.


  4. Who with a sane mind would deny, that at this point they hadn’t crossed the line between proto-fascism and fascism. Wherever this line is. I don’t like comparisions with german fascism of 1933-45, but those parts of the colectivos is a SA of our time. And though even our left wing newspapers have a more critical than apologetic line towards Chavismo, I read very little about colectivos.
    Going to ask Deutsche Welle, FAZ, spiegel, jungle-world, taz, Neues Deutschland, Zeit, Frankfurter Rundschau, Neue Züricher Zeitung and Süddeutsche Zeitung. That is german speaking mainstream and left wing media except the really hopeless nutcase of jungeWelt.


  5. Notice: Maduro surely meant “Bolivarian universities” and “military universities” as UNEFA. The UCV and the Simón Bolívar and the Universidad de Carabobo and that of Mérida and so many others have been public since before the military caudillo was born.
    Some casual reader might not know this.

    Thanks for this sad account. I agree with Lemmy Caution.

    Another student was murdered by the Colectivos in Valencia.


    • Of course he -and all the others- conveniently forget to clear that out.
      My eternal argument: if there were no opportunities before, how did the Chavez, a rather poor family from Sabaneta de Barinas manage to put five of their sons through university? The lies! The lies! My stomach hurts every time I hear someone say ´but Chavez finally gave us the opportunity…´
      And the billboard, as you drive into Chuao, of a cute goajira ´…now, artisan, tomorrow medic´.
      So what´s wrong with being artisan??? Does the whole thing mean there will be no more? Then I suppose no more taxi drivers, waiters, areperos, shopkeepers either. We should all be medics.


  6. I feel like I want to chime in here with respect to the title of this excellent posts, I would like to suggest this title “That feeling you get when you are cornered and you are about to be killed”

    Although the intent of the title is easy to appreciate, it feels unnatural.

    Hope people in Venezuela can sort out this terrible situation.


    • I agree. The title is a mouthful that doesn’t flow well. I would suggest something a little simpler:
      “That feeling you get when you are cornered and about to be killed.”


        • Didn’t see the quote used in the text of the post. Therefore there’s no need for literal translation from the Spanish in the title. Furthermore, if it’s a quote, it would use quotation marks. In sum, the argument doesn’t wash, and makes cumbersome what should really attract more attention through the use of a more impact-generating (simplified) title.


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