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Tuesday, 27 October, 2020

Guajira: the place where violent crackdown near the border with Colombia

The border municipality got militarized since Wednesday when national guards attacked a group of demonstrators who were protesting the lack of public services.

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In the Venezuelan Guajira, Zulia state, inhabitants endure blackouts 72 hours long. Drinking water is scarce as well as domestic gas, in hospitals, there are no medicines or supplies, food is expensive, and government aid is almost nil.

Residents staged 25 protests so far in 2020 to demand electricity, water, food, and gasoline, which not reached the border municipality since March when the COVID-19 quarantine began.

You must read Three years without regular water service in La Guajira

The response of the government of Nicolas Maduro has been repression with violence, only after the United Nations accused the regime of crimes against humanity.

The National Guard has managed to break up the protests with tear gas bombs, pellets, blows, threats, and arrests. Just like in the rest of Venezuela, according to the UN, OAS, and Human Rights Watch.

However, there is a big difference. The municipality of Guajira, on the border with Colombia, has been militarized since Wednesday, October 7, after National Guard officials attacked a group of demonstrators in the early morning hours of Tuesday, October 6, in the Troncal del Caribe, protesting the deterioration of public services and after a week without electricity.

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Nelsa Peña, one of the demonstrators, was beaten and denounced the commander in charge of trying to kill her. “They attacked us cowardly. They took away our electricity and then they came. I had to run, and one of their chiefs grabbed me by the hair. He was choking me and punching me in the back; as I could, I gave him two elbows and made him fall. That man was going to kill me. I had to throw myself into a ravine to hide,” she said.

You must read Human Rights activists denounce twenty-four extrajudicial executions in the Guajira region

But this is not the first time that this has happened. On April 12, GN officials attacked protesters in the Guarero sector who had been protesting for three days against food and water shortages.

The Human Rights Commission of Zulia State (Codhez) denounced that the military used tear gas bombs, pellets, and live bullets.

The collapse of the services

Blackouts, brownouts, and electricity rationing without a pre-established schedule or warning are common in the region. In early October, the inhabitants of Paraguaipoa went a week without service.

In the central part of Paraguaipoa, there is a deficiency of 62 transformers that left hundreds of families in darkness. The mayor of La Guajira, Indira Fernandez, assured that they are working to improve the service in the entity and that a technical table was activated to look for a solution.

The situation of the public health system is precarious. In 2017 the government inaugurated the facilities of the Binational Hospital, and it got furnished with medical equipment, supplies, and medicines. None of this is now available in the health center, which is a sentinel hospital (a specially designated center, supposedly better equipped than other hospitals) for COVID-19 cases.

You must read A Wayuu mother sold her hair to saving their children for starvation

Patients report that the hospitals in the border municipality do not have blood-pressure meters, oxygen, thermometers, or medicines. They claim that they must buy even the cotton used for treatment in the emergency room.

In the case of drinking water and domestic gas, inhabitants must pay in Colombian pesos or dollars. They say that in this municipality, they do not receive attention from the authorities for the distribution of these services.

Besides, the income of the inhabitants of Guajira has fallen since the beginning of the quarantine. Mothers have had to sell their luscious Guajira hair to wig makers in Colombia (a common practice) to feed their children, others walk home to ask for food, and some walk four kilometers to the beaches to look for fish.

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