VENEZUELA: Two Salesian Past Pupils Killed During Ongoing Political and Social Unrest
The Salesian Family in Venezuela has been affected by the recent political and social strife happening the country. A recent BBC article reports that Venezuela has been gripped by an ever-deepening economic and political crisis that has triggered almost daily anti-government protests since April. On April 19, peaceful demonstrations took place in the country to deliver to the ‘Defensoría del Pueblo’, the state agency that oversees human rights, a document accusing the government of President Nicolás Maduro of a coup d’état against the National Assembly. On the margins of the events, two Salesian past pupils were killed.
Carlos José Moreno Barón, 19, was not taking part in the protest march but was on his way to a football field at Chuao. He did not reach his destination. At about 10:15am, Carlos José’s was killed by a group linked to the collective supporting the government when they opened fire against opponents. Doctors did all they could but Carlos José had been struck by a bullet in the head and nothing could be done. He had been a student at the St Francis de Sales Institute in the Sarría district and was a member of the Salesian Youth Movement.
On the same day, in San Cristóbal in the State of Táchira, a motorcycle group allegedly linked to local government support groups fired on Paola Ramírez Gómez, 23, as she was passing in front of Piazza San Carlos, returning from a job interview. She also was not participating in the protests. Paola was a Salesian past pupil from the Institute of Táriba. Her death was instantaneous, as shown by a video taken on a security camera on a nearby building.
Venezuelan Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega Díaz has asked the security authorities to guarantee freedom of expression. She said in a statement, “I appeal to the political agents who convene the demonstrations. It is a constitutional right to convene peaceful demonstrations and these should not endanger the physical safety of the demonstrators.”
Aware of the delicate situation in the country, Salesian Rector Major Father Ángel Fernández Artime expressed his support for Salesian missionaries in Venezuela and the Venezuelan people in statement he released while on a trip to Kenya visiting refugees. He said, “You are not alone. We, in the different parts of the Salesian world, are worried about you. We are attentive to what you are experiencing and well aware of everything that happens to you.”
As the BBC reports, triple-digit inflation, a high crime rate and clashes between protesters and security forces have affected the lives of many in the country including schoolchildren, many of whom are being kept out of school for their safety.
The BBC article also reports that the La Salle Education Centre, a private school run by the Christian Brothers Catholic religious order in the western town of Mérida, was recently vandalized by group of men on motorcycles who broke through the school’s main gate. They smashed windows of cars and pulled out radios before breaking into the main house where the Christian Brothers live. It was suspected they were searching for protestors who had taken refuge there earlier and when none were found went on a rampage. While no one was hurt, there was much destruction left in their wake. BBC is reporting that while the school reopened, nearly 40 percent of the students have not returned for fear it could happen again with students present. Parents are becoming too afraid to send their children to school.
The deaths of the Salesian students are not the first deaths for Salesian missionaries in Venezuela. In Feb 2014, during a suspected robbery at Don Bosco College in the Venezuelan city of Valencia two Salesian missionaries were stabbed to death and another was wounded. Father Jesus Plaza, 80, and Brother Luis Sanchez, 84 were both murdered; and Brother David Marin, 64, was stabbed in the leg multiple times and treated at a local hospital.
Salesian missionaries in Venezuela continue their schools and social development programs despite the protests and ongoing violence from pro-government groups. Missionaries provide education and workforce development paired with other social services to help poor youth break the cycle of poverty and have hope for the future.
Catholic News Agency – Two Salesian religious murdered during robbery in Venezuela