First foreign fatality in Venezuelan conflict

BY Anya van Wagtendonk  March 11, 2014 at 2:52 PM EDT
Protesters took to the streets in Caracas, Venezuela on Feb. 15, 2014. Photo by Flickr user andresAzp

Protesters took to the streets in Caracas, Venezuela on Feb. 15, 2014. Photo by Flickr user andresAzp

A 47-year-old student and mother of four became the first foreign fatality of Venezuela’s ongoing civil unrest Monday, more than a month after demonstrators first took to the streets seeking seeking economic reform and decrying the policies of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

Gisela Rubilar, a Chilean native, was reportedly clearing a barricade in the western Venezuelan city of Mérida when she was shot in the eye and killed, said Alexis Ramírez, Mérida’s governor.

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera called for an investigation, while Ramírez and President Maduro blamed right-wing opposition groups for Rubilar’s death.

Tensions between government forces and students exploded in early February when the National Guard cracked down on a campus protest in the university city of San Cristóbal, near the Colombian border. The ranks of the protesters have since swelled and spread across the country as members of the country’s middle class have joined near-daily demonstrations against high crime and rampant inflation.

Street barricades, which protesters say shield them from “colectivos,” or pro-government paramilitaries, have frequently been the site of violent conflict between the demonstrators and security forces. Late Monday night student leader Daniel Tinoco was shot dead manning one such structure in San Cristóbal, that city’s mayor reported, in a crackdown that left at least one other student seriously wounded.

The deaths of Rubilar and Tinoco bring the fatality count from this conflict up to at least 21.