Venezuelan teen blinded by police rubber bullets at protest

SAN CRISTOBAL, Venezuela (Reuters) - A Venezuelan teenager was left blind after police fired over 50 rubber bullets at his face as they dispersed a group of people protesting shortages of cooking gas in the border state of Tachira, his mother and a doctor said on Tuesday.

Adriana Parada, mother of Rufo Chacon who was left blind after police fired rubber bullets at his face, according to her and a doctor, walks at the Central Hospital of San Cristobal in San Cristobal, Venezuela, July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

The 16-year-old, Rufo Chacon, had been helping his mother, Adriana Parada, carry a gas canister during the protest, held by locals after three months without cooking gas, reflecting widespread shortages of basic goods across the country.

Parada, speaking to reporters at the hospital close to the Colombian border where Chacon was being treated, said police officers had charged at the protesters and fired the rubber rounds at her son. Photos on social media showed Parada carrying Chacon away from the scene, clutching his blood-covered face.

“They ruined my son’s life ... He was fanatical about computers, now he is asking to die,” Parada said after leaving his hospital room. “I want justice.”

Chacon had been shot with 52 rubber rounds, including several in both eyes, said Doctor Luis Ramirez, head of the hospital in the state capital of San Cristobal.

“Unfortunately he has permanently lost his sight,” Ramirez said.

Chacon had been only a week from completing secondary school, his mother said.

Jesus Arteaga, the director of Tachira’s police force, told reporters that two police officers had been arrested for injuring Chacon, adding that police had injured two other people at the protest with batons.

Venezuela’s chief state prosecutor, Tarek Saab, said on Twitter that his office would investigate both officers and they would be “severely sanctioned” for the attack.

The country’s five-year economic crisis has left millions of people across the country with shortages of gas, petrol, food and medicine, forcing many to choose exile with thousands crossing the land border daily into Colombia.

President Nicolas Maduro’s government has used security forces to crack down on protesters.

Writing by Angus Berwick, editing by G Crosse