Venezuela's injured activists struggle to heal

CARACAS, Aug 24 (Reuters) - Jesus Ibarra, a 19-year-old engineering student, has been barely able to walk or talk since a tear gas canister crushed part of his skull during a protest against President Nicolas Maduro and he fell unconscious into a river that carries sewage.

Chronic shortages of medicine in Venezuela forced his family to ask for drug donations so Ibarra could undergo five surgeries on his skull and treatment for infections from the Guaire river.

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Ibarra, who cannot return to his studies any time soon, needs to a sixth operation and therapy. It is unclear if he will fully recover.

"I speak to my son a lot, and sometimes he makes me understand it was not worth suffering this, that he regrets it, that it was a mistake," said Ibarra's father Jose at their small home in the sprawling hilltop slum of Petare in Caracas.

"But other times he's clearly telling me that it was worth fighting for a change he believes in."

Ibarra is one of nearly 2,000 people injured during four months of fierce anti-Maduro street protests, according to the public prosecutor's office. Rights groups think the number is probably higher.

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Injured protesters struggle to heal
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Injured protesters struggle to heal
Yolyter Rodriguez, 56, a housewife and a mother-of-three, who was injured during a protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government, poses for a photograph at her home in Caracas, Venezuela, August 11, 2017. Rodriguez said she was struck in the face by a tear gas canister on April 23, 2017, causing skull fractures and brain damage. "I protest against hunger, for freedom and for several other reasons. But that fight is political, I'm against almost everything this government does," she said. "It's worth it. I try to see things in a positive way despite my appearance and that I'm not the same anymore. I'm a little sad and angry about that, but I'm still in the streets protesting, despite my physical condition. We cannot give up." REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "VENEZUELA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Jofre Rodriguez, 18, who was injured during a protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government, poses for a photograph at his home in Turmero, Venezuela, August 11, 2017. Rodriguez said his jaw was fractured by a gunshot on June 26, 2017. He underwent surgery to remove a projectile that was lodged in a vertebra but he still needs treatment and jaw reconstruction surgery. "This constituent assembly is a perversion meant to consolidate them (the ruling party) in power. I'm protesting against that. It saddens me to see my country like this. With Chavez, we had a dictatorship with a 'political leader,' with Maduro we have a political disaster," he said. "I'm only 18 years old, but I'm living through the decline of Venezuela. Was it worth it? Yes, like those who died, what happened to me was a sacrifice that has inspired many people in the struggle." REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "VENEZUELA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Culinary student Brian Dalati, 22, a bystander who was injured during a protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government, poses for a photograph inside his home in Caracas, Venezuela, August 15, 2017. Dalati said he was walking past a street barricade on his way to class during an opposition protest on July 27, 2017 when the police, mistaking him for a protester, hit him and shot him with rubber bullets in both legs. "I did not participate in the protests because I always thought it was dangerous and too violent. Today I'm in a desperate situation. I was a very active person, I enjoyed exercising, normal activities, and now I cannot do anything but sit and lie in bed all day." "I depend on my siblings to go to the bathroom, shower, brush my teeth, eat, anything. It's infuriating," he said. "They didn't have to do this. It was pure hate. Thank goodness I will be able to walk again soon." REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "VENEZUELA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Najhud Najhla Colina, 23, a student, who was injured during a protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government, poses for a photograph inside his home in Caracas, Venezuela, August 18, 2017. Colina said she was hit by an armoured vehicle and detained on June 18, 2017, sustaining injuries in her right leg. She said, police dragged her by her hair and beat her with their shields. "I'm protesting for my right to live in a free Venezuela. I protest for the love of my country, for the right to stay here and not have to leave because I have nothing to eat," she said. "Yes, it was worth going through it, despite the physical pain, I think everyone can see that Venezuela is no longer a democratic country." REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "VENEZUELA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Oscar Antonio Navarrete, 18, a student, who was injured during a protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government, lies in a hospital bed, in Caracas, Venezuela, August 17, 2017. Relatives of Navarrete said he was hit in the chest by a tear gas canister on May 18, 2017. He lost consciousness and his heart stopped for several minutes. He cannot walk, suffers short-term memory loss, severe motor sequelae and has cerebral edema - an accumulation of fluid in the brain. Today, he lives in a hospital and needs rehabilitation and treatment by specialist doctors including neurosurgeons, speech therapists and psychologists. Oscar's mother says her son was angry about crisis in the country, and protested because it affected everyone. "It was worth it, because none of this will be forgotten. The world needs to see all this, I have faith that things will change," said Navarrete's mother Elizabeth. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "VENEZUELA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Najhud Najhla Colina, 23, a student, who was injured during a protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government, poses for a photograph inside his home in Caracas, Venezuela, August 18, 2017. Colina said she was hit by an armoured vehicle and detained on June 18, 2017, sustaining injuries in her right leg. She said, police dragged her by her hair and beat her with their shields. "I'm protesting for my right to live in a free Venezuela. I protest for the love of my country, for the right to stay here and not have to leave because I have nothing to eat," she said. "Yes, it was worth going through it, despite the physical pain, I think everyone can see that Venezuela is no longer a democratic country." REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "VENEZUELA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Manuel Melo, 21, a student, who was injured during a protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government, poses for a photograph inside his home in Caracas, Venezuela, August 3, 2017. Melo said he was hit by a police water cannon on May 22, 2017. He sustained internal injuries and lost a kidney. "I'm protesting because simple things cost a lot of money, the minimum wage is not good, the country is not good. I protest against insecurity, lack of medicine. I have millions of reasons. A man with less education than me cannot govern, we need someone new, from a university, with true principles and values." REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "VENEZUELA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Culinary student Brian Dalati, 22, a bystander who was injured during a protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government, lies in a bed inside his home in Caracas, Venezuela, August 15, 2017. Dalati said he was walking past a street barricade on his way to class during an opposition protest on July 27, 2017 when the police, mistaking him for a protester, hit him and shot him with rubber bullets in both legs. "I did not participate in the protests because I always thought it was dangerous and too violent. Today I'm in a desperate situation. I was a very active person, I enjoyed exercising, normal activities, and now I cannot do anything but sit and lie in bed all day." "I depend on my siblings to go to the bathroom, shower, brush my teeth, eat, anything. It's infuriating," he said. "They didn't have to do this. It was pure hate. Thank goodness I will be able to walk again soon." REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "VENEZUELA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Jofre Rodriguez, 18, who was injured during a protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government, poses for a photograph at his home in Turmero, Venezuela, August 11, 2017. Rodriguez said his jaw was fractured by a gunshot on June 26, 2017. He underwent surgery to remove a projectile that was lodged in a vertebra but he still needs treatment and jaw reconstruction surgery. "This constituent assembly is a perversion meant to consolidate them (the ruling party) in power. I'm protesting against that. It saddens me to see my country like this. With Chavez, we had a dictatorship with a 'political leader,' with Maduro we have a political disaster," he said. "I'm only 18 years old, but I'm living through the decline of Venezuela. Was it worth it? Yes, like those who died, what happened to me was a sacrifice that has inspired many people in the struggle." REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "VENEZUELA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Manuel Melo, 21, a student, who was injured during a protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government, poses for a photograph inside his home in Caracas, Venezuela, August 3, 2017. Melo said he was hit by a police water cannon on May 22, 2017. He sustained internal injuries and lost a kidney. "I'm protesting because simple things cost a lot of money, the minimum wage is not good, the country is not good. I protest against insecurity, lack of medicine. I have millions of reasons. A man with less education than me cannot govern, we need someone new, from a university, with true principles and values." REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "VENEZUELA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Jesus Ibarra, 1a 19-year-old engineering student, who was injured during a protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government, lies on a bed inside his home in Caracas, Venezuela August 15, 2017. Relatives of Ibarra said he was struck by a tear gas canister crushed part of his skull, he fell unconscious into the Guaire river on May 1, 2017. He has brain damage and speech impairment. His parents said he was protesting against hunger, medicine shortages and the economic crisis. "I speak to my son a lot, and sometimes he makes me understand it was not worth suffering this, that he regrets it, that it was a mistake. But other times he's clearly telling me that it was worth fighting for a change he believes in," said Ibarra's father Jose. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "VENEZUELA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Yolyter Rodriguez, 56, a housewife and a mother-of-three, who was injured during a protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government, has her head bandaged by her daughter at her home in Caracas, Venezuela, August 11, 2017. Rodriguez said she was struck in the face by a tear gas canister on April 23, 2017, causing skull fractures and brain damage. "I protest against hunger, for freedom and for several other reasons. But that fight is political, I'm against almost everything this government does," she said. "It's worth it. I try to see things in a positive way despite my appearance and that I'm not the same anymore. I� a little sad and angry about that, but I'm still in the streets protesting, despite my physical condition. We cannot give up." REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "VENEZUELA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
David Osorio, 21, an English teacher and a student, who was injured during a protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government, poses for a photograph inside his home in Caracas, Venezuela, August 15, 2017. Osorio said he was struck by a tear gas canister on July 7, 2017, fracturing his skull and leaving him blind in his right eye. He uses a temporary prosthetic eye while seeking specialist treatment. "I have been protesting since 2014. During the last few months, I was actively participating in all the marches, because things have gotten worse and I am against the policies of this government." REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino SEARCH "VENEZUELA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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Venezuela has been torn by political and economic crises that have led to extreme shortages of food and medicine, crushing inflation and the collapse of the local currency. Its new government structure has been criticized as a dictatorship.

Rubber bullets fired at close range, rocks, and tear gas canisters have caused most of the injuries, doctors and rights groups say. Most of those who have been hurt appear to be opposition protesters, but Maduro supporters, security forces and bystanders have also been harmed.

More than 125 people have died in the unrest since April. Thousands have been arrested.

The unpopular leftist president has said he was facing an armed insurgency intent on overthrowing him.

Opposition politicians have said they were forced to take to the streets after authorities curtailed democratic means for change. They have also accused security forces of using excessive force against protesters.

Culinary student Brian Dalati, 22, said he was passing an opposition-manned street barricade on his way to classes in July when police mistook him for a protester. They hit him and fired buckshot at his legs, fracturing both of Dalati's shinbones.

"I depend on my siblings to go to the bathroom, shower, brush my teeth, eat, anything. It's infuriating," he said. "They didn't have to do this. It was pure hate. Thank goodness I will be able to walk again soon."

The government says right-wing media are too focused on injuries to protesters.

Maduro has pointed to a case in which a 21-year-old man was set afire during an opposition protest and died two weeks later. A Reuters witness said the crowd had accused the man of being a thief, but the government said he was targeted for being a Maduro supporter.

Protests have subsided since Maduro's government established a controversial legislative superbody three weeks ago, but hundreds of Venezuelans are still struggling to nurse their wounds without medicine and state support.

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