AP

Protests against the Venezuelan government turned deadly today as the country’s socialist government intensified its crackdown on dissidents.

Violence erupted in the western state of Tachira, on the Colombian border, where students from the Catholic University of Tachira (UCAT) clashed with police for much of the day.

High school student Kluibert Roa, 14, was shot in the head and died during a confrontation between protesters and police, according to local newspaper reports. Witnesses said he was shot by a police officer who charged a group of students.

Student leaders said Roa was a bystander who wasn't participating in the protest.

"Students were trying to get into homes, but people were shutting their doors," a witness who did not provide her name out of fear of reprisal, told the website Dollar Today. "The kid couldn’t get into a house, so he hid under a car. But police saw him and dragged him out from under the car and shot him almost at point-blank rage."

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Police in Tachira said it's unclear if Roa died from gunfire or a “strong blow” to the head.

"We have started an investigation. We have to wait for the autopsy to determine what the real cause of the victim’s death was,"  Ramon Cabeza, the director for Citizen Security in Tachira state told newschannel Globovision.

Officials cancelled classes across the state after Roa's death.

A total of 17 youths were arrested during today’s protests in Tachira, according to humanrights organization the Venezuelan Penal Forum.

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Others claim the number of those arrested was much higher.

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Opposition activists claim at least 50 protesters were injured by rubber bullets during today’s protests in Tachira and the city of Maracaibo.

The unrest comes just days after the Venezuelan government arrested the opposition mayor of Caracas on conspiracy charges.

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Meanwhile, pro-government legislators in congress started procedures today to remove opposition lawmaker Julio Borges from office. If Borges gets booted from congress, he would lose his parliamentary immunity, exposing him to similar conspiracy charges brought by the ruling party.

Critics claim the crackdown is the government's attempt to shift attention away from serious economic problems facing Venezuela, including product shortages, the world’s highest inflation rate and strict currency controls.

Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.