Venezuela spiralling into chaos amid looting, militarized police

After the deadliest day in weeks of anti-government protest and looting, tensions remain high in Venezuela as state police departments are put under National Guard control.

At least 20 have died since April 4 as frustrated Venezuelans protest Maduro government

Protesters hold up white flowers during a silent protest in homage to the at least 20 people killed in unrest generated after the nation's Supreme Court stripped congress of its last powers. Saturday's protest is the latest mass gathering yet in a wave of tumult that has rocked the nation. (Fernando Llano/Associated Press)

The smell of tear gas and smoke from fires filled the air in several Caracas neighbourhoods on Friday after a night that saw at least 12 people die.  In the humble district of El Valle, people screamed, while the sound of gunshots sent neighbours and protesters running for safety

Protesters are vowing to continue their opposition to the government of President Nicolas Maduro, after the deadliest day in three weeks of one anti-government protest after another.

Among the dead were eight people who were electrocuted in a bakery as it was being looted. About 20 have died in the past month, most shot in the head.

"This was like the wild, Wild West. During two hours we could only hear gunshots and detonations," said Ana Tiapa, 36, a resident of El Valle. "Two hours this lasted, then, you could only hear people running in and out of businesses; the sound of looting."
A shopkeeper surveys damage to his shop after looting in Caracas Thursday night and Friday morning. (Reuters)

The violence played out in at least five locations in the Venezuelan capital, beginning at sundown after  the opposition called for more street protests to pressure the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Life is difficult in Venezuela

A Supreme Court decision that stripped the opposition controlled National Assembly of its powers on April 4 began the series of protests. The court later reversed its decision, but the unrest had begun, as life has become increasingly difficult in the formerly oil-rich nation.

Venezuelans face inflation that hit 550 per cent in 2016, according to Congressman Jose Guerra, though the government cites an IMF estimate of 274 per cent.

Shortages of food and medicines have people waiting in long lines to buy something as simple as sugar or soap.

Michelle Mijares, a 23-year-old nurse, says street demonstrations seem the only way to apply pressure to this government.

"You can see people are very upset, and right now, we are ready for anything," she said.

National Guard steps in

On Tuesday, Maduro announced he was placing state police departments under National Guard control, further militarizing the country.
A demonstrator stands in front of a Bolivarian National Guard armored vehicle blocking its way during anti-government protests in Caracas, Venezuela, on Wednesday, April 19. (Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press)

The government has also taken over or blocked all media, making it difficult to confirm news, including the number of dead. Twitter is the main source of information in the country, with journalists using it to send out information and protestors using it to let others know what is happening on the ground.

On Wednesday, hundreds of thousands of people marched in 20 different locations in the capital, resulting in a rain of tear gas and rubber bullets from the National Guard.

Government supporters and opposition activists screamed at each other and security forces blocked demonstrators as they tried to reach the Ombudsman's office.

More than 200 people were injured and a 17-year-old boy was fatally shot in the head by armed groups that support the government, according to witnesses.

"I'm sick and tired," said 21-year-old medical student Leonel Bolivar. "There is no food and no medicines for all future patients I will meet."

The MUD, a coalition of opposition political parties, announced a new protest for Saturday to honour those who were murdered in the past month.

Those protests, which involved thousands holding white flowers, were mostly peaceful, but also drew a heavy police presence. 


Ana Vanessa Herrero is an award-winning photographer and freelance writer based in Caracas, Venezuela.