DW talked to Venezuelan journalist and photographer Ivan Reyes whose images highlight the stories of the people marching against the government.
DW: The protests against President Nicolas Maduro have been going for almost two months now. What is the mood in the crowd?
Ivan Reyes: The hope that the change is finally near gives everyone strength. People are angry and frustrated, and they say they will march as often as necessary to show Maduro that they won’t accept his form of governing anymore. But that rebellious spirit disappears once you hear the deafening sound of bullets and when the tear gas starts getting into your eyes.
Every day, I see very emotional scenes. You know, those are not just young folks revolting against the system: Whole families, communities from universities and workplaces, organized groups, the elderly, and even people with disabilities come to the walkouts. The number of demonstrators is already quite big, you can hear them arguing whether they should march toward the presidential palace or confront the police in the streets, but they always unite in the end because they want the same thing – change.
Has anything changed in Venezuela yet?
The main goal – to remove the socialist government and install democracy – remains. I wouldn’t consider the recent protests to be a continuation of the 2014 riots, however. Unlike today, there was no opposition, and the events were rather random. What persists is the discontent with the current shape of the country that has been growing for several years. There have 15 mass protests in April and May alone, which is something unprecedented in the history of Venezuela.
Also, we are living in a true crisis right now – people weren’t dying from malnutrition or a lack of medication three years ago. You could have seen traditional media reporting from the streets, but nowadays the press is under pressure, and journalists don’t dare to be seen in the crowds.
More than 1,000 people have been arrested, and almost 40 have died so far in the protests. Doesn’t it discourage people from going out on the streets?
No, it actually makes them even more tenacious. You can feel the determination to resolve the situation once and for all; the lines are not as easily dispersed as they used to be. For instance, when people have to pull back, they only do so to reorganize, and then they return to the march again. But of course, fear is omnipresent because everyone has realized by now that the national police and the national guard are here not only to repress the crowd but also to hurt the people. The way they launch tear gas now can easily kill a person. But everyone is willing to resist; they withstand the shootings, the gas, and the attacks.
However, it seems that the violence has been escalating on both sides recently especially since many masked groups took to the streets.
I believe the protests are quite peaceful, actually, and there is a desire for them to be non-violent, although that has become impossible. What I see every day is people with flags, banners, whistles, and hopes for a better tomorrow. But yes, some groups engage in clashes. They use stones and even make Molotov cocktails in order to match the governmental forces. It is a battle they can’t win, unfortunately – only the government has the resources to keep on fighting.
Why are the armed services so loyal to Maduro’s regime?
Some higher ranking officers get access to food, housing, vehicles, and even an above-average salary, although it is not very common. In reality, many who join the police or the national guard come from very poor environments, and they assume such jobs are a way out of their situation.
The political crisis in Venezuela is going hand in hand with the economic crisis. What does everyday life look like in Caracas?
People will do anything to survive. Some sell ice cream, water, cigars, or food on the streets, but the hunger is everywhere, and many people are reduced to having to dig through the trash to get some leftovers at least. Long lines form just to buy bread or get the so-called CLAP bags with various basic ingredients that state agencies distribute among the population, but those are not available to everyone either.
There are those who carry on, living their normal lives despite everything that’s happening, but they are not many today. Going to the movies or the theater has become an exercise in escaping the reality. Since the riots take place every day, the government shuts down streets, avenues, highways, and even the subway, which completely changes the dynamics of the whole society. As much as they don’t want to get involved in the protests, they end up being affected in one way or another.
Do you see an end to all this?
I don’t think the demonstrations will cease soon because I am not convinced Maduro is willing to resign. I’d say the actions on the streets will continue, but the opposition leaders should look for a new, innovative way to protest. Right now, they always end up the same – being dispersed on some highway or another venue.
The people are still motivated, nonetheless, they want the change. I think it’s a resistance fight on both sides. Let’s see which team gets tired first.
Ivan Reyes is a journalist working for Efecto Cocuyo, an independent Venezuelan newspaper.