By Jorge Silva
April 12 marked two months since the first people died in a wave of unrest that hit Venezuela this year. The day sat between the April 11th anniversary of the 2002 coup against then-President Hugo Chavez, and April 13th – the day that he managed to return to office. Those dates still serve as a reminder of the political division and sense of confrontation that has long existed in this country.
Last year I was part of a team covering protests that erupted following the 2013 presidential election, which was called after Chavez’s death. The clashes finally subsided and we put away our riot gear – gas masks, flak vests and helmets – confident that we wouldn’t need it again so soon.
But this year demonstrations started up again, initially as regular as any stage performance. Protesters, police and journalists would all arrive in the upscale neighborhood of Altamira at the same sort of time, in the same place, each afternoon.
The protests continued, routine and repetitive. But as casualties mounted, it became clear this was a serious wave of unrest. The spectacle became violent and now over 40 people have died, among them protesters, security forces and bystanders.
The protests normally begin peacefully, but descend into violence by the end of the afternoon. Some demonstrators are arrested and the scene fills with clouds of tear gas. At night we can often hear gunshots and we prefer to keep our distance, photographing from windows or high balconies.