As the death toll from the protests and civil unrest in Venezuela continues to rise, the tension is increasingly felt on a block by block level, as protesters set up barricades, and others just want to go about their normal daily lives.
That was the case in the eastern part of Caracas Monday morning, where residents awoke to barricaded streets. Opposition supporters used Facebook and Twitter to convince their followers to “protect” their neighborhoods and streets from the colectivos, or neighborhood groups of government supporters. They used garbage bags, old furniture, tree branches, cardboard boxes, whatever they could find to block traffic. The opposition alleges that some of the collectivos have morphed into armed gangs that ride motorcycles and attack protesters.
A woman in Caracas filmed police clearing a street after it was barricaded on Feb. 24.
Diego Leon, a 24-year old resident from the Los Palos Grandes neighborhood, a middle-upper class neighborhood in the eastern Caracas, was walking with his mother and a few friends on Monday when they came across one of the barricades that a group of 20 residents built at the end of the street. Leon told me that as he tried to pass, the group manning the barricade said he "needed permission" and he tried to continue, a man called him a "chavista" and started to yell. When he asked if anyone was filming, another man threatened him with a stick, Leon said.
Leon’s experience mirrored that of many Caracas residents on Monday. Ramón Muchacho, the local mayor of the Chacao municipality, where many of the protests in the capital have taken place, shared an email on his Facebook wall that he sent his neighbors earlier that day.
The things we have witnessed, the feelings people are expressing in their protests, the signs we are seeing in this environment suggest we are facing an atypical situation, different to other moments of political and social tension we have lived through in the past. Our neighbors have been swallowing tear gas and smoke for days, yet many of them wish the protests continue.”
He says further on: “We have been getting reports of fights amongst neighbors between those who want to set up barricades and those who don´t, something unseen in our municipality.”
A barricade in Los Palos Grandes.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles had asked people not to block their streets, but on the ground level, political leaders don't have the power to control opposition demonstrators who are using anything they can to build impromptu barricades. The opposition isn’t just made up of young students either — old ladies have taken to the streets banging pots and pans as well.
In some streets, people have hung wire across the street to stop people riding motorcycles which they associate with the colectivos. Last Friday, one such wire claimed the life of Elvis Duran, a 29 year-old who bagged groceries at a supermarket. The wire got tangled around his neck while he was riding his motorcycle and choked him to death. Thousands of motorcycle riders held a march Monday in response.
Colette Capriles, psychologist and political columnist for the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional, says the lack of coordination in the protest movement is in part a reflection of its diversity.
“Everyone complains, people are upset, but not everyone is concerned about the same things,” she said. “The frustration and discomfort is deeply rooted and around the country”. But it’s hard for people to agree on what it is exactly they want to complaint about.
She says these protests have turned cathartic, but there is no clear goal or agenda.
They do have some some stated goals: Capriles has asked protesters to concentrate on complaining about specific issues: scarcity of food and medicines and the crime rate, while students groups are calling on Maduro to resign. But none of the protester’s goals will be achieved unless they can continue to expand beyond their base of students and the middle class, and for that to happen, they’re going to need the support of the people building the barricades, as well as that of those that just need to pass by.