May 25, Virginia Lopez

It starts with a distant rumble, and then a chanted countdown from the demonstrators packed tight along the Caracas freeway.

As the count reaches zero, the crowds briefly part, and a file of young protesters – faces covered by T-shirts or makeshift gas masks – rush forward to confront heavily armed riot police.

Shots ring out, and plumes of teargas arch towards the protesters. Some shelter behind wooden shields; other return the gas canisters or throw Molotov cocktails. After a few minutes, the first wave returns to the crowd, coughing and spitting – and a new cohort rushes forward to take their place.

After nearly two months of political unrest in Venezuela, a pattern has emerged at the near daily protests that have erupted across the country.

Anti-government demonstrations begin with a peaceful march, in which hundreds of thousands head towards government buildings in central Caracas, demanding fresh elections and an end to chronic shortages of food and medicine. They never reach their destination.

Somewhere along the route, the road is blocked by a line of national guardsmen armed with rubber bullets and teargas, and backed by water cannon. After a brief standoff, the countdown starts – and the rioting begins.

At times, the clashes resemble scenes from Braveheart or Gladiator, with security forces with shotguns and body armour battling ragtag protesters with catapults and improvised shields.

It is an unequal fight, but the young firebrands – known as los chamos after the Venezuelan slang for kids – are increasingly dominating the daily protests. State television dismisses them as rioters, but every day new cellphone footage of the clashes is widely shared on social media.

Some activists say that the young protesters are the opposition’s best hope at galvanizing the resistance and even pushing the demoralized military to shift loyalties.

Read More at The Guardian.

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