World News

Faces on the front lines of Venezuela's protests

Posted July 27

Like many Venezuelan mothers she just wants her child to graduate from college, have a career, get married and have kids.

But "he needs to fight," said Theresa, who requested her last name not be published. "I need to support him."

Her only son, who asked to be identified only as Junior, is determined to continue taking part in protests against President Nicol-s Maduro's security forces.

CNN in Venezuela: The latest developments

He has paid a price for his role in ongoing street battles that have raged since March. He told CNN that national guardsmen recently shot him in the leg with rubber bullets. He doesn't have enough gauze to cover each wound.

"There have been a lot of people injured. Regardless, we're still fighting on and we're stronger than ever," Junior said, his face covered with a mask, helmet and sunglasses.

On Thursday, the government upped the ante by issuing a statement banning all demonstrations from Friday onwards.

'La Resistancia' takes to the streets

Junior and others are part of the movement known as "La Resistencia," or The Resistance. It's made up of mostly young men, many of whom have college degrees and career aspirations.

Some -- after requesting anonymity -- told CNN that they've been losing weight due to food shortages. Many have family members who have joined a massive exodus as Venezuelans flee to other countries to escape unrest, uncertainty and the threat of possible violence. But the protesters feel an obligation to stay.

"We're sick of this but we don't want to leave the streets," Junior adds. "We're not going anywhere."

They are some of the faces on the front lines of a bitter battle against a regime that many, including President Donald Trump, say is acting like a dictatorship.

How paradise got lost

Violent street clashes have persisted since late March when protests were sparked following the Supreme Court's brief attempt to dissolve the opposition-controlled National Assembly. Over 100 people have died in the protests.

Sunday's vote comes amid heightened tensions

The tension seems near boiling point ahead of a nationwide vote on Sunday. Maduro called for the ballot, which would ultimately enable him to rewrite the country's constitution, stripping away power from his opponents.

Critics say the vote is a sham and would erase any vestiges of democracy in Venezuela.

On the streets of Caracas, tear gas, water cannons, tanks and rubber bullets are a daily backdrop for the unfolding crisis. Ant-Maduro protesters use their own makeshift weapons and improvised explosives to retaliate -- including Molotov cocktails filled with feces.

Resistencia protesters clash with Maduro forces but many say they aren't aligned with Venezuela's opposition political party.

Political crisis explained

They say they represent a youth uprising that is seeking a new political class. They are fatigued by years of government corruption, a humanitarian crisis and the steady flow of peers leaving for other countries in search of a better life.

Their actions and reputation are divisive issues. On Wednesday, some Resistencia members attacked a university supportive of the government. They ripped down the gates and set fires in the street. Some onlookers saw them as heroes, sending a message to Maduro. Others called it simple vandalism.

Their unity isn't rock solid either. When one of the Resistencia men grabbed a television from the university, a brief scuffle broke out among them.

Medics 'preparing for the worst'

It's not just the Resistencia who are the faces of the protests.

It's also volunteer medics like Genesis Franceschi, who treats the wounded. Despite coming from upper-middle-class families, the medics suffer through food shortages while pulling 12-hour shifts with little medical equipment to patch up more and more injured protesters.

Some medics are as young as 19. Some have proper training as doctors, some have training as firefighters, all want the same thing, to help the wounded. The medics tell us they help everyone: -- protesters, police, national guard, and pro-government people. They don't discriminate.

Maria Cristina Rascos, 23, is worried of what is to come. "The things that could happen are limitless. And it's worse than it was before. It's getting worse because there are a lot of gunshots, not rubber."

"It's hard, but it's our work," says Franceschi, 25. "The weariness, the hours we endure in the street, sometimes we don't have a consistent food supply, so we eat what we can so we can provide care."

Franceschi and others take pride in their work. Rascos says this work fullfills her. It really means something to the medics to be working in medicine in Venezuela. It 1961 it became the first country worldwide to eradicate malaria, according to the World Health Organization. It beat the US by nine years. Amid medical shortages, malaria cases are now back on the rise in Venezuela.

As Sunday's polarizing vote draws nearer, Resistencia protesters and the medics sense this weekend could be the most violent they've seen yet.

"We have to prepare for the worst," says Franceschi.

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