January was a month of political battles in Venezuela: Opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president and was quickly recognized by the United States and other nations; President Nicolás Maduro struck back, freezing Guaidó’s assets and barring him from leaving the country. Both sides jockeyed for backing from the country’s military and allies abroad, hoping to force the other to back down.
That conflict felt much more acute on Venezuela’s streets, where forces loyal to Maduro met protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets. At least 35 people have died in the clashes, and more than 800 have been taken into custody.
Despite this peril, there is a reason the protests continue: Simply living in Venezuela has become a life-threatening endeavor. Years of mismanagement and cronyism under Maduro have destroyed the country’s economy, sparking a humanitarian crisis. Food and medicine are scarce, hunger is rampant, and inflation is wildly out of control. The government is systematically silencing opponents by arresting dissidents and pulling media critics off the airwaves. Millions of Venezuelans have already fled.
Faced with the danger of advocating for a better life (many subjects did not want to be photographed without a mask) or the danger of letting the status quo persist, these protesters — captured in Caracas last week by Andrea Hernandez, a Venezuelan freelance photographer — insisted on shaking Maduro from power. As Hernandez puts it: “Fear blends in with the smoke, but there’s something else in the air, and it smells fresh. It might be hope.”
Andrea Hernandez is a freelance photojournalist based in Caracas. Max J. Rosenthal is an editor on The Washington Post’s foreign desk.