Clashes broke out during an anti-government march led by thousands of elderly Venezuelans when police tried to block them from advancing in the capital city of Caracas. (Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

For more than six consecutive weeks, violent demonstrations have overtaken cities in Venezuela, as the country has descended into an economic crisis that anti-government protesters are pinning on socialist President Nicolás Maduro.

Since the protests broke out in early April, at least 39 people have been killed and hundreds more injured.

As The Washington Post's Ishaan Tharoor reported, the potent images coming out of the South American country have become familiar: “smoldering barricades arrayed against riot police, security forces launching fusillades of tear gas, bloodied demonstrators being rushed out by volunteer medics.”

On Friday, however, the faces of the anti-government protesters represented a different demographic: abuelos and abuelas.

In what was dubbed the “March of the Grandparents,” thousands of Venezuelan senior citizens took the streets of Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, to demonstrate against Maduro and his government.

“They've taken so much that we're not afraid to go out into the street anymore,” an anti-government protester named Marlene Berroteran told Reuters. “I'm 62 years old and I'm in the street. My age isn't holding me back. That's the call I make, for everyone to come to the street. We're not afraid anymore. They've killed so many of our children.”


Gray-haired opposition supporters confront riot security forces while rallying against President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas on Friday. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

Videos from Friday's protests show bespectacled and graying citizens marching through the streets, chanting in Spanish, “We are in the streets! And we are not afraid!” At least one bearded protester was seen dressed as (and bearing a striking resemblance to) Santa Claus. Some were in wheelchairs or were joined by their grandchildren and other younger relatives.

On social media, tweets and images from the seniors' protests were accompanied by the hashtag #PorNuestrosNietos, or “For Our Grandchildren.”

The scenes were no less intense because they involved older protesters. Some demonstrators clashed with law enforcement officers, who wore riot gear and helmets and held large shields, when police tried to block them in the streets. Footage from the protests showed a few protesters wearing gas masks.

Like their younger counterparts, the older protesters made impassioned pleas for freedom. They railed against Maduro, calling him a dictator and blaming him for the rapid disintegration of the once-wealthy nation's economy.


Opposition supporters confront riot security forces in Caracas. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Maduro has remained in power, despite losing his influence among even poor Venezuelans who once embraced him and his mentor, Hugo Chávez. This month, the struggling president ordered that the country's constitution be rewritten; experts saw the move as an effort by Maduro to delay state-level elections and perhaps even a presidential election.

As The Post's Amanda Erickson reported, the country reached its tipping point in late March when the Venezuelan Supreme Court, controlled by Maduro, stripped its democratically elected National Assembly of its power. A few days later, the decision was reversed, but by then it was too late to contain the outrage.

“Many Venezuelans are already at the breaking point,” Erickson wrote in April. “Food shortages have left much of the country hungry, and access to basic goods and medicine is intermittent at best. Inflation is spiraling out of control, and crime is a daily reality. Corruption and mismanagement have squandered the country's vast oil reserves.”

Since then, the political unrest in Venezuela has only deepened.


Protesters are blocked by police during a demonstration in Caracas on Friday. (Miguel Gutierrez/European Pressphoto Agency)

Last month, the Venezuelan government seized a General Motors auto plant without explanation, prompting the Detroit-based manufacturer to announce that it was ceasing operations there and pulling out of the country immediately.

In late April, the country declared a two-day workweek to conserve electricity.

Meanwhile, the clashes between protesters and security forces have continued to intensify. As The Post's Mariana Zuniga and Nick Miroff reported, homemade combat gear — including makeshift gas masks fashioned out of plastic bottles, slingshots, wooden shields and gardening gloves — have appeared at demonstrations alongside molotov cocktails and genuine combat gear.

Some protesters have taken to flinging “poopootov cocktails” — bottles and jars filled with human feces — at National Guard troops.

On Saturday morning, the Associated Press reported that 34-year-old Reinaldo Jose Herrera, a businessman and nephew of fashion designer Carolina Herrera, was found dead inside a truck near Caracas. The cause of his death and whether it was related to the ongoing unrest was unclear.


Women join the protest on Friday. (Ariana Cubillos/AP)

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