A throng of protesters demanding food made a run for the Venezuelan presidential palace on Thursday in a rare, apparently spontaneous outburst of anger at the socialist administration within the heart of Caracas.
More than 100 people charged down the main downtown thoroughfare chanting “No more talk. We want food” and got within about a half dozen of the presidential palace before police in riot gear headed them off and began firing tear gas.
Police pushed the protesters back as some kicked their plastic shields. More officers ran toward the scene and filled in the streets between the protesters and the palace.
Onlookers leaned out of windows banging pots and yelling insults at the officers.
The economically struggling county has seen near-daily spontaneous protests in recent weeks over shortages of food and medicine, rolling blackouts, and poor access to running water.
The organized opposition has staged several large rallies against the administration of President Nicolas Maduro, though the government has deployed troops in the streets to keep them from their goal of reaching the presidential palace.
While those protests tend to draw middle class critics of Maduro, Thursday’s eruption was made up of poor people who had been waiting for hours to buy food at subsidized prices.
Protesters said the incident started when a group of armed government supporters tried to cut into a long food line.
“We have needs too. We all need to eat” said Jose Lopez, who joined dozens of others in chasing the would-be intruders away, and then continued toward the presidential palace.
Lopez and other protesters said they were not members of the opposition or supporters of the government, just people trying to feed themselves.
The government has long counted on the poor people who live downtown and the slums above the city to support the administration, or at least stay away from opposition marches. The administration takes it as a point of pride that the presidential palace looks directly out on a shantytown.
The incident Thursday invoked the specter of a four-day convulsion of looting in 1989 that left hundreds dead and is seared in Venezuela’s national memory. As food riots become more common here, some fear a similar social disaster could be looming.
Shops closed their doors Thursday as police continued to fire tear gas, and some government supporters hit protesters with sticks. Both groups eventually moved off to a side street, leaving the usually chaotic thoroughfare empty in the early afternoon.
SOURCE: The Associated Press, Hannah Dreier