Venezuela's deadly crisis in 10 photos


Caracas (AFP)

As a deadly political crisis grips Venezuela, AFP photographers have been in the streets capturing the most dramatic moments of the unrest.

Here are the stories behind 10 of the most powerful images taken by photographers Juan Barreto and Federico Parra during the past two months of anti-government protests.

- Ball of fire -

Student Victor Salazar, 28, ran screaming in a ball of fire after a police motorcycle that protesters were destroying exploded on May 3. Barreto was a standing a few feet away.

"The guy was running towards me, covered in flames. I couldn't do anything to help him," Barreto says. "All I could do was show it" by photographing him.

- Crushed by truck -

Pedro Yammine, 22, survived with multiple fractures and a collapsed lung after being run over by a police armored car during chaotic clashes.

Parra snapped him as he lay under the wheels. "I thought the guy was dead. He looked like a rag doll," he recalls. "I never stopped taking photos."

- Tank woman -

Wrapped in the Venezuelan flag, Maria Jose Castro, 54, stood blocking a police armored car in Caracas on April 19. Barreto was struck by "the will she had to stand there."

Riot police fired two tear gas canisters to try to move her but she stood firm, holding a handkerchief over her face until police on a motorbike took her away.

- Bare-faced cheek -

Wearing nothing but tennis shoes and socks, a money belt and an anguished expression, Hans Wuerich, 27, raised a bible in his hand as he stood on top of a police armored car on April 20.

Rubber bullets struck his back as he turned his hairy buttocks on the riot police and climbed off, photographed by Barreto.

- Wonder Woman -

With muscular thighs, a rock in her fist and arms braced to hurl it at police, fitness instructor Caterina Ciarcelluti earned the nickname "Wonder Woman" after Parra's May 1 photo of her.

"You are always looking for something that stands out and suddenly, among 20 hooded guys, I saw this Venezuelan stereotype of beauty," says Parra.

- Fiddler on the hoof -

Calmly playing his violin, Wuilly Arteaga wove through clouds of tear gas towards police on May 8 to deliver what he called a "message of peace."

Last week, a new photograph appeared of him crying and holding a violin broken by police. After an online outcry, he appeared playing a new donated violin.

- Shield-bearers -

Facing police on the frontlines of the protests, masked youths wield home-made wooden and metal shields to fend off tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.

They daub their shields with anti-government slogans such as "Resist, Venezuela."

- Pensioners' protest -

On May 13, hundreds of elderly opposition activists took their turn to lead the demonstrations in a rally dubbed "The March of the Grandparents."

They argued angrily with security forces who barred their way and the day of protest ended as usual with tear gas.

- Man versus machine -

Many clashes have broken out on the major Francisco Fajardo highway as protesters try to march to central Caracas, met by lines of white armored trucks that have been given nicknames by the protesters.

One is known as "The Whale," with its mounted water cannon. "The Bat" has barriers that extend from its sides to block streets. Another is dubbed "The Rhino."

- March of silence -

Thousands of opposition demonstrators staged an epic march on April 22, walking 14 kilometers (nine miles) across Caracas.

The "March of Silence" for people killed in earlier protests crossed a pro-government neighborhood, previously a no-go zone for the opposition.