Thousands of elderly Venezuelans marched against President Nicolas Maduro
Some demonstrators shielded their faces from bursts of police pepper spray
This time it was the “abuelitos” – Venezuela’s grandparents – who took to the streets.
On Friday, the face of the latest in an almost daily series of sometimes deadly protests against the government of President Nicolas Maduro changed from the bandana-wearing, rock-throwing rage of the country’s youth to the lined faces and mournful eyes of its oldest citizens.
Thousands of elderly Venezuelans, some accompanied by their grandchildren, encountered lines of riot police officers blocking parts of the so-called “Grandparents’ March” through the streets of Caracas.
Some demonstrators pushed against the plastic shields of officers, who at times responded with bursts of pepper spray, according to videos posted on social media.
A video posted by Caracas Mayor Helen Fernandez showed marchers shielding their faces from what she said was police pepper spray.
Venezuelans have been suffering from severe shortages of food and medicine.
Protests have raged across the country since the Venezuelan Supreme Court – stacked with the President’s loyalists – attempted to take away legislative power from the opposition-led National Assembly in late March.
Many blame Maduro for the crisis, which intensified after his administration barred opposition leader Henrique Capriles from running for any political office for 15 years.
Capriles on Friday tweeted a photo of a woman who said she is 97 years old as she stood before of phalanx of national guard troops in riot gear.
Protesters and international observers have accused the government of taking a heavy-handed response to the protests, including the firing of tear gas canisters and water cannons. At least 38 Venezuelans have died since the unrest began.
On Friday, some elderly Venezuelans wore improvised gas masks. One mask was fashioned from a plastic bottle.
The country’s problems have unraveled the lives of most Venezuelans, who must cope with shortages of home staples like milk, flour and toilet paper, rolling blackouts, rising unemployment and soaring violent crime.
For the elderly, life is tougher. Many live on public pensions that pay them about $15 dollars a month. People older than 70 cannot purchase private medical insurance.
Protester Rafael Prieto, an 80-year-old cab driver, said government repression against the marchers saddened him. Prieto said he had one wish for his grandchildren: “The best of life – peace, food and medicine.”
CNN’s Marilia Brocchetto, David Willians and Julia Jones contributed to this story.