Venezuelan police officers have reached a breaking point after weeks of repeated deployments to battle fellow citizens protesting the regime of President Nicolas Maduro.
Daily clashes with desperate demonstrators have left members of the National Guard, the country’s paramilitary police force in charge of riot control, demoralized and on the verge of walking off the job altogether.
Gustavo, a 21-year-old national guardsman, says the combination of daytime riot duty and nighttime shifts to suppress looting has taken a toll on officers, who have been confined to their barracks and separated from their families since protests erupted late March.
“I feel exhausted from it all — the lack of sleep, the constant barrage of stones and Molotovs,” he told The Wall Street Journal. “We’re being used as cannon fodder.”
The security forces, once intensely loyal to former president and national icon Hugo Chavez, are beginning to question their fealty to Maudro as the Venezuelan economy suffers food shortages and soaring inflation. Forced to scrape by on the equivalent of $1.75 a day, police officers are usually no better off than the the poor students and unemployed workers they battle. (RELATED: Socialism Has Made Average Venezuelans Lose 19 Pounds Due To Lack Of Food)
One guardsman named Juan told TheWSJ that he gets up at 4 a.m. every day, eats a breakfast of a boiled carrot or potato, and heads out for an all-day shift on protest duty. For dinner, the police are provided a corn patty that comes with a side of butter on “lucky” days, he said.
Just as dispiriting for the guardsmen is the realization that they have the same concerns as fellow poor and working-class Venezuelans demonstrating against Maduro. Although they stand on opposite sides of increasingly violent street clashes, both groups fear speaking out against the government, and both suffer under criminal gangs in one of the world’s most dangerous countries.
A 26-year-old guardsman says that the only reason he has stayed in the security forces is that it is too dangerous to return to his hometown.
“For the gangs, killing us is a prize,” he told The New York Times. “The government does nothing.”
Despite those mutual concerns, the Maduro regime has forced police and protesters into a spiral of violence that has only gotten worse in recent weeks. Four people have been killed in demonstrations since Monday, bringing the total number of deaths to 43, Bloomberg reported.
Now, some police officers are hoping the popular resistance will bring down Maduro, even if that means they will lose their only source of income. Ana, a five-year veteran of the national police, told TheWSJ that she was “ashamed” be be an officer in service of a regime that is killing its own people.
“God willing, this government will fall soon and this will end,” she told TheWSJ.
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