Venezuela’s shield-bearing protesters inspired by Ukraine

News Hour:

Drawing inspiration from Ukraine’s 2013-14 revolt, Venezuela’s young protesters are donning Viking-like shields in battles with security forces and eagerly watching a film on the Kiev uprising.

Foes of Venezuelan socialist President Nicolas Maduro are holding public showings of Netflix’s “Winter on Fire” documentary about the three-month standoff in Ukraine that led to 100 deaths and the exit of then-president Viktor Yanukovich, reports Reuters.

In Venezuela’s anti-government unrest, where 80 people have died since April, youths bear colorfully decorated homemade shields akin to those used in Kiev’s Maidan Square.

The young Venezuelans make their shields from satellite TV dishes, drain covers, barrels or any other scraps of wood and metal they can find. Some supporters also make and donate shields.

The protesters use the shields to form walls, or even beat on them in unison, as Roman soldiers and Norsemen used to do going into battle. Fellow demonstrators cheer as the self-styled “Resistance” members link arms to walk to the front lines and face off with National Guard troops and police.

“The shields don’t stop bullets, but they do protect us from tear gas, rubber bullets and stones,” said 20-year-old law student Brian Suarez, wearing a gas mask and carrying a shield depicting Maduro in the sights of a rifle target.

Other shields carry quotes and images of Venezuela’s constitution, paintings and religious symbols, depictions of the faces of slain protesters, or slogans saying “SOS!”, “No More Dictatorship!” or “Murderer, Maduro!”

While the protesters say they are fighting against tyranny in the South American oil producer, Maduro accuses them of seeking a violent coup with U.S. support.

Manuel Melo said he was on the front line of protests, hurling stones and protecting other marchers with his blue plastic shield, until one day he was caught by a water cannon. The 20-year-old graphic design student lost his kidney from the impact.

Nevertheless, he wants to go back.

“It’s an important role being a shield-bearer because you know that everything they throw goes straight at you,” he said while recovering from his home in Caracas. “I’m not out there because I like it, but for the common good.”

News Hour Correspondent

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