People at a crowded beach in Maiquetia on the outskirts of
Caracas. Venezuelans began a week-long national holiday as
some protests still simmered. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo
Thousands of Venezuelans have escaped to the beach for
the long Carnival weekend, heeding President Nicolas Maduro's
call to leave behind nearly a month of anti-government
But rather than leaving the inflamed partisan politics at
home, many have brought it with them.
The small beach of La Morena, about 25 miles (40 kilometers)
northeast of the capital Caracas, is packed.
While some take refreshing dips in the turquoise Caribbean
waters, others relax with a beer. The smell of fried fish
wafts in the air, and children roll in the sand.
But not even the reggaeton pop music blasting at full volume
drowns out the discussions about inflation, violent crime,
and the political differences that divide Venezuelans and
have fed the unrest.
"We're never going to stop talking about this," said Carlos
Rivero, a 32-year-old security guard with a shaved head and
tattooed arms who was visiting from Caracas with his wife.
"Wherever you go, whether it's good or bad, people are always
talking about politics."
Hoping to ease tensions after at least 17 people were killed
in the country's worst unrest for a decade, Maduro extended
the long Carnival weekend by declaring Thursday and Friday
Since then, government officials have flooded social media
with images of busy shores and happy holidaymakers, and state
television has repeatedly reminded Venezuelans not to forget
the traditional family break at the seaside.
"Nobody will be able to take Carnival away from us," said
Tourism Minister Andres Izarra. "There's no fascist force
that can stop the people from enjoying the happiness."
To help them on their way, new Chinese-made buses wait
outside Metro stations to ferry Caracas residents to Catia la
Mar and the beaches north of the city such as La Morena.
But even with their toes in the sand, Venezuelans remain
divided. About half defend tooth-and-nail what they see as
the poverty alleviation enjoyed under the self-styled
revolution of the late Hugo Chavez, who died from cancer a
year ago this week.
Others say they are sick of shortages of basic products such
as milk and toilet paper, with the horrific levels of violent
crime, and with annual inflation of 56 percent. And they say
things have only got worse since Maduro took office.
In some municipalities with opposition mayors, official
carnival activities were canceled.
"People come to the beach to de-stress a bit after all that
tension we have in the capital," said Jose Luis Vazquez, a
supermarket worker from Guarenas town to the east of Caracas,
as he sat and drank a beer with his wife, watching the waves.
The problems tended to start, others said, when the sun set
and it was time to pack up and pay the bill. "That's when
things turn to politics," said Rivero, the security guard.
"Prices have gone up since the last time, and there's always
someone who says that things weren't like this before."
Some of those who resisted temptation and stayed in Caracas
responded to the government's Carnival campaign with irony.
One group of opposition supporters set up a temporary 'beach'
in Plaza Altamira, a square in an affluent eastern part of
the city that has been the focus of their protests.
"There's no better beach than this," read a placard waved at
pedestrians and drivers by one female demonstrator in a