Venezuelans Hurl Jars of Own Feces to Protest Against Maduro
(Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan protesters are using a new and noisome weapon against the government: jars filled with their own feces.
On Wednesday, crowds trotted through the streets of Caracas gingerly carrying concoctions dubbed “puputov cocktails.” Alejandro, a 16-year-old high-school senior, stashed three mayonnaise jars of human waste mixed with water that he planned to lob at police. He pulled them out of a bush to display them while holding his nose.
“We’re doing it because we’ve seen that it works,” said Alejandro, who requested that his last name be withheld for fear of retaliation. “This is indeed foul.”
The South American nation has been torn by demonstrations for weeks, and President Nicolas Maduro has called for an assembly to write a new constitution that could consolidate his control. Protests have resulted in at least 36 deaths, and opposition politicians have vowed to continue street actions.
On Wednesday, local authorities reported at least one death in the capital -- a 27-year-old man who died of an impact wound to his midsection -- and more than 70 other injuries, including two gunshot wounds. Security forces turned back throngs of protesters as they attempted to march across the capital to the Supreme Court headquarters. Clouds of tear gas mushroomed across eastern Caracas where demonstrators, many with homemade shields and gas masks, clashed with police.
The resort to the basest form of protest came after Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp groups were flooded with calls and pictures urging supporters to throw excrement-filled jars at national guard troops. They used the hashtag #puputov, a portmanteau reference to feces and Molotov cocktails.
Maria, a 52-year-old lawyer who also requested her last name be withheld, said she gathered bags of cow manure from a farm and gave them to protesters in eastern Caracas.
“I finally convinced myself to do it yesterday at 2 o’clock,” she said flanked by groups of masked demonstrators. “We don’t have firearms, we don’t have the means to defend ourselves, but this sends a clear message to the armed forces. Rocks obviously aren’t working. This is much more of an insult."
There is a storied history of feces as a medium for protest. In the 1970s, Irish Republican Army members held by the British smeared the walls of their cells with the contents of their chamber pots. French farmers furious at falling food prices in 2014 dumped loads of manure in cities and even sprayed government buildings with foul slurry. In India, Mohandas Gandhi encouraged higher-caste supporters to collect the waste of Dalits, a humbling gesture meant to protest against the treatment of people called “untouchable.”
Earlier this week, the Venezuelan government issued a special warning to protesters planning to make use of the waste. State-run television station VTV warned that contact with feces could cause hepatitis, conjunctivitis and other bacterial infections.
“Feces are a biological weapon,” general court inspector Marieliz Valdez said Wednesday in an interview carried on VTV and published on the channel’s website. “It’s a crime with severe penalties.”
Medical student Daniella Liendo, 22, coordinates volunteers who, wearing white helmets and gas masks, attend victims at the protests. Those in Liendo’s group had serious concerns about the dangers of adding feces into the fray. As they were preparing on Wednesday, they talked about swapping gloves immediately and how to disinfect wounds.
“This has reached a whole other level,” Liendo said. “Any wound now faces serious risks of infection, making our job much more complicated. The protests are escalating far beyond Molotov cocktails. You now have public health risks.”