The latest wave of demonstrations offers President Nicolás Maduro his biggest test since he assumed power four years ago, after the death of his mentor Hugo Chávez. Venezuela has experienced a slow-burn collapse of epic proportions, all while sitting atop the world’s largest known oil reserves. Once the continent’s largest economy, it can no longer feed its own people. Once a destination for medical tourists, its hospitals can barely treat basic illnesses. Mass gatherings against the government are frequent; dozens of protesters have been killed in recent weeks, further igniting a population that is starving and exhausted.
Venezuela also was once a hub for photographers but in recent years, as democracy has frayed, it has tightened. Meridith Kohut, a contributor to The New York Times, has lived there for years and continues to build one of the industry’s strongest portfolios of the crisis. Spanish photographer Alvaro Ybarra Zavala has spent significant time in the country, emerging with a soulful black-and-white portrait of a state being ruined. But it’s a committed group of local photojournalists, from freelancers to stringers, who have devoted their days to keeping Venezuela on the international radar.
They are in the streets with the protesters and the officers, breathing in the same tear gas. They are in the lines for food and other basic goods, watching the same citizens who arrive empty-handed before sun-up leave empty-handed as night falls. They attend the funerals, and hear the wails of the parents of the dead.
TIME asked eight of them to select an image from their archives. Their tales, which have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity, offer a window into Venezuela’s reality.
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