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Grounded

GroundedImage caption Andrew Páez and his wife Sara Yépez are not sending Manuel and Mathias to school

Venezuela is gripped by an ever-deepening economic and political crisis that has triggered almost daily anti-government protests since April.

Triple-digit inflation, a high crime rate and clashes between protesters and security forces have affected the lives of many, including schoolchildren.

"We're not living in normal times," says former professional football player Andrew Páez, 48, who has decided to keep his two sons at home.

Manuel, 12, and Mathias, 10, have not been to school since 19 April. "Our priority at this point is to keep them safe," Mr Páez says.

Mathias and Manuel attend La Salle Education Centre, a private school run by the Christian Brothers Catholic religious order in the western town of Mérida.

On that day, director Javier Ramírez tells me, the school was closed for independence day, but he was in his office doing some grading.

Image caption Javier Ramírez was doing some grading when protesters took refuge in the school

Outside, anti-government protesters were marching.

When Mr Ramírez heard some noise and went to investigate, he found a group of about 40 demonstrators had taken shelter inside the school after police had tried to disperse them.

Some of them had been injured.


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Mr Ramírez called the local emergency services, who took away those too badly wounded to walk, and then he asked the remaining protesters to leave, which they did peacefully.

'It was terrible'

Not long after, however, a group of six people forced the locks on the main gate and broke into the school grounds on motorcycles.

Brother Freddy, one of the Christian Brothers teaching at the school, lives in a house on the grounds.

Image caption Brother Freddy was threatened by members of a motorcycle gang

After helping tend to the wounded protesters, Brother Freddy returned to the house.

There he was with his sister, a school administrator, and her husband, when the motorcycle gang broke through the main gate.

"Some were masked, others not, some had weapons such as bats, others did not," Brother Freddy recalls.

"They broke the windows of all the cars parked here and ripped out their radios and sound systems, bashing the cars as they went."

Image copyright Courtesy of La Salle school Image caption The gang broke down the doors of the building where the Brothers live Image copyright Courtesy of La Salle school Image caption While the gang broke down the door, Brother Freddy and three other people took refuge at the top of the stairs

"Not satisfied with that, they broke down the door to the house, smashing everything in their way."

"It was terrible. I thought, when they get to us they're going to give us a bashing, too," Brother Freddy says.

"I was standing on the top of the stairs, with my hands in the air and my eyes closed as two of them came up the stairs."

Image copyright Courtesy of La Salle school ...

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