CARACAS Nearly 2,000 motorcyclists protested in Caracas on Friday, hooting horns and waving Venezuelan flags outside a government office to show displeasure with a ban on nighttime riding, which has been imposed to cut crime in one of the world's most dangerous cities.
Motorbikes are used in many of the robberies, kidnappings and homicides for which the country is notorious. Stung by criticism of numerous failed efforts to make the streets safer, this month officials in Caracas and other areas made it illegal to ride a motorcycle after 9 p.m.
The so-called "motorizados," a term applied mostly to couriers and motorbike taxi drivers, gathered in the Petare slum before riding to the peaceful demonstration.
They said the new rule contravened their right to work and move about freely, and that students and low-paid laborers who could not afford to hire cars would not be able to find transportation.
"They hassle us all the time," said Una Levera, a 30-year-old motorcycle taxi driver at the protest, nodding at the dozens of police officers nearby.
"The only solution is for them to let us get on with our work ... not one motorizado is in favor of the new regulations."
The protest dispersed after the bikers delivered a letter to the National Institute for Terrestrial Transport, and an official came onto the street to hear their complaints.
For many in Venezuela's opposition and middle-class, the motorizados are the frightening face of crime. They were also the shock troops of the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, who used them to intimidate political rivals.
Social media buzzed with warnings to avoid going out in Caracas on Friday in case of trouble.
While many of the protesters expressed support for Chavez and his successor, President Nicolas Maduro, many also said their politics were less important than making a living by providing essential cheap transportation in the traffic-choked city.
They said they suffer from crime even more than most residents because they work in the streets. And some groups wore their "revolutionary" hearts on their sleeves.
"Right-wing sectors, in league with the private media, are trying to criminalize the working class and call us delinquents. This is not true," said a flyer handed out by the bikers.
"Chavez lives! The fight of the motorizados continues!"
(Reporting by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Toni Reinhold)