Tens of thousands of demonstrators have poured back onto the streets of Caracas and towns and cities across Venezuela to intensify their mutiny against Nicolás Maduro.
“We want Maduro out and we want a free Venezuela,” said Kisbell Vargas, 27, who was part of a tsunami of dissent that swept west across Venezuela’s capital on Tuesday morning.
Vargas, from a shantytown in eastern Caracas called La Urbina, was marching with a homemade placard that read: “Understand Maduro, Venezuela doesn’t want you.”
“While the people are going hungry, they have all the food and the medicine they need,” she complained. “I have a seven-year-old daughter and I want her to grow up in the Venezuela I was born into. A Venezuela where you don’t live under any kind of regime.”
Stefani Fonseca, a protester from the Petare shantytown, had also come to demand the exit of Maduro, who is fighting for political survival after a dramatic challenge from Juan Guaidó, an opposition leader now recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate leader by dozens of western governments, including Britain and the US.
“We are living under a dictatorship,” said Fonseca, 21. “Venezuela is too rich a country to be in this situation. It’s not that we lack resources. It is that we have too many thieves.”
There was a carnival atmosphere as the crowd surged down Avenida Francisco de Miranda past constant reminders of Venezuela’s economic collapse: abandoned construction sites, graffiti denouncing poverty and hunger, and a paint-spattered government building from which a CCTV cameras and a giant image of Maduro stared down on protesters.
Street hawkers sold Guaidó T-shirts and hoodies and politically-charged baseball hats emblazoned with the slogan: “Make Venezuela D’Pinga (Shit hot) Again”.
“We have already won,” boasted Abrahan Fernandez, a 28-year-old student activist from the opposition party Primero Justicia. “Today we have defeated the dictatorship and we have a president called Juan Guaidó.”
But there was also anger – and anxiety – that Maduro was still in power.
“How are things in my community? We have no water, no cleaning, no food,” said Fonseca, who carried a banner reading: “The struggle cannot just be on Twitter and Instagram. The struggle is in the streets!”
Asked what her message to Maduro would be, Fonseca responded with a barrage of expletives.
Rose Patricia Valdiria, 63, said she was encouraged residents of working class areas traditionally loyal to Chavismo had joined the revolt. “For the first time the barrios are taking to the streets,” she said of the redbrick slums whose residents have been targeted by special forces for daring to protest.
Her husband, Juan José Pérez, said he saw only one solution to the crisis: the departure of Maduro “and all the Chavistas and Maduristas around him who have led us into this disaster”.
But with Maduro refusing to step down and no sign yet of Venezuela’s military turning on him, Valdiria admitted people power alone would not be enough. “So we have to pressure them, force them to go.”
As the rebellion against Maduro enters its forth week, that reality is beginning to dawn on many members of Venezuela’s newly energized opposition who had hoped he would already have fallen.
Luis Pedro España, a sociologist who is part of an opposition group planning Venezuela’s post-Maduro reconstruction, admitted Maduro and his inner circle were only likely to give up power if military power obliged them to. “We are depending on a military action – or the threat of a military action – internal or external,” España said.
España said he believed a political transition was only now likely if the armed forces acted against Maduro. “Might that something be violent? Yes. Might it not be violent? I hope it won’t be violent,” he said.
Maduro paints the rebellion – and Guaidó – as part of an “imperialist” plot to destroy the Bolivarian revolution he inherited from Hugo Chávez. His officials staged a counter-rally through downtown Caracas on Tuesday in a show of support for their embattled leader.
“They want to intervene because we have the greatest riches on earth,” complained Jaime González, 75, a retired carpenter and Maduro supporter. “They want to invade to take all of these riches off us.”
In an interview with the BBC, Maduro accused the channel of being part of a “war campaign” against Venezuela and claimed his international foes had invented a fake humanitarian crisis to justify military intervention. “Do we have problems? Of course. But Venezuela is not a country of famine.”
On Tuesday, Venezuelan troops occupied a bridge on the Colombian border in order to block the entry of humanitarian aid that Maduro claims is being used by the opposition in order to unseat him.
Maduro’s second-in-command, Diosdado Cabello, visited the border region and accused Venezuela’s “traitorous” opposition of seeking to bring bloodshed and violence to the region.
“It is neither aid, nor is it humanitarian!” Cabello, the president of Maduro’s all-powerful constituent assembly, told a rally of supporters.
Addressing protesters in Caracas, Guaidó said the aid would enter Venezuela on 23 February, and called on the country’s armed forces to let the shipments in.
He insisted Maduro’s demise was now inevitable. “When 90% of the population wants change, there is no way to stop it.”
Additional reporting by Patricia Torres in Caracas and Joe Parkin Daniels in Cúcuta