Venezuela will only get worse as war of words intensifies | World News
In one of the smartest districts in Caracas, high in the hills overlooking the city, the purpose-built US embassy compound commands incredible views and provides a fortress of protection for its American staff who remain inside, despite the Venezuelan government’s demand that they all leave.
It was here we filmed the panoramic majesty of the mountains that dominate the skyline of the city on the valley floor, and it was here we were stopped in about two minutes of our arrival.
The local police and diplomatic corps were on us so quickly we didn’t even see them.
It was a minor issue and we were waved on but it is a vivid example of how touchy and tense things are in Venezuela today and it’s likely to get worse.
As the war of words between Washington and Caracas intensifies and the opposition ramps up more pressure on the government of Nicolas Maduro to stand down and accept new elections, the worse it is going to get.
National Guard motorbike squads are already touring the city, lifting government opponents and the “collectivo” gangs, armed pro-government militia.
Militia, that the government use as enforcers, are going house to house looking for people who demonstrated against the government throughout the last week.
In the richest and poorest areas it is tense. The city is preparing for what could be a violent week on the streets.
Opposition protests are being organised; they always end in running battles, tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds.
Preparing for this, knowing it’s going to happen, is a bit testing on the nerves.
“It could be quiet, right?” I said to my local producer Gustavo.
“No, don’t be stupid,” he said smiling at me. He might as well have added “Dumb Gringo”; he was certainly thinking it.
That was last week. This week will probably be the same.
We visited all the flashpoints of trouble in the last few days. Travelling around the city on motorbikes. We have to keep moving or risk arrest. Foreign journalists are not welcomed by the government or the security forces.
The middle-class districts are the home of this challenge to Maduro’s rule. Here, support for Juan Guaido is almost complete.
But the opposition need the poorest districts on board as well. The opposition says that support in the barrios, the slums, is growing and certainly some of the most intense street fighting was here.
The barrios are a warren of tiny streets, dense living conditions, shacks and brick buildings that cling precariously to the mountains of the city.
They are extremely dangerous, crime is horrendous, gangs control the streets and it is impossible for an outsider to navigate in or out unguided.
They are also dreadfully poor.
People search through rubbish strewn on the streets, looking for anything of value or worth eating. It is now totally commonplace in Venezuela, as its economy disintegrates.
Pictures of former president Hugo Chavez, whose social policies transformed the lives of some of the poorest, are stencilled on walls wherever you go.
The poorest are the base of his revolution. But those days have passed due to catastrophic economic mismanagement.
The opposition hope their message of change is getting through here.
Unsurprisingly, the government has rejected the demands of some of the international community, including the UK, to announce new elections.
Guaido will be recognised by those countries as the interim president by the end of the week.
What practical difference that will make is unclear especially as China, Russia and Turkey remain fully behind Maduro.
The opposition will call more demonstrations, reach out to the security services and watch how the US, in particular, looks to restrict the flow of foreign credit and money into the government coffers.
These are interesting times for Guaido. He is keeping up his public appearances to try and reassure the opposition supporters that there is momentum.
More rallies should add to that in the coming days, but they need more muscle.
So far the security services aren’t moving towards them or Guaido, ensuring his long-term freedom remains in real doubt every day.