Hard-working Venezuelans poured onto the streets in their tens of thousands today to demand the end of the failed socialist dictatorship that has brought the country to its knees.
Teachers, civil servant, businessmen, students, shop-workers, waitresses and housewives gathered across the capital, Caracas, to take part in the country’s biggest ever demonstration calling for President Nicolas Maduro to quit.
The demonstrators – from all social classes – were answering the call of opposition leader Juan Guaido to ‘take to the streets’ to demand fresh elections, as well as food and medical supplies for the millions suffering in the crippling economic crisis.
Carrying Venezuelan flags and blowing horns and whistles, Guaido’s supporters planned to converge on the European Union headquarters in eastern Caracas from five staging areas around the city.
Opposition activists pour into the streets to back Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido’s calls for early elections, in Caracas on Saturday
A Venezuelan woman shouts slogans as she takes part in a rally in Catalonia square, in Barcelona, Spain as countries around the world condemn the actions of President Nicolas Maduro
The streets of Caracas were filled with Venzuelans of every class, from every type of profession to call for an end to the socialist tyranny of Maduro
The EU and major European powers have given Maduro until Sunday to call ‘free elections’ or they will recognize Guaido, the head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, as the crisis-torn country’s acting president.
Underscoring the high stakes, a Venezuelan air force general announced Saturday he rejected Maduro’s ‘dictatorial’ authority and pledged his allegiance to Guaido, in a video posted on social media.
Civil servant Eduardo Lugo, 58, told MailOnline: ‘We have come out into the street to liberate our country. We want to bring hope back to Venezuela.
‘The country is in a terrible mess. We are suffering. There is no food, we have hyper-inflation, there is no democracy. We want to be free.’
His partner Carmen Romero, 50, added: ‘We need change.’
This month’s protests have received overwhelming support from abroad, with the US, Canada and many others already recognising Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.
Guaido argues that Maduro’s re-election last year was rife with fraud, and he has invoked two articles of Venezuela’s constitution which he argues give him the right to assume presidential powers.
Adrianna Garcia, 27, told how despite holding down two jobs she can’t make ends meet: ‘The country has become a dictatorship. We want the country to get back on its feet.
‘I have two jobs but I still do not have enough money to buy the everyday things I need.
‘I want to have a proper job and for my country to have a future. For that we need a new president, a fresh start.’
Opposition supporters take part in a rally against Maduro in Caracas as they stand on fencing to get a better view over the sea of people
Civil servant Eduardo Lugo, 58, told MailOnline: ‘We have come out into the street to liberate our country. We want to bring hope back to Venezuela
A protester holds a sign in English which says: ‘God Guaido Almagro and the world to Venezuela, thanks!’ And then in Spanish ‘Forza Ragazzi!’ – which means ‘Come on Guys!’
Cosmetics company worker Mariel Armas, 52, told how she has to choose between buying food and clothes or other commodities.
‘Every day I have to make a choice about how I am going to spend the little money I earn,’ she told MailOnline.
‘I can either buy food or I can buy clothes. I cannot buy both. I just want Venezuela to go back to how it used to be before this dictatorship. We used to be a rich country. There used to be well-paid jobs. I want [President] Maduro to go and for there to be a transitional government.’
Retired teacher Maria da Silva, 61, told how she could not afford to replace her broken shoes.
‘I have worked for 38 years as a teacher, half of the people here today are my former students.
‘Now I can barely afford to live. I cannot afford to buy meat, it’s just too expensive. If I buy eggs with my pension I cannot buy anything else.
‘My shoes are broken but I cannot afford to buy new ones.’
An overwhelming sight for democracies around the world who this month gave their support to Guaido, with many of the world’s biggest players recognising him as the leader already
Tens of thousands of protesters line the streets of Caracas today, many wearing the yellow, blue and red colours of their flag
Businessman Jesus Camacaro, 41, said Venezuela was on the brink of change.
‘We are close to the end,’ he said. ‘Maduro has ruined the country we need a new government with Juan Guaido leading us out of this mess.
‘Guaido has the support of the people and the support of the international community.’
Unemployed factory worker Iraima Perez, told how Venezuela’s socialist regime had ruined the country.
‘We have had 20 years of this regime and it has ruined the country. The state took over the company I worked for and I lost my job.
An anti-government protester wears signs asking for humanitarian aid and a message on his chest that reads in Spanish: ‘Venezuelans die for lack of medicines. Maduro is an assassin’
‘The government is shooting innocent people dead for nothing.
‘We just want a better future.’
Businessman Douglas Ascanio, 65, said the people were putting their faith in opposition leader Juan Guaido.
‘We want Juan Guaido to be president,’ he told MailOnline. ‘We have had enough of this socialist regime. [President] Maduro and his chronies have ruined the country. We want a real democracy and freedom for all.’
Student Gregory Sanabria had travelled for 12 hours on a bus from his home in the Andes to take part in the 2nd February march [#2F].
The 24-year-old from Merida said: ‘I was sent to prison and labelled a terrorist because I took part in an opposition protest.
‘But now it is time for change. It is time for free elections and a new government.’
Venezuelan MP Renzo Prieto said President Maduro deserved to be sent to jail for the chaos and corruption he had brought to Venezuela.
But the 31-year-old politician said that he would let the embattled leader flee abroad if this would stop the bloodshed.
‘Venezuela needs a new start, a new government, a brighter future.’
Housewife Julia de las Salas, 48, came to the march with her daughter Lisandry Graterol, 21.
She told MailOnline: ‘We are here today to fight for freedom. I want a better future for my daughter and my family.’
The pro-Maduro forces were rallying in the western side of the city to mark the 20th anniversary of the rise of power of the late Hugo Chavez, the leftist firebrand who installed a socialist government.
Maduro, Chavez’s handpicked successor, is facing the most serious challenge to his legitimacy yet, with the United States, Canada and nearly a dozen Latin American countries piling on pressure for his removal from office.
An anti-government protester holds a poster with a message that reads in Spanish: ‘Freedom for Venezuela’ in Caracas
A participant in the Venezuelan national colours shows the words ‘I am Free’, written on his palms as opposition supporters in Venezuela get ready for a demonstration against the Nicolas Maduro’s Government
Hundreds of members of a civilian militia, public workers and people who have benefitted from the government’s social programs began to concentrate in the downtown Avenida Bolivar in a show of support for their beleaguered leader.
Although the rally was called by Maduro, it was not known if he would attend.
If he does, it would be the first time he has appeared in public since August 4, when he claimed to have been the target of an exploding drone at a military parade in Caracas.