CARACAS: William Noguera, a street sweeper, brushed aside the remains of a roadblock on a Caracas avenue. But he knew it wouldn’t be long before he’d be back clearing the road.
“In a little while, it will be blocked again,” he smiled, working in an upmarket neighborhood in the Venezuelan capital opposed to President Nicolas Maduro that oscillates between despondency and impotence.
“May God help us,” yelled a woman crossing the road.
One day earlier, the government held an election for a controversial Constituent Assembly that will supersede the opposition-controlled legislature and rewrite the constitution.
The vote was roiled by protests and repression from security forces, deepening deadly violence that has left a death toll of 125 in four months of demonstrations against Maduro.
Though election officials spoke of more than eight million voters taking part, “nobody believes that,” said Alfredo Quinones, a 57-year-old lawyer speaking with friends at a newsstand.
“It’s probably the biggest fraud in history,” said Ivan Hidalgo, a 60-year-old doctor holding an opposition-leaning newspaper, El Nacional, in his hands. Its headline: “Fraudulent Constituent Assembly Fails.”
The opposition refuses to recognize the new assembly, which Maduro has hailed as the solution to dragging the country out of its political and economic misery.
“Here, above all, we’re hungry,” said Gladis Villarroel, 85, discussing the election in one of the numerous lines waiting to buy scarce food. “All that (Maduro’s words) are lies!”
Antonio Soto, 67, said he woke Monday “feeling a mix of frustration and hate.”
“We can no longer accept as a civilized nation the imposition of a dictatorship harking back to the early 20th century,” he said, worried about the uncertainty reigning over the country with a Constituent Assembly “with no clear rules of the game.”
‘I love my country’
In the lead-up to the election, thousands of Venezuelans filed out on foot over the border into Colombia, desperate and seeking refuge from the turmoil.
The day after the vote, the main border crossing was relatively calm.
There are no official figures on how many Venezuelans have emigrated in recent months, as the political crisis deepened, but estimates are of between one million and two million.
Many, though, are determined to stay in their home country, either through a desire to see a positive change happen, or no opportunities for a better life outside.
“I’m not going,” Barbara Gil said defiantly.
“I’m a Venezuelan, I love my country, I want my son to grow up here,” the 41-year-old said, wearing dark sunglasses to hide the tears she explained she frequently shed.
The opposition has called for new demonstrations to take place, to continue to remind the government its stance is not without challenge.
A young woman belonging to a hardline group of protesters becoming known as the “resistance” admitted that the gatherings were imbued with “a little sadness and disappointment.”
“But,” she said, “today we are continuing to take the streets… the only fight lost is that which is abandoned.”