…As Venezuelan opposition leader vows to get humanitarian aid at border in to the country, in defiance of president Nicolas Maduro***
Millions of students are mobilizing to take to the streets of Venezuela on Tuesday during Youth Day.
The day commemorates the young people who fought and died in the Battle of La Victoria in 1814 during Venezuela’s war for independence, and touts the role that youth play in the country’s economic and social future.
Venezuelan students such as Anna Ferreira, 22, are using Youth Day as a way to protest the country’s government and the current political turmoil.
“We want a better future and the only way we can see that is to stop the regime of President Nicolás Maduro. This year we are closer than ever to get that,” Ferreira, a student at a liberal arts college, told NBC News on Monday.
Students such as Ferreira believe that Juan Guaidó, who declared himself interim president last month, will deliver on his promise to reinstate democratically held elections. The country’s hyperinflation, severe food and medicine shortages, and instability have sent more than 3 million Venezuelans fleeing to other countries.
Ferreira was born just prior to the socialist revolution in 1999, meaning that socialism is the only government system she’s ever known. However, her parents have memories of a different Venezuela under a capitalist economy.
“I hear the stories of the childhood of my parents, the childhood of my grandmother and we want that, we are living with an ideal in our heads of something we believe is possible and we want to accomplish,” she said.
Maduro supporters, on the other hand, admit the system they believe in may have flaws — including monthly food rations and supply shortages — but they still support a government that began when their hero Hugo Chavez came to power.
At a government-sponsored rally, one Maduro supporter in his 70s, who would not give his name, said that “Guiadó is nothing more than a clown.”
On Monday, Maduro invited the international media to see the launch of a new marketing campaign to promote investment and tourism in the country.
“There isn’t another country with better investment opportunities,” he said as he stood on a stage in front of a giant screen that had played a high definition video showing the country’s natural beauty.
Saying that “we are in the eye of the geopolitical hurricane,” Maduro said he wished “the international media would be fair by reporting this event.”
The Trump administration and around forty nations have thrown their support behind Guaidó until democratic elections are held. But Maduro has vowed to stay in power and has insisted that the United States is trying to topple his government.
In a show of force, the Venezuelan military has held war game exercises for the past two days.
In 2014, three students protesting the government were shot and killed during Youth Day. There were no arrests and no one was held responsible.
Some of the students marching this year say they will never forget that sacrifice.
“We have the ideal, as do a lot of people, that one person makes the change,” Ferreira said, while standing in front of a mural with the painted faces of the students killed five years ago.
In the meantime, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido said Tuesday that he will authorize several tons of humanitarian aid to enter the country on Feb. 23, in defiance of the country’s sitting president, Nicolas Maduro.
The remarks by Guaido came at massive anti-government protests in Venezuela’s capital Caracas, where tens of thousands filled the streets to hear the lawmaker announce plans for the coming days.
Guaido and Maduro have been locked in a political power struggle since Jan. 23, when Guaido declared himself the country’s legitimate president using a constitutional article that allows him to do so as the legislature head. Guaido and dozens of countries have labeled Maduro’s reelection a fraud.
“This humanitarian aid is getting in no matter what,” Guaido shouted to the crowd Tuesday. “This order is for the military: allow this aid to enter.”
Guaido didn’t clarify how he would force the truckloads of aid across the border without Maduro’s authorization. Maduro has called the effort a pretext for a military invasion of the country and so far the armed forces have followed his orders to block the supplies at the border.
“We need humanitarian aid now,” read a sign held by Miguel Seijas, 54, on Tuesday. Many in the crowd expressed confidence that Guaido had successfully cornered Maduro and that change was imminent.
“This costume represents hope because we’re about to escape this nightmare finally,” Gustavo Misles, a 74-year-old retired university professor, told ABC News. Misles wore a clown wig and was holding a sign that said “we’re going hungry,” adorned with legal Venezuelan bills. The country’s paper currency has become worthless as some economists project inflation could reach 10 million percent this year. Other protesters used the currency as confetti.
As Guaido addressed the crowd, Venezuela’s vice president Delcy Rodriguez took to state television to reject his plans.
“What’s behind this cheap show is a military intervention in Venezuela, and an invasion,” she said.
This year’s protests and the power struggle mark the latest bout of unrest for the restless South American country, currently in the midst of the worst economic and humanitarian crisis in its history. Anti-government protests also rocked Venezuela in 2014 and 2017.
NBC with additional report from ABC