Venezuela was on the brink of an uprising. Now protesters are fighting for survival

Published 8:04 AM EDT, Sat May 11, 2019
Fireworks launched by opponents of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro land near Bolivarian National Guard armored vehicles loyal to Maduro, during an attempted military uprising in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Opposition leader Juan Guaido took to the streets with a small contingent of heavily armed troops in a call for the military to rise up. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Ariana Cubillos/AP
Fireworks launched by opponents of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro land near Bolivarian National Guard armored vehicles loyal to Maduro, during an attempted military uprising in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Opposition leader Juan Guaido took to the streets with a small contingent of heavily armed troops in a call for the military to rise up. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Now playing
02:25
Venezuela uprising deepens with Guaidó at helm
John Bolton
CNN
John Bolton
Now playing
01:18
Bolton on Russia: US made it clear behavior is unacceptable
TOPSHOT - A member of the Bolivarian National Guard supporting Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido throws a tear gas canister during a confrontation with guards loyal to President Nicolas Maduro's government in front of La Carlota military base in Caracason April 30, 2019. - Guaido said on Tuesday that troops had joined his campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro as the government vowed to put down what it called an attempted coup. (Photo by Yuri CORTEZ / AFP)        (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - A member of the Bolivarian National Guard supporting Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido throws a tear gas canister during a confrontation with guards loyal to President Nicolas Maduro's government in front of La Carlota military base in Caracason April 30, 2019. - Guaido said on Tuesday that troops had joined his campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro as the government vowed to put down what it called an attempted coup. (Photo by Yuri CORTEZ / AFP) (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
03:10
Watch as chaos unfolds in Venezuela
CARACAS, VENEZUELA - APRIL 06: Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido attends a rally with supporters on April 6, 2019 in Caracas, Venezuela. Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by many members of the international community as the country's rightful interim ruler, called for protests throughout Venezuela to put pressure on Nicolas Maduro to resign as part of the Operacion Libertad plan. As an answer to this, Diosdado Cabello, head of the National Constituent Assembly conducts another demonstration. On April 2nd, National Constituent Assembly has backed a Supreme Court request to strip Juan Guaido of his immunity. (Photo by Marco Bello/Getty Images)
Marco Bello/Getty Images South America/Getty Images
CARACAS, VENEZUELA - APRIL 06: Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido attends a rally with supporters on April 6, 2019 in Caracas, Venezuela. Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by many members of the international community as the country's rightful interim ruler, called for protests throughout Venezuela to put pressure on Nicolas Maduro to resign as part of the Operacion Libertad plan. As an answer to this, Diosdado Cabello, head of the National Constituent Assembly conducts another demonstration. On April 2nd, National Constituent Assembly has backed a Supreme Court request to strip Juan Guaido of his immunity. (Photo by Marco Bello/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:32
Understanding Venezuela's political crisis
Amid blackouts, skyrocketing prices, shortage of food, medicine and transportation, Venezuelans go to elections next May 20 anguished to survive one of the worst crisis in the oil country.
Frederico Parra/AFP/Getty Images
Amid blackouts, skyrocketing prices, shortage of food, medicine and transportation, Venezuelans go to elections next May 20 anguished to survive one of the worst crisis in the oil country.
Now playing
02:23
This once-rich oil region is crumbling
Venezuela drug routes
CNN
Venezuela drug routes
Now playing
06:41
Corruption in Venezuela has created a cocaine super-highway to the US
A patient lays on a bed inside the Ana Teresa de Jesus Ponce maternity hospital in Macuto, Venezuela, on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. Venezuela's healthcare system, a shining example in Latin America back when the government had the money for ambitious programs, has been crumbling for many years: nearly half the country's doctors have left and hospital regularly go without the necessary equipment needed to fully function. Photographer: Adriana Loureiro Fernandez/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bloomberg/Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A patient lays on a bed inside the Ana Teresa de Jesus Ponce maternity hospital in Macuto, Venezuela, on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. Venezuela's healthcare system, a shining example in Latin America back when the government had the money for ambitious programs, has been crumbling for many years: nearly half the country's doctors have left and hospital regularly go without the necessary equipment needed to fully function. Photographer: Adriana Loureiro Fernandez/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Now playing
02:41
In Venezuela, hospitals are more dangerous than homes
(CNN) —  

On April 30, Venezuela seemed to be on the verge of a historic military and civilian uprising. The next day, that momentum died, and the country that had been bracing for change ended up trudging into a week much like any other.

As opposition leader Juan Guaidó and his US ally puzzle over their failures to wrest control of the government from Nicolas Maduro, the embattled president is moving to assert his strength and enforce a new normal across Venezuela. In the past 10 days, his administration has blamed his former intelligence chief Manuel Cristopher Figuera for the uprising, purged the military of disloyal members, forced opposition politicians into hiding and re-opened borders with its neighbors.

Guaidó's supporters shout slogans at a demonstration in Caracas on May 4.
Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images
Guaidó's supporters shout slogans at a demonstration in Caracas on May 4.

Things are under (Maduro’s) control, the government seems to be saying. Yet the country continues its economic downward spiral. And Guaidó, who has been recognized by more than 50 nations as the country’s legitimate interim president, is not backing down; as his movement entered its fifth month, he called for renewed protests on Saturday, May 11.

Before it all kicks off again, here’s what has happened over the past week.

Venezuela re-opens borders with Brazil and Aruba

View of the Brazil-Venezuelan border crossing in Pacaraima, Roraima state on May 10.
Antonello Veneri/AFP/Getty Images
View of the Brazil-Venezuelan border crossing in Pacaraima, Roraima state on May 10.

After months of border closures due to tensions over humanitarian aid deliveries, some have been re-opened, demonstrating that Maduro’s government remains in control of its borders. On Friday, Venezuela’s Economy Vice President Tareck El Aissami declared in a televised speech that the country’s borders with Brazil and Aruba had been re-opened in order to “restore economic, social, political and cultural life.”

Opposition politicians under attack

But restoring Venezuela’s “economic, social, political and cultural life” is at odds with developments inside the country: At least 10 legislators from the opposition’s National Assembly were stripped of their diplomatic immunity by the Venezuelan Supreme Court these past few days. The court alleged that they were part of last week’s attempted uprising, and accused them of “treason, conspiracy, instigation of an insurrection, and civil rebellion,” among other crimes.

Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez at the gate of the Spanish ambassador's residence on May 02.
Rafael Briseño/Getty Images
Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez at the gate of the Spanish ambassador's residence on May 02.

Three of these politicians have gone into hiding, requesting protection at the Argentine and Italian embassies in the capital city Caracas. So has opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, a longtime mentor to Guaidó, who is now sheltered with his family by the Spanish Ambassador. Lopez broke his years-long house arrest last week, appearing alongside Guaidó as they called for the military to join their movement.

Not all have found protection. National Assembly Vice-President Edgar Zambrano, a close ally for Guaidó, was detained by Venezuela’s intelligence agency (SEBIN) on Wednesday by nine hooded officers. When he refused to exit his car, they towed the entire vehicle to their Caracas headquarters, the Helicoide.

Guaidó’s military supporters have scattered

Perhaps fearing a similar fate, the soldiers who proudly wore blue bands last week in support of Guaidó are no longer advertising their loyalty. Many have gone into hiding, too afraid to speak out for fear of their own safety and that of their families, CNN has learned. Harassment, threats, intimidation are among the retribution their families can face.

Venezuela’s military is key to tipping the political balance between Maduro and Guaidó, who admits that too few troops defected that fateful Tuesday.

Surrounded by soldiers, Guaidó called for a military uprising against Maduro outside the airforce base La Carlota on April 30.
Getty Images/Getty Images
Surrounded by soldiers, Guaidó called for a military uprising against Maduro outside the airforce base La Carlota on April 30.

President Maduro has shown much of his support among the armed forces recently, appearing in a video on state-run television with hundreds of uniformed rank and file kneeling at his feet, chanting their support and loyalty for their commander in chief.

In a letter directed to the armed forces last week, Guaidó declared that it was time to act. That message, peacefully delivered on paper to different military bases across the country, was either burned or refused. But Guaidó and his supporters continue to call for the armed forces to switch sides, and argue that only fear of reprisal holds them back.

The protesters’ fate

Footage from last week’s uprising captured government vehicles appearing to target and drive into crowds of protesters. At least five people have died and around 233 people detained during protests across the country since April 30, according to Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab. Amnesty International reports more that than 200 people were injured “during state repression of protests.”