THEY have been building the barricades across Venezuela for days now.
As a motorway through the capital, Caracas, is shut down by masked men with petrol bombs, tempers flare.
People realise they won’t be able to cross town anymore.
As motorcycle drivers remonstrate with the anti-government protesters, one of them, wearing a gorilla mask, smashes a Molotov cocktail beside them and next to me.
The flame licks into the air around us. It sort of calms things down.
The protest against the government has been going on for months but it is certainly growing now.
Across the capital fires burn as demonstrators prepare for more confrontation with the government over its plan to re-write the constitution by electing a powerful new Constituent Assembly on Sunday.
It doesn’t matter where one goes or who you speak to; the young and old, the armed and unarmed, they are all resolute that change must come. Without it, they say, even more violence is inevitable.
Carrying an axe, “Monster” as he called himself, or “Axe Man” if I preferred, told me through choking acrid smoke from a burning tyre what he thought would follow if the government pushed through its controversial plans.
“It’s going to be a civil war. He wants to steal every kind of rights we have. For sure, there would be no other choice,” he said, adding that he was called “Axe Man” because he was good at cutting down trees for the barricade.
There certainly is violence already, however. Hordes of protesters wage running battles with ranks of the country’s National Guard.
The number will likely rise in the coming days without a compromise.
Much of Caracas has been brought to a standstill by the barricades and the confrontations with the government’s armed forces and militia groups.
The only way we could get around and through the barricades was on motorbikes; criss-crossing the capital for the past few days it was soon clear that this is a city and indeed a country in utter turmoil. I was here a year ago. It is certainly far worse.
The anti-government movement involves people from all walks of life, including its pin-up girl, Caterina Ciarcelluti.
She is a 44-year-old fitness trainer now known as ‘Wonder Woman’, after pictures of her in Daisy Duke shorts and a skimpy t-shirt with the Venezuelan flag draped over her shoulders chucking stones at the security forces made front pages around the world.
We joined Ms Ciarcelluti on the barricades.
“All of us are dissatisfied with the government, with the way they are doing things,” she told me surrounded by masked men.
“The country wants a change and that change means that they cannot be in power anymore. Venezuela can’t stand this government any longer.”
The political chaos here is only overshadowed by the ongoing economic collapse.
Venezuela is now a country of endless queues. There are shortages of everything, from money to food and to almost every basic living essential.
On street corners people rummage through the rubbish. Eating what they can find. They aren’t down and outs, they are just starving.
But the problems really hit home in hospitals where we filmed under cover.
Eighty-three percent of the patients in a large hospital are suffering from malnutrition. A young girl sits on a bed with filthy bandages on her hand. Her exhausted mother is slumped beside her asleep. There is simply nothing for them.
In some areas it is filthy. Floors are washed without detergent. Virtually no machines work, there are no drugs. It is a hospital for 1,200 that can’t even cope with 300.
I visited a year ago. Now, it is far, far worse.
International condemnation of the government’s plans to create a one-party dictatorship have been ignored.
How long President Nicolas Maduro can ignore his own people probably depends on the support of the armed forces.
So far, despite their best efforts, the opposition hasn’t been crushed and hasn’t been silenced. news.sky.com