CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan politician María Corina Machado said political opponents have threatened to kill her. They have threatened to kill her three children. And to continue her work as one of the most prominent women in Venezuela's democratic movement, she was forced to send them away.
A photo of her bruised face went viral in 2013 after a lawmaker grabbed her from behind, threw her on the ground and kicked her repeatedly during a scuffle at the National Assembly. Machado and her supporters nicknamed her "The Iron Lady of Venezuela."
Three years ago, President Nicolas Maduro's administration accused Machado of plotting to kill him. They barred her from holding public office and prohibited her from traveling outside of Venezuela. Officials blocked Machado's political party Vente Venezuela from registering as an official party.
"Talking the truth always is very costly," she said.
When she was in business school at the Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administración, she would have never thought about sacrificing everything she has or marching in the streets. But her discontent over socialism and tyranny changed everything.
Machado said she has been marching almost daily for the past six weeks.
The ongoing protests started in April when the pro-Maduro Supreme Court ruled to limit the power of the National Assembly, which Maduro's opposition controls after Democratic elections. The Supreme Court later reversed its decision.
Soldiers and police officers have met protesters with water cannons, tear gas canisters and in some instances weapons and BB gun pellets. Authorities link at least 42 deaths to the demonstrations.
"The only way we can stop this humanitarian crisis that is turning into a huge catastrophe is by pressing with all our civic strength," Machado said.
Machado, 49, was in her early 30s when she first got involved in politics. About five years ago, she ran as an independent candidate in the presidential primaries. She lost to Henrique Capriles, who then lost to the late Hugo Chávez.
After Chávez's death, Capriles ran and lost to President Nicolas Maduro. Venezuelans face soaring inflation, food shortages, a medical system in crisis and a rising crime rate. Although a general discontent nationwide is fueling the nationwide protests, Maduro blames them on a U.S.-supported conspiracy.
President Donald Trump's administration imposed sanctions against eight Supreme Court justices on Thursday. Prosecutors in the state of Tachira charged soldiers and police officers in the deaths of a teenage student and a father on Thursday.
Machado said some of Maduro's former supporters want him to step down. There have been reports of military deserters.
"We are starting to see what I believe is the final element we need and is how the regime breaks apart," Machado said. "Official soldiers and police men realize that they must stop following orders that are clearly against our Constitution and that will involve clearly being judged in the future."
Local 10 News Andrea Torres contributed to this story from Miami.