Venezuelans Show Up In The Thousands To Protest Against Maduro

May 2, 2019
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In recent days, U.S. officials have been characterizing the political turmoil in Venezuela as nearing its end.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK. So what's happening in Venezuela? Well, the opposition leader there, Juan Guaido, has been calling for the, quote, "final phase" of the operation to oust President Nicolas Maduro, asking millions of Venezuelans to take to the streets. But the reality here is a lot more complex. Venezuelans did come out in protest yesterday in a bid to put further pressure on Maduro. But they showed up in the thousands not really the millions, and they were met with resistance.

(SOUNDBITE OF TEAR GAS CANISTER EXPLODING, GUNFIRE)

GREENE: That's the sound there of tear gas, also rubber bullets being fired by the National Guard on some hardcore demonstrators who remained through the afternoon. By that time in the capital, Caracas, many people had already headed home.

MARTIN: NPR's Philip Reeves is in Caracas and joins us now.

Phil, you have covered a lot of protests in your career. You've covered a lot of protests in Venezuela. What was the scene like yesterday compared to others that you've observed?

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Well, I think it was more tense. The crowd size was smaller. And I think that violence is a big difference. When Guaido began his campaign to assume power in earnest in January, there were some clashes at that time at the outset. But he's consistently said he wants this to be a peaceful campaign, and it's mostly been that. Yesterday in that crowd, I saw people with their faces covered with cloths. They have homemade shields and gas masks. I saw people breaking rocks used to throw at Maduro's security forces. And those clashes you heard, they were outside an airbase in Caracas, where Guaido had summoned his supporters Tuesday.

The people who are in the front line taking on the security forces of Maduro, they're a small minority. But it means that the protests have changed in character, and there's a wider - growing threat of wider violence. Caladina Brascino (ph), a teacher, is a veteran opposition activist who was there yesterday. And she says that Maduro's security forces shot rubber bullets at her when these clashes first began on Tuesday.

CALADINA BRASCINO: So I have to run because I feel the bullets on my back. And my T-shirt, you know, had the holes in it. I have been here, you know, fighting all since 20 years ago. OK? But this was the first day that I was very, very scared.

REEVES: You were hit by a rubber bullet yesterday.

BRASCINO: Yesterday.

REEVES: And you are back again today.

BRASCINO: Yes. I have to. I have to be here.

MARTIN: That's amazing. But I mean, how many other people are going to endure that kind of risk? I mean, when you talk to people, do they have the sense that this is almost at an end, or that Maduro's not going to go anywhere?

REEVES: No, I think that Guaido's supporters are actually disappointed. They really thought this week was going to be the moment. It wasn't. And they're disappointed about that. Also, Maduro's people were out in the streets yesterday, too. They held May Day rallies. And their message was clear. This is another episode in the U.S.'s attempt, in their view, to end their revolution started by the late Hugo Chavez and kick out Maduro, install a puppet leader. And they were making that view very clear yesterday, too. Although, they are fewer in number than Guaido's supporters, it has to be said.

MARTIN: What should we be watching for in coming days, Phil? What's going to happen?

REEVES: Well, the key thing is, Guaido wants a general strike. That's going to be difficult. He wants people with government jobs to start out with these strikes. But they're heavily dependent on those jobs, and they'll get kicked out if they take part.

MARTIN: NPR's Philip Reeves in Caracas.

Thanks, Phil. We appreciate it.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.