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Thousands Of Venezuelans Take To The Streets To Protest Ongoing Political Crisis


Now to Venezuela, where protests have been continuing this weekend. Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver who was the anointed successor of Hugo Chavez, is fighting to remain in power. He's just started a second term as president after a deeply flawed election. He presides over a country where the economy is in shambles, where there is hunger and a refugee crisis as people flee the country.

Thirty-five-year-old Juan Guaido is his challenger. The president of the national assembly is viewed by many, including the United States, as the nation's legitimate head of state. We're joined now by NPR's Philip Reeves, who's in Caracas. Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Bring us up to date with what happened.

REEVES: Well, yesterday was a very interesting day. And it was a compelling scene. On one side of the city, there was this.



REEVES: That's Nicolas Maduro addressing a big rally of loyalists - so-called Chavistas from the Socialist Party. And in another part of town, there was this.



REEVES: A big, big crowd cheering on Juan Guaido, the opposition leader who they consider the legitimate interim president. So both men in this high-stakes and dangerous power struggle were out rallying their followers in the heart of the capital, Caracas. Maduro made a defiant speech, as usual, accusing the U.S. of orchestrating a coup against him, saying he won't surrender and so on.

A surrender's clearly not on the cards for Guaido. He spoke from a podium decorated with the presidential seal and received a very enthusiastic welcome, as you heard from the crowd - predominately middle-class Venezuelans, I'd say - who came to cheer on his effort to actually take power as interim president.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is there any sign that the momentum behind Guaido is flagging?

REEVES: Venezuelans have supported opposition campaigns against Maduro before only to be disappointed. People this time do seem to believe it's different. I walked to yesterday's demonstration - the one that Guaido appeared at. As I was doing so, I spoke with a man, who, for fear of reprisals, would only give his name as Luis (ph). He's an engineer. I asked him why he feels so confident that Guaido will eventually succeed.

LUIS: I think he's prudent in doing what he's doing. I mean, there's a group of people that have been thinking about this for some time. And I think they delineated a way of doing things that seems to be very precise. And in fact, it's been very successful.

REEVES: And there's a sense, you know, Lulu, that the opposition and the U.S. that's backing them - they're working to a timetable, which is carefully planned. The next step in that timetable is humanitarian aid. Guaido says he's bringing aid into Venezuela, where it's obviously desperately needed. And that's throwing down the gauntlet to Maduro and particularly to the military. If the troops are told to stop that aid coming in, will they obey?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So all this pressure - something that looks like a very coordinated, concerted effort to oust Maduro - can Maduro survive that?

REEVES: He's in deep trouble. He depends on support for the military. Yesterday, an air force general defected to Guaido. Several more posts have appeared online - two purporting to be from air force officers and one from an army colonel saying they're doing the same. If these are authentic, that means more cracks are beginning to appear.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Philip Reeves in Caracas. Thank you so much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLENDED BABIES' "SEE YOU DOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.