Venezuela Prepares For Nationwide Protests Opposing President Maduro Tensions are rising in Venezuela ahead of nationwide protests called by the opposition-led National Assembly. A 35-year-old leader is heading the renewed effort to oust President Nicolás Maduro.
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Venezuela Prepares For Nationwide Protests Opposing President Maduro

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Venezuela Prepares For Nationwide Protests Opposing President Maduro

Venezuela Prepares For Nationwide Protests Opposing President Maduro

Venezuela Prepares For Nationwide Protests Opposing President Maduro

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/687527796/687527798" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Tensions are rising in Venezuela ahead of nationwide protests called by the opposition-led National Assembly. A 35-year-old leader is heading the renewed effort to oust President Nicolás Maduro.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Venezuela is preparing for nationwide protests tomorrow, part of a fresh drive to oust President Nicolas Maduro. The U.S. is lending strong support voiced today by Vice President Mike Pence.

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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: On behalf of the American people, we say to all the good people of Venezuela, estamos con ustedes. We are with you.

CORNISH: NPR's Philip Reeves is in Caracas and sends this report.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: This is the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas. We've come to what's called a cabildo, a kind of town hall meeting, to discuss Venezuela's turmoil. There have been many of these around this country in the last few days. Student activist Arturo Requena says they're part of an opposition campaign...

ARTURO REQUENA: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: ...To explain to Venezuelans the political crisis that's unfolding ahead of tomorrow's mass protests.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in Spanish).

REEVES: This month, Nicolas Maduro began his second term as president after being re-elected in an election widely condemned as fraudulent. Venezuela's congress, or National Assembly, is refusing to recognize Maduro. So are dozens of nations, including the U.S. They've launched a major new effort to pressure Maduro to leave and to allow the National Assembly's newly elected 35-year-old leader, Juan Guaido, to take over as interim president until new elections are held.

Among the students here, there's a man of 82 called Fernando Gonzalo.

FERNANDO GONZALO: I feel like I should be here because our generation had so many opportunities and such - had such a beautiful country. And our sons and daughters didn't. I mean, they had to migrate.

REEVES: How many of your family have left?

GONZALO: Almost everyone.

REEVES: In the 1980s, Gonzalo was one of Venezuela's top architects. His work fell away when the economy crashed. Gonzalo believes there has to be political change in Venezuela because the crisis is unsustainable.

GONZALO: All you have to do is see how the university, the campus is deteriorating. And the rest of the whole country degraded, degraded to extremes - unbelievable extremes.

REEVES: Yet Venezuelans have tried mass protests before, says Gonzalo.

GONZALO: And at the end of the day, nothing happens because, well, you cannot fight against people like this with your bare hands.

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REEVES: In a tiny house down some steep stone steps in a Caracas slum lives a woman who remembers some of those mass protests well. Vanessa Furtado says she took part in many of them.

VANESSA FURTADO: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: They were in 2017 and went on for about four months. More than 120 people were killed, most by the security forces. Furtado was upset when Venezuela's opposition leaders let those protests fizzle out.

FURTADO: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "I felt pain, indignation and anger," she says. Furtado plans to take to the streets again tomorrow. This time she hopes for a different outcome. That's far from assured. Although under intense pressure, Maduro holds the levers of power, including control of the Supreme Court. Officials say several dozen low-level National Guard troops were arrested in Caracas yesterday after a mutiny. Opposition leaders have been offering amnesty to military officers who abandon Maduro. Yet so far, senior commanders appear to have remained loyal. As for Maduro himself...

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PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: He's dismissing the National Assembly's latest challenge to his presidency as an attempt to destabilise the country led, he says, by little boys. He and his ruling Socialist Party stripped the Assembly of its powers long ago.

As Venezuelans prepare to take to the streets again, many fear the security forces will respond with violence. Vanessa Furtado, the veteran of street protests, says that's why it's important that people don't give them cause.

FURTADO: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "We must be careful and calm," she says. "This is our last opportunity." Philip Reeves NPR News, Caracas.

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