Venezuela Holds Presidential Election But Main Opposition Is Boycotting It : Parallels Deep economic crisis and distrust of the government seem to have corroded many Venezuelans' faith in politics. Main opposition parties are even boycotting Sunday's vote.
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Venezuela Holds Presidential Election But Main Opposition Is Boycotting It

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Venezuela Holds Presidential Election But Main Opposition Is Boycotting It

Venezuela Holds Presidential Election But Main Opposition Is Boycotting It

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Venezuelans are being asked to vote in a presidential election tomorrow. The result may seem a foregone conclusion. The autocratic Nicolas Maduro is expected to remain in power despite the economic catastrophe that engulfs his nation. NPR's Philip Reeves took to the streets of Caracas where he found some deeply worried people.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: In a Caracas market, a trader's listing the latest prices for fruit and veg. These days, he never has good news. Hyperinflation is devastating Venezuela.

ARILES LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "Life is so hard," says Ariles Lopez (ph), who sells mangos and plums. "Inflation's killing us."

Lopez is among those who plans to vote in tomorrow's election in Venezuela. The mainstream opposition's boycotting the poll because it says it's fraudulent. Yet Lopez thinks voting's important because somehow, life here has to change, especially her life. Lopez used to work behind her fruit stall with her husband. Ten months ago, he was attacked in a nearby gas station by two men trying to steal his cellphone.

LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: They shot him in the chest, she says, and took his phone. He survived five days. After his murder, her mother, who's diabetic, became ill and went into a coma, she says. There's a dire shortage of medicine in Venezuela. Lopez launched a desperate appeal to her fellow Venezuelans on Facebook.

LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "Thank God we found a woman who had the meds we needed," she says.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC NOISE)

REEVES: Talk to Venezuelans, and you hear many stories like this. Hundreds of thousands have fled the country. Lopez would like to go, too. When she tried to get a passport, she says she couldn't afford the $700 bribe the officials demanded. A few feet from her stall, Carlos Bellos (ph) is buying a handful of potatoes. He sells hardware, but most of his work's dried up. His income's been rendered almost worthless by the collapse of the currency. He lives on fruit and veg and looks skeletal.

CARLOS BELLOS: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "I won't be voting," says Bellos. He has no faith in government or in the election's principal characters - President Nicolas Maduro and the main challenger, Henri Falcon, a former state governor. Falcon is the focus of much debate in this election. Venezuelans are divided over what to make of him. He used to be in the ruling Socialist Party but left in 2010. He wants to dollarize the economy and allow international humanitarian aid into Venezuela. That's helped him win significant support, although not from Venezuela's opposition.

MARIA CORINA MACHADO: I believe Mr. Falcon is part of the system we're trying to change.

REEVES: Maria Corina Machado is one of the prominent opposition leaders. She believes Falcon's candidacy is legitimizing a fraudulent poll. Maduro's certain to be declared the winner, she says.

MACHADO: This is a farce, sham process.

REEVES: Many in the international sphere agree with that, including the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Shouting in Spanish).

REEVES: This doesn't deter Maduro supporters, as they rally ahead of an election they're confident is theirs. These include Jose Pimental (ph), who's 23. He says he likes President Maduro...

JOSE PIMENTAL: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: ...Because he supports the young. He also buys Maduro's central argument that Venezuela's a victim of an economic war led by the U.S. Maduro still has a core support. And he and the ruling party also control the government's most powerful institutions. Most analysts appear to believe that means he'll remain in power. Back in the fruit market, Ariles Lopez is worried by that. She says no one knows what'll happen after the election as Venezuela's economic disaster further unfolds.

LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "But," she says, "I'm scared. Everyone's scared."

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Caracas.

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