MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Venezuelans were on the streets again today.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Spanish).
KELLY: Again they are demanding that President Nicolas Maduro step down. The campaign to oust Maduro is supported by the U.S., and the U.S. has added to the pressure by imposing tough sanctions on Venezuelan oil. Let's go to NPR's Philip Reeves in Caracas for the latest. Hi again, Phil.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi.
KELLY: So today's protests - give me a sense of the scale.
REEVES: Well, they varied in Caracas. On the east side of town, which is an opposition stronghold, there were thousands of people on the streets. They chanted. They waved banners. They were out there for two hours. And at the end, they sang the national anthem together. On the west side of town in the slums, though, which used to be the strongholds of Hugo Chavez and then, after him, Maduro - still considered to be government strongholds.
I didn't see any protests at all. I saw people lining up to buy food. And I did see a lot of cops and National Guard. And from that, I deduce that Maduro is coming down hard on working-class and poor areas. He's tried to prevent these protests from spreading into those areas. These are people who've suffered the brunt of chronic food and medical - medicine shortages and more recently power shortages of water cuts. And it's interesting that most of the 800-plus detentions that have happened over the last week and a half and a half have, according to human rights activists, happened in the poorer areas.
KELLY: So that is what it looks like. What do people say? You've been out in the streets trying to talk to people all day. What are they telling you?
REEVES: Yeah. I particularly spent time in an upmarket business area where there were a lot of protesters. I spoke to Damia Framgie (ph), who's a lawyer age 29. She took part in previous years in protests, and she thinks this time it's different.
DAMIA FRAMGIE: I do think we're going to make it, and I think we are being really well guided. And the support - it's important 'cause for the first time, we're being recognized internationally, and they're going to run out of money 'cause they're not going to be selling oil. So that's our ticket to freedom.
REEVES: But you still find that people are reluctant to talk to journalists. They're still worried about the threat posed by security agencies and the intelligence service. This man, Pedro (ph), did agree to talk but declined to give his full name, and I asked him why.
PEDRO: Because it's dangerous here. I mean, this not kidding. I mean, they are not playing with toys. This is a very strong dictatorship that have disappeared people, that had more than 300 political prisoners.
REEVES: So Pedro, although you say it's dangerous here, you've come out onto the streets.
PEDRO: Oh, yes, absolutely. It is - I mean, it's now or never.
KELLY: Some of the voices there from the streets in Caracas - Phil, I want to check in on a couple of points you've been helping us keep track of. One is, where is the army? I mean, you keep telling us that where the army lands and who they support is going to be a huge deciding factor in how all this plays out.
REEVES: Yes indeed. I think it is very important. I think it's the decisive factor if you want to choose one. So far we haven't seen any sign that the high command of the military is splitting from Maduro.
KELLY: And what kind of impact are you seeing from the U.S. decision to stop Maduro's government from earning money by selling oil to the U.S.? We heard protesters talking about it. Has Maduro or his government responded?
REEVES: Oh, yes, he has, and he's responded with a great deal of anger. This is worth roughly a billion dollars a month to his government, so it's a major problem for him. He desperately needs those funds. Interestingly, there are reports which started to emerge last night and have grown today that a big Russian passenger plane has arrived at an airport outside Caracas, and an opposition lawmaker who's a former central bank director is saying that he's been told that this plane was hired to transport 20 tons of Venezuelan gold. And of course the speculation is that this is another way of raising funds in a desperate situation that Maduro is using by sending gold to Russia.
KELLY: Well, all kinds of plots of potential intrigue swirling there. Last question - do we know what opposition leader Juan Guaido's next move might be or even where he is?
REEVES: All eyes are on Saturday. He's called a very big mass, nationwide demonstration, a nonviolent protest again on Saturday. I think that could be significantly bigger than what we have seen today.
KELLY: Thank you, Phil.
REEVES: You're welcome.
KELLY: NPR's Philip Reeves in Caracas, Venezuela.
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