Protests In Venezuela Turn Violent As Military And Opposition Groups Clash NPR's Ailsa Chang talks with freelance journalist Mariana Zuñiga, who has been reporting on the Venezuelan protests in Caracas, about the scene on the ground.

Protests In Venezuela Turn Violent As Military And Opposition Groups Clash

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Violence today on the streets of Caracas as protests turned into clashes between those loyal to President Nicolas Maduro and those who say it is time for him to go.



The spark - a video this morning that was posted on Twitter. Opposition leader Juan Guaido stands before men dressed in military gear and says now is the time for action.


JUAN GUAIDO: (Speaking Spanish).

CORNISH: "Valiant soldiers and patriots," he said, "should meet on the streets of Venezuela." He's calling the uprising Operation Liberty.

CHANG: All right, let's go to Caracas now to freelance journalist Mariana Zuniga. Welcome.

MARIANA ZUNIGA: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: So can you just paint a picture for us? What have you been seeing today on the streets over there?

ZUNIGA: Venezuela woke up with a big surprise this morning when interim President Juan Guaido posted a video saying that the end of President Nicolas Maduro's regime was underway. He announced this next to La Carlota air base in Caracas with a small group national guards next to him and Leopoldo Lopez, which is his mentor who was under house arrest until yesterday. So many people, including myself, woke up this morning with this surprise. Nobody was expecting this. Actually, many people thought that this movement was losing momentum.

CHANG: So what is Guaido specifically telling people to do? What is his goal here?

ZUNIGA: Well, this afternoon, he claimed to have a list of military officials who support him. And he also urged people to take the streets until President Nicolas Maduro is ousted.

CHANG: We've seen some video footage of what looks like armored tanks plowing into demonstrations. What is happening? What have Maduro's forces been doing in response to all of this?

ZUNIGA: Yes. Violent clashes have erupted in the capital and actually throughout the country between protesters that support Guaido and forces that are loyal to Maduro. At least, for the moment being, more than three dozen people have been wounded, some of them with bullets. And as you said, in Caracas, an armored vehicle ran into a crowd of Guaido supporters, wounding one of the protesters. There's a mix of hope, but there's also a lot of confusion and chaos. It seems that people don't know that much what to do or where to go. What they know is that they want to stand there and remain on the streets to support interim President Juan Guaido.

CHANG: So some people remain firmly planted on the streets. But does it seem like many people are afraid to even be out today?

ZUNIGA: That's weird. When I ask people - I met a woman this morning. She said she's not afraid. Here she is.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

ZUNIGA: In that clip, she said that if Guaido is not afraid, if Leopoldo Lopez is not afraid, how would she be afraid? She said that, no, she will stand next to them firmly.

CHANG: And Mariana, do you have any idea how much of the current military is siding with Guaido's side?

ZUNIGA: I think that's a question that everybody is asking themselves right now. It is not clear how many militaries are on the side of Guaido at this moment being. When I was in this public square where Guaido gave a speech earlier, I just thought, like, maybe 20 of them, not more than that. It is unclear if the military uprising is only in Caracas or inside of the country. Having that kind of information in Venezuela, taking into account the level of censorship and the level of repression as well is very, very difficult.

CHANG: Mariana Zuniga is a freelance journalist based in Caracas. Thank you very much.

ZUNIGA: You're welcome

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