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President Maduro Under Pressure As Several Countries Back Venezuela's Opposition Leader


One thing's clear about the political crisis in Venezuela. Nicolas Maduro is still in power despite a multipronged campaign, led by the U.S., to drive him out. Yesterday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the U.N. Security Council, asking them to act.


MIKE POMPEO: Time is now to support the Venezuelan people, to recognize the new democratic government led by interim President Guaido, and end this nightmare. No excuses.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Several European countries yesterday gave Maduro an ultimatum - call new elections within a week, or we'll recognize the opposition leader Juan Guaido as president. Maduro, in an interview broadcast this morning, rejected that demand. It's been four days since Guaido declared himself Venezuela's interim president before a vast crowd of supporters. Yet the actual levers of power remain with Maduro and the ruling Socialist Party. Joining me now is NPR's Philip Reeves, who is in Caracas. Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, Phil, are cracks beginning to appear?

REEVES: Yes, a few. One, his military attache in Washington, D.C., has defected to Juan Guaido. Secondly, Maduro's climbed down from his decision to expel U.S. diplomats after severing diplomatic ties with D.C. He had given them until this weekend to go. He's now suspended that order for 30 days for both sides to work out what the future relationship is going to be. And three, he's talking about negotiations, although the opposition don't appear to be at all interested in that because they don't recognize him. And they want him to leave.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, what does the man at the center of this, Juan Guaido, do next?

REEVES: He's piling on the pressure, taking his campaign to the streets, promising a week of mass demonstrations next week. He's doing so at the risk of arrest. And he's appeared in person at a couple of rallies since that huge gathering in Caracas on Wednesday where he swore himself in as interim president. Yesterday, he showed up at quite a small gathering - a couple of thousand people, mostly middle-class - and didn't stay long. He repeated his offer of amnesty to security forces and the - and to civil servants who want to abandon Maduro. And when you talk to his supporters, they do seem convinced that he will eventually win this battle. This is Jose Carvajal.

JOSE CARVAJAL: I think this is our time. Change comes from leadership. And at this moment, we are gifted with some guys - very young guys that are bringing wisdom to our leadership. After a long time, we are having that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So a voice of hope there. But you've been out on the streets. What are other people saying?

REEVES: Well, to get a sense of that, I dropped into a market in East Caracas. It's an upscale part of town where they actually have food, unlike much of this country. And I started talking to people there about what they think is now actually happening in their nation after years of hyperinflation and hunger and medical shortages and economic collapse. And I met Maria Sanchez, who was doing her family shopping.

MARIA SANCHEZ: For the first time, people from the east and from the west know that this is a correct time.

REEVES: Of this city, you mean?

SANCHEZ: Yes, of this country.

REEVES: What's changed things? Is it Juan Guaido? Is it...


REEVES: ...International support?

SANCHEZ: He's a new politician. He's fresh. He's not polluted. I think he's very honest on what he's doing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what about Maduro's supporters, of which he has a few?

REEVES: Indeed. And if you drive around Caracas, you still see groups of Chavistas - that's his supporters and the supporters of the Socialist Party - in their red baseball hats and T-shirts. Maduro's main platform is state-run TV. And yesterday, the TV was flooded with propaganda about the - that U.N. Security Council meeting that you mentioned in New York where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged nations to turn against Maduro and to financially disconnect themselves from the Maduro government, a remark aimed at China and Turkey and also Russia, which, at that meeting, accused Washington of attempting a coup. Now, that meeting has been seized upon by Maduro, who appeared on TV yesterday at a rather eccentric performance in which he sang at one point. And he portrayed yesterday's U.N. Security Council meeting as a triumph for Venezuela.



REEVES: So as you can see, Maduro's still very defiant.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Phil Reeves in Caracas, Venezuela. And we'll be following this story throughout the day. Thank you so much.

REEVES: You're welcome. 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.