Venezuela Clashes Continue As Opposition Leader Juan Guaidó Calls For Uprising

May 1, 2019
Originally published on May 1, 2019 7:06 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Venezuelans took to the streets of the capital Caracas today demanding the ouster of leftist President Nicolas Maduro. But many stayed home, one day after opposition leader Juan Guaido tried to spark a military uprising. Instead of the millions he called for, thousands came out, some banging pots and pans. Security forces fought pockets of protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets.

NPR's Philip Reeves is in Caracas and joins us now. Hey, Phil.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: So what's the mood and scene been like on the streets in Caracas today?

REEVES: Well, I only recently arrived, so I haven't seen the whole city by any means. But when I got here, I went straight to a demonstration on the city's east side. This was one of those demonstrations that have been called by Juan Guaido for what he billed as the biggest-ever demonstration in the history of Venezuela.

There were a lot of people there - thousands, possibly in the tens of thousands. But I have seen much larger crowds turn out for Guaido before. And so this was a smaller turnout. And I think the most noticeable thing about it is that the mood has quite substantially changed. Whilst these demonstrations for the opposition leader, Guaido, were before quite very lively - there'd be a lot of chanting, a lot of singing - now there's a mood of wariness. I thought it was more subdued.

And not far away from where I was, there were violent clashes underway between the security forces and a small group of anti-government protesters in which, you know, they were exchanging...

CHANG: Yeah.

REEVES: ...The security forces were firing rubber bullets and tear gas, and the protesters were chucking rocks. And indeed I saw people breaking up rocks and putting them into plastic bags to give to the protesters. And now we're beginning to see people with metal shields, homemade shields, gas masks and so on.

And so this is - there's been a change in this kind - this protest. And the security forces, I think, are responding with more violence. And of course as a result of that, we can expect more injuries.

CHANG: And give us more detail about the change in the mood. I mean, have you been able to get a sense of the reaction to yesterday's extraordinary events? When you're just talking to people, what are they saying?

REEVES: Well, it varies. I spoke to one person who - a woman who - in her 50s - who was hit by a rubber bullet yesterday. She came back again today. She's a peaceful protester. And she said she was disappointed, but she really thought yesterday might be the day when Nicolas Maduro finally was ousted from power in Venezuela and a new dispensation installed. That hasn't happened. She says she's coming back because she's going to continue the fight.

I spoke to others, though, who said, look; we've grown used to the idea that this is a long road, and we're going to continue. Now this, of course, was just the one side of the equation. This is the support for Juan Guaido.

CHANG: Right.

REEVES: There were other demonstrations also today which I saw as I drove into the city in support of the government. They were smaller, significantly so. These are the Chavistas, the supporters of the late Hugo Chavez, who come out with their flags and red caps and hold rather choreographed demonstrations. And these took place in Caracas today.

CHANG: OK, now, President Maduro had called for his supporters to rush into the streets and rally. Did you see a lot of people chanting for Maduro today?

REEVES: No. I mean, what I saw was small protests. It's possible there were other large ones in favor of Maduro, but he's not wildly popular here. I mean, it's under 20% - his position in the ratings. So you wouldn't expect these protests to be that large. Guaido's are always larger.

CHANG: OK, that's NPR's Philip Reeves in Caracas, Venezuela. Thanks, Phil.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.