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Venezuela's Embattled President Nicolas Maduro Clings To Power


People in Venezuela can be forgiven for wondering what happens to them now. Almost two weeks have passed since Juan Guaido stood in front of a huge crowd in Venezuela and declared himself the legitimate president, interim head of state. More than a dozen European nations have now announced that they agree with them, yet President Nicolas Maduro still clings to power. NPR's Philip Reeves reports from the capital, Caracas.


PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Maduro doesn't have much to celebrate these days. That doesn't deter his hardcore supporters. Hundreds are gathering in a plaza in Caracas. They're wearing the bright red baseball caps and T-shirts of the ruling Socialist Party. It's the anniversary of an attempted coup in 1992 by Maduro's mentor, Hugo Chavez, an event the party considers the start of Venezuela's Socialist revolution.


REEVES: Maduro's government can still mobilize foot soldiers. It's even trying to recruit new ones.

JESUS GABRIEL: (Through interpreter) Today we are here recruiting for the military revolution.

REEVES: Jesus Gabriel (ph) belongs to Venezuela's civilian militia created by the government to defend the motherland. He's manning a makeshift recruitment center on the forecourt of a disused garage. Gabriel's trying to find people to join up for the fight against what the party views as an economic war waged by the U.S. to topple Maduro and steal the country's oil. Right now, there seem to be few takers. Gabriel, who's 30, concedes that enlisting new recruits isn't easy these days.

GABRIEL: (Through interpreter) The revolution is moving forward with a little inconvenience. There are obstacles.

REEVES: The inconvenience Gabriel's talking about is called Juan Guaido. Opposition leader Guaido is recognized as Venezuela's legitimate interim head of state by dozens of nations, including the U.S. Yet Maduro still holds power supported by a hard core that includes the military's high command. Guaido's mission is to destroy that. With U.S. support, he's arranging to haul humanitarian aid into Venezuela, defying a ban by Maduro and presenting a full-on challenge to the loyalty of Venezuela's army.

MARIA CORINA MACHADO: It is time for the armed forces to understand it's their duty not only to comply with the constitution but also to facilitate this humanitarian aid to reach Venezuelan citizens.

REEVES: Maria Corina Machado is one of Venezuela's foremost opposition leaders.

MACHADO: It is a moment, finally, for them to decide on which side they will step. Either they fall with the regime because a collapse is already on the way. Or they save themselves, saving Venezuela. It's a final decision they have to make, every single one of them.

REEVES: It's unclear what would happen to this aid if Venezuela's army blocks it or steals it for sale on the black market. Machado says the overall goal, though, is to continue relentlessly pressuring Maduro to stand down.

MACHADO: We need to move ahead, and we need to move fast. There's an urgency in the Venezuelan society that increases every day. So we need to move fast. We are way beyond the point of no return.

REEVES: As the momentum grows, so do concerns that Venezuela could descend into widespread violence. Beatriz Coronado (ph) is a grandmother who sells coffee and cigarettes on the sidewalk seven days a week.

BEATRIZ CORONADO: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "People are overwhelmed by this crisis," says Coronado.

CORONADO: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "There are a lot of rumors that the U.S. is going to invade, that there'll be a civil war." These worries are widespread.


REEVES: Tens of thousands cheered on Guaido on the streets of Caracas Saturday. Among them were Melissa Rodriguez (ph) and her husband, Roberto (ph).


REEVES: Melissa's looking forward to Guaido winning but worries about the possible threat of bloodshed caused by radical guerrilla groups.

MELISSA RODRIGUEZ: I'm afraid. I'm a little afraid that they're beginning to do, like, terrorist attacks to the opposition leaders. I don't know. We are afraid like that, but we don't know.

REEVES: But it's a risk you are willing to take?


ROBERTO RODRIGUEZ: Course. You have 20 years with these people so you have to take risks.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Caracas. 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.