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The Toll Of Political Chaos On Daily Life In Venezuela


The last of the U.S. diplomats in Venezuela are packing up and leaving this week. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that via Twitter last night. Meanwhile, Venezuelans are stuck in political chaos with two men claiming to be their rightful leader. There is also economic chaos and a massive power outage that has gone on for days. To get a sense of all this, we've called a man named Jorge. He is a lawyer in Caracas who opposes the government of President Nicolas Maduro. We're withholding Jorge's last name out of concern for his security. I asked him how he was managing to charge his phone and talk to us, given the power outage.

JORGE: Well, reception is not good. It's not working very well anywhere in the country. There are few spots in the city I'm from, Caracas, where you get clear reception. One of them - it's in front of the headquarters of the company - of the mobile company. And I'm right here in my car.

KELLY: So you have driven to - in front of the mobile phone company because the reception is better there.

JORGE: Yes. It's sort of like a parking lot right now.

KELLY: Well, this prompts me to ask about fuel and gasoline 'cause we've heard of shortages of that. You have enough to fill up your car and be able to drive around.

JORGE: Yeah, there's a lot of shortage. I managed to put gas in my car yesterday. The line wasn't as long as I thought it would be. It was around an hour. But I managed to put gas in my car. And thankfully, my home is really close to the square, so it was worth speaking to you.

KELLY: Yeah. Yeah. Have you ever lived through a blackout on this scale that's gone so many days?

JORGE: I don't think anyone has lived through a blackout of this scale. And you have to understand what a blackout entitles. I live in another neighborhood from my parents and not knowing my pregnant sister, who's eight months pregnant - how is she? - not able to communicate with her. She's in a building in a seventh floor. She has no power, no water - reading on Twitter - because we have a news blackout and there's no news of what's happening - of newborns dying and knowing that your sister's pregnant; seeing the food in your refrigerator is going bad and throwing it away and not knowing where you're going to be able to buy it because supermarkets are either closed or only taking American dollars as cash because there's no way of paying.

And this is someone that has just regular problems. I cannot imagine what it would be like if I had a parent that was sick, a kid that was in the hospital with no power plant. A friend of mine - his grandfather died, and there's no way to take them to a morgue. So he's just been lying there for 48 hours in their house. It's a humanitarian crisis that we've dealt with and that we expect it for a while.

KELLY: Maduro is blaming these power outages on the U.S. He says this is American sabotage, and this is paving the way for U.S. military intervention. That is the message that's being delivered to Venezuelans. Do you buy it? Do you know anyone who believes this?

JORGE: No. This message is something that we've heard for the last 20 years, and I don't think anyone buys it here. We know our electric system, and we know that the system is analog. So there's no way of having a cyberattack. That's not a message for us. That's probably a message for people outside of Venezuela.

KELLY: You were born and raised in Caracas. Is that right?

JORGE: Yes, that's right.

KELLY: Have you thought about leaving?

JORGE: I mean, I think that's something that's on everyone's mind. I mean, there are 5,000 people crossing the border to Colombia in despair in the last two years daily. So yeah, of course, conditions are awful, and the idea of leaving never leaves your mind. But I think it's my country, and it's worth fighting for. And I don't want to hand it off to them.

KELLY: Yeah. Jorge, thank you.

JORGE: No, no, no. Thank you. You have no idea how much I appreciate the fact that you're giving us a voice. So it's been a pleasure to.

KELLY: That is Jorge, a lawyer in Caracas, Venezuela. We are identifying him by first name only to protect his safety. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.