Political Crisis In Venezuela Escalates
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We're closely following events in Venezuela, where the political crisis there has suddenly escalated. The opposition leader, Juan Guaido, says he is in the final phase of a plan to oust the president, Nicolas Maduro. Maduro's officials say they are successfully putting down a coup attempt. And let's see what we can learn from NPR's Philip Reeves, who has been following this. Hi, Phil.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi.
GREENE: This sounds incredibly confusing, and we're getting different information from the opposition and the government here. So what exactly do we know?
REEVES: Well, it is confusing, but we know one thing, and that is this erupted when a video, a short video, appeared today in which Guaido is seen at an air base with a small group of soldiers and some armored vehicles. Also, in that video is one of the key, most influential figures in the Venezuelan opposition, Leopoldo Lopez, who until now has been under house arrest. And Guaido is essentially saying, this is the moment; in fact, he actually says in the video, the moment is now, and is calling on people to come out and oust Maduro, finally.
GREENE: So you say Leopoldo Lopez is very significant in the opposition. Remind us about who he is exactly.
REEVES: Yeah, he's the founder of Guaido's political party, Popular Will. In 2014, he was arrested. He was later sentenced to nearly 14 years on a variety of charges, including alleged conspiracy. And in 2017, he went into house arrest under the guard of the Venezuelan intelligence services. But the key thing about him is he is really one of the most prominent opposition figures in the country and has been for years. So if he's out now and released, then that's very significant. We don't know exactly how this has happened.
His father, who is in Spain, is reportedly saying that the military released him, which, if true, is significant. There's a consensus in Venezuela that if the military's high command stops supporting Maduro, if it abandons Maduro, then Maduro will fall.
GREENE: So this sounds like a very important point to highlight here - if Lopez was released by someone in the government or someone in the military, that might suggest that Maduro is losing control, potentially, of the military, which would be a sign of maybe a significant moment.
REEVES: Yes, that is a possibility. We don't know exactly the dimensions of this, but what we do know is that it is extremely unstable at the moment. Maduro's ministers have responded to this. One of them is describing it as a small coup attempt and pretty much dismissing it. Another one, the defense minister, is saying that everything in Venezuela's military bases across the country is calm. Of course, it's impossible, independently, to verify any of that.
And another who is a key figure in the ruling Socialist Party is calling on Venezuelans to go to the presidential palace in Caracas to defend Maduro against the opposition uprising that may now be underway. So the contours are evolving of what is potentially a very violent situation.
GREENE: And Phil, doesn't Guaido, the opposition leader, have support from a good number of countries around the world?
REEVES: He has support by 54 nations, prominent among them is the U.S. that has been deeply involved in the campaign that has been going on for several months now to oust Maduro. These countries recognize Juan Guaido as the legitimate leader of the country and want him to take over as a transitional president ahead of elections. But we are far from that point. This is change, but it's very hard to say exactly where it's going.
GREENE: OK. We'll certainly be following where it goes from here. NPR's Philip Reeves, reporting for us on that situation in Venezuela. Phil, thank you.
REEVES: You're welcome.
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