Venezuela's Opposition Expects Big Turnout For Anti-Government Protests
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Protesters are calling today's march in Venezuela's capital the takeover of Caracas. It is aimed at that country's president whose government has overseen an almost total collapse of Venezuela's economy. Ahead of the protests, the government has been turning back foreign journalists trying to enter Caracas. But we were able to reach Associated Press reporter Hannah Dreier via Skype. She's based there. Good morning.
HANNAH DREIER: Good morning. Good to be with you.
MONTAGNE: Now, the government of President Nicolas Maduro has been jailing opposition leaders for months. Organizers of today's march are predicting hundreds of thousands will show up, so it stands to be a very interesting day. What are you seeing there that tells you what may be coming throughout the day?
DREIER: Yeah, the city this morning is full of tension. There are police checkpoints on all the major roads. Most of the shops are shut down. Even hospitals have been rescheduling appointments. Schools are shut, and we might get as many as a million people in the streets. And this is a city where the streets are usually empty. There is an informal curfew.
It's very dangerous, and there isn't really a culture of people just going out and taking over public spaces. So people here are worried that we're going to see violence. And some people are excited that this might be a real turning point in the nation's history.
MONTAGNE: What is this march reacting to? Tell us a little bit more about how bad things are.
DREIER: So this is basically the opposition's last ditch effort to force the government to stop ignoring it. Venezuela, like you say, is in a terrible crisis. People really can't get food. People can't get medicine. Pretty much every institution you look at is falling apart, but the government has pushed the opposition totally out of the democratic process. So the opposition has been lobbying for a recall vote that might get President Nicolas Maduro out of office.
MONTAGNE: Well, he, of course, was, though, democratically elected, so how likely is it that street protests will get him out of office?
DREIER: Maduro was democratically elected, but his approval ratings crashed to 20 percent pretty soon after he took office. The opposition last year won a huge landslide victory and took back Congress. And people thought that might be a turning point, but instead the Supreme Court which is loyal to the socialist administration has just nullified pretty much every bill Congress has passed.
MONTAGNE: So you suggested that this march may be the beginning of more. What do you mean by that?
DREIER: People in the opposition are hoping that this march could be the beginning of the end for the socialist revolution in Venezuela. The idea is that you get masses of people in the street, and they say we're not going home until something changes.
MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for joining us.
DREIER: Thanks for having me.
MONTAGNE: Hannah Dreier is with the AP, and she spoke to us from Caracas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.