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As pressure mounts in Venezuela, military support helps Maduro hold power

Thousands of people took to the streets as president Nicolas Maduro and his rival and self-proclaimed leader of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, held competing rallies in Caracas. Even though Guaido enjoys support from countries including the U.S., the Venezuelan military continues to support Maduro. Joshua Goodman of the Associated Press joins Hari Sreenivasan.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Joshua Goodman, the Andean news director for the Associated Press joins us now via Skype from Caracas. You've been out there today. The protests look larger than they were last week?

  • Joshua Goodman:

    About the same but that's pretty damn big. We haven't seen protests like this for a number of years and I think there's really a sense now of optimism which we also haven't seen for a year. People feel like change is kind of just around the corner and the crowds were extremely excited to see Juan Guaidó who has declared himself interim president telling them that you know in the next few days they're going to be starting to receive humanitarian aid from some of the neighboring countries around Venezuela.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What does this do to Nicolás Maduro? I mean he's literally got out his window, a man who claims to be the president of the country with thousands of people supporting him on the streets.

  • Joshua Goodman:

    That's right. And Guido and the opposition is not really staying put. I mean, organizing a humanitarian aid convoy from Colombia or Brazil, that's a huge undertaking, which requires a lot of support and a lot of authority, a lot of cooperation with other partners in the world. So they are sort of proceeding in two tracks. On one hand, they are still fighting for effective control of the state. But on the other hand, they're carrying out diplomatic relations and sort of already implementing some of their policies to get Venezuela's economy back on its feet. Yeah, Maduro needs to be worried, he's never been in a situation like that. Chavismo, which by the way, celebrates 20 years today in power has also never been a situation like that. The one missing piece for the opposition right now is the military. So far they've been pretty loyal to Maduro, we've seen a few minor defections and little uprisings. But for the most part, they're not showing any sign of changing their loyalties en masse right now.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. There was an Air Force general who kind of made a selfie video, Mr. Yanez,how important is he in this arc of lots of military brass?

  • Joshua Goodman:

    Well, he was not a household name. I had never heard of him before his video. He did it, we think from Colombia. He does command troops though and he says he represents the sentiment of 90 percent of the armed forces. Look, I mean there are generals there who do have power within the military and there is a view that you know, if a major one of them defect, say the defense minister or one of the people who people do know, that they would bring with them large swaths of the military. But you know, the armed forces in Venezuela have gone under quite a bit of ideological training over the past two decades. And it's also got to be said that they're not extremely organized in the way they were in the past. So we could see a situation where some generals defected but others remain loyal. I think that that's really sort of the worrisome scenario. A scenario where you have soldiers fighting soldiers for either two sides of the political argument here and that could produce a lot of bloodshed.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What happens on the streets in the meantime? I mean is there any respite for the kind of economic calamity that's happening? It's not like because that there is this hope on the streets that there is suddenly bread on the shelves?

  • Joshua Goodman:

    That's right and it's going to get worse. The U.S. sanctions announced the other day against PDVSA are going to, we're not sure when, but in a matter of weeks not months, going to lead to much more shortages, much more misery for Venezuelans. It's now basically impossible for Venezuela to export its oil to the U.S., which was its biggest cash market. So people are going to have to hunker down and you know, I could just tell you I know many people who are starting to stockpile food, fuel and we could be in a situation at some point, I don't know when, where we'll see gas lines in the country with the largest petroleum reserves in the world.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And what about those neighboring countries at this point?. Are they all aligned with Guaidó?

  • Joshua Goodman:

    Not all of them. Many of them are. There's a few dozen that have recognized Guaidó, Maduro has support especially among you know, the hard ideological left, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba but also some more moderate countries like Mexico and Uruguay — countries that are trying to promote a dialogue believing that you know, basically this show of force will run its course and at some point the two sides will need to sit down and negotiate. The European Union is sort of in play right now as well. We're going to see where they end up. The European Parliament at once has recognized Guaidó. But There's also a proposal among the E.U. to sort of create a contact group to again try to facilitate some sort of political negotiation that eases tensions here.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right Joshua Goodman of The Associated Press joining us via Skype from Caracas. Thanks so much.

  • Joshua Goodman:

    Thank you.

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