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Venezuela’s Maduro begins second term amidst an economic crisis

Nicolas Maduro has been sworn in for a second term as Venezuela’s president amidst an economic crisis. In what used to be Latin America's wealthiest country, inflation has soared, clean water and electricity are in short supply and millions of residents have fled their homes. As Nick Schifrin reports, the U.S. has condemned Maduro as a "stooge" of socialism and imposed sanctions against him.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro was inaugurated today for a six-year term. He's been in power since 2013.

    And, as foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin reports, Maduro has presided over an economic catastrophe.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Inside Venezuela's Supreme Court today, President Nicolas Maduro walked into a hero's welcome, greeted by a phalanx of patriotic children.

    And, as seen on state TV, he swore to build what he called 21st century socialism. But while he flashed the sign of a victorious nation, his critics say he's created a failed state.

    In what used to be Latin America's wealthiest country, citizens lack basic necessities. Venezuelans in Caracas have demanded access to a supermarket, even if the shelves were empty because of a shortage of food. Medical patients have protested a shortage of medicine. Children play in the dark because of a shortage of power.

    And a shortage of water means Venezuelans bathe with runoff from a mountain; 170 miles southwest of Caracas, in the farmland of Cojedes State, 32-year-old Luis Cortes Otaiza represents the country's lost hopes.

    He's the son of a farmer and was successful, until hyperinflation and government regulations raised costs above revenue. Now he grows only enough for his family to survive.

  • Luis Otaiza:

    We are working in vain, wasting our youth. We have no future here.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The economic freefall is from falling oil prices and failed economic policies. The government printed more money and bills became so worthless, women turned them into art. Inflation could hit 10 million percent. That's how many bolivars it costs to buy a chicken.

    It takes a stack of almost worthless paper to buy toilet paper. All of it sparked the region's largest ever exodus. More than three million Venezuelans have fled their homes and created a humanitarian crisis, says Woodrow Wilson Center senior adviser Ben Gedan.

  • Ben Gedan:

    The conditions in Venezuela are heartbreaking, in terms of the collapse of the medical system, the extraordinary levels of violence. It's become apocalyptic to live in that country, and then the conditions that these migrants find themselves in neighboring countries.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Maduro was elected last May in a presidential election the U.S. called unfree and unfair. He's maintained power through corruption and ruthlessness, says Gedan, who was President Obama's National Security Council South America director.

  • Ben Gedan:

    The president of Venezuela has been willing to repress dissent ruthlessly and relentlessly, in terms of attacking the political opposition, dismantling Venezuelan democracy, destroying what had been the wealthiest country in Latin America, dismantling every democratic institution under the sun in order to stay in power.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This week, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuelans involved in what it called corrupt currency exchange. The U.S. has also imposed sanctions on Maduro, his wife, a vice president, and a foreign minister.

    And today, in a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. will — quote — "continue to use the full weight of U.S. economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy."

  • John Bolton:

    The troika of tyranny in this hemisphere, Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, has finally met its match.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The administration has made the criticism regional. In November, National Security Adviser John Bolton aimed his sights at Maduro and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, and Cuba's new President Miguel Diaz-Canel as the U.S.' ideological opponents.

  • John Bolton:

    They are clownish, pitiful figures more akin to Larry, Curly and Moe. The Three Stooges of socialism are true believers, but they worship a false god.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yesterday, Maduro accused the U.S. and an informal regional alliance known as the Lima Group of plotting to overthrow him.

  • Nicolas Maduro:

    A coup d'etat ordered by Washington and the Lima cartel is under way against the legitimate and constitutional government over which I preside.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The U.S. has considered imposing more pain through an oil embargo, but the state would likely collapse, increasing the humanitarian crisis. Gedan and others want Venezuela's neighbors to bring that pressure.

  • Ben Gedan:

    There are a whole series measures you can do to increase the diplomatic isolation and the economic pressure on Venezuelan elites and to encourage some of those elites to break with the regime and make a moral decision to be part of the solution in Venezuela. Latin American countries simply have not taken those steps.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Maduro faces some internal opposition, and no Latin American leader has ever survived this level of hyperinflation. But for now, senior U.S. officials say he can likely resist external pressure and stay in power, despite the pain inflicted on his people.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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