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What Venezuela’s opposition leader may achieve in U.S. visit

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó appeared Saturday at a Miami rally, telling supporters that democracy will return to Venezuela and he will replace socialist President Nicolas Maduro. The U.S. and many other countries backed Guaidó after last year's disputed election. Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Venezuelan Opposition Leader Juan Guaido appeared at a rally in Miami yesterday at the end of a weeks long international speaking tour. Guaido told supporters democracy will return to Venezuela and that he will replace socialist president Nicolas Maduro.

  • Juan Guaido:

    In every place where there is a Venezuelan, there is a flame of hope.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The U.S. and many other countries backed Guaido after he disputed election results last year and proclaimed himself president yesterday. Guaido said he plans to return to Venezuela in the next several days and still hopes to meet with President Donald Trump. For more on the situation in Venezuela, Cynthia Arnson, the director of the Latin America program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, joins us now from Washington D.C. First, let's talk about one Guaido and his kind of world tour meeting different leaders. What's it accomplishing for him?

  • Cynthia Arnson:

    It's certainly accomplished keeping Venezuela in the international eye, especially in Europe, which has been, for the most part, reluctant to adopt the same kind of harsh and comprehensive sanctions that the U.S. government has adopted. So he met with a number of world leaders, with the chancellor in Germany, with McCall in France, with Trudeau and Canada, Boris Johnson in the U.K. and also with Secretary Pompeo in Florida. But the big question mark, obviously, is whether there will be a chance to see President Trump while President Trump is in Mar-a-Lago this weekend and Guaido is still in Miami.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So how much does that presidential meeting offer him credibility or a seal of approval?

  • Cynthia Arnson:

    I think it's hugely important to note in a symbolic sense, the symbolism, obviously, that Trump is perhaps still committed to a Venezuela policy, but not necessarily to Juan Guaido. There was certainly the hope and even the expectation that last year, after Guaido became interim president, that there would be a rapid transition, rapid regime change in Venezuela. And that has not happened. His own popularity within Venezuela has gone down as people are frustrated and they haven't seen results from from this political effort.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So, Cindy, even if he is going out and keeping Venezuela in the spotlight in other countries, how does this help him or not at home?

  • Cynthia Arnson:

    That's the really the key question. It's one thing to have all of these dozens and dozens of countries that have recognized him as legitimate president of Venezuela. But it's quite another thing to do, the political work inside the country that will bring about an end to the regime of Nicolas Maduro. This coming year is a very critical one for the opposition, for the country as a whole, in that the current assembly that was elected in 2015, out of which Guaido has emerged, will hold. There will be elections for a new assembly and the conditions for holding those elections will be incredibly skewed and disadvantaged for the opposition. And so the real political work remains to be done inside the country with international support, of course.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What is happening on the streets of Venezuela right now, at least on store shelves? We have for so many months, really years talked about the shortages that people have of medicine, food. Well, how's our economy doing?

  • Cynthia Arnson:

    Well, the economy has declined by over 60 percent since Maduro first took power in 2013. That is just a radical shrinking that you don't see anywhere in the world except in countries that are actually at war. And there has been now, with the dollarization of the economy, the ability of people that have access to dollars to spend money to the private sector to import goods that previously they were not able to import because of very strict governmental controls. But it really has set a sharp division within the country between those that, on the one hand have access to dollars and those, on the other hand, who don't. And the widespread malnutrition of children. Some people say perhaps starvation at some point, certainly in rural areas, but also in poor urban areas where people don't have access either to remittances or to dollars through this liberalization of foreign exchange.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right, Cynthia Arnson from the Woodrow Wilson Center, thank you so much.

  • Cynthia Arnson:

    Thank you.

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