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In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro Remains In Power, Supported By Military


One country, two men who say they're president - that's the state of play today in Venezuela one day after opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president. This is awkward because Venezuela already has a president, Nicolas Maduro, who, while increasingly isolated, is refusing to step down. The U.S. is backing Guaido in this fight. And today, the State Department ordered some of its diplomats out of Venezuela. NPR's Philip Reeves is in the capital, Caracas. Hey there, Phil.


KELLY: So let's get up to speed on the latest just in terms of state of play. One key question as this unfolds has been, who controls the military? And they announced their allegiance today. Tell me what happened.

REEVES: Yes, the defense minister, General Vladimir Padrino Lopez, went on TV. He was surrounded by generals from the army's high command all wearing their uniforms and medals. And he announced that they view Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela and their commander in chief. He launched into a diatribe about what he called a coup that's being launched by forces on the far-right aided by what he called imperialists.

Venezuela has eight strategic military command centers around the country, and all of their commanders also separately announced their support for Maduro, a number of them doing that on state-run TV as well. So the army top brass for now is behind Maduro. If he loses their support, it's very likely game over for him. And the opposition, as you know, have been appealing to the army to abandon him and talking about an amnesty, although it's not yet clear how widely that amnesty would apply to the high command.

KELLY: And what about Maduro himself? Has he been spotted today?

REEVES: Oh, yes, very much so (laughter). He's been live on TV, making a lengthy speech at the Supreme Court. He is wearing his presidential gold chain and his presidential sash and holding a copy of the Constitution and explaining why he feels that Guaido's announcement that he's the interim president is illegal. At one point, he broke into English and said, hands off Venezuela. There were many attacks on the United States and particularly on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He again, as with the military, is characterizing this as an attempted coup which was orchestrated by the U.S.

KELLY: Some very clear signaling going on there. What about Guaido? Do we know where he is?

REEVES: I don't think we do know where he is, but he has been heard from. He's been tweeting, mostly so far tweets thanking the long list of countries mostly in the Western Hemisphere that have stepped up and recognized him as the interim president of Venezuela after he made that announcement in such a dramatic fashion in front of a cheering crowd in the heart of Caracas yesterday. So he's been doing that.

And there's been one very important development as far as he's concerned, which concerns the fact that the U.S. is now saying that not only do they support and recognize him, but they plan to channel revenues towards him. And that means revenues from the oil that they buy off Venezuela, which is a considerable amount of money.

KELLY: Right, it's, like, a billion dollars a month. What kind of leverage is the U.S. hoping that might buy?

REEVES: Well, it has to be a very serious issue for the Maduro government. Venezuela's oil revenues are their main source of money. The industry is in collapse, but it's still something that is vitally important for the survival of the Maduro regime. So the statement made by John Bolton today that...

KELLY: The U.S. national security adviser.

REEVES: ...Yes - they're going to concentrate on trying to channel these revenues towards what the U.S. considers the legitimate government of this country - is a big development in this drama.

KELLY: And, Phil, you mentioned the huge crowds that were out on the streets yesterday to support Guaido. Are they back today?

REEVES: No, they're not. I went to the same area where there was a river of people yesterday going towards that big gathering where he made his announcement. And today it's different. Many shops are shut. The traffic is light. And on the street, there is a feeling of anxiety because Venezuelans have dared to hope for change before and been disappointed. And I think they know that this drama is not yet over by any means.

KELLY: NPR's Philip Reeves reporting on a fast-moving situation there in Caracas, Venezuela. Thank you, Phil.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.