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Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro Sworn In For 2nd Term

14 hours ago
Originally published on January 10, 2019 8:27 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was sworn in today for a second term. He now has six more years of power over a country that was once Latin America's wealthiest and is now devastated by economic and social collapse. Many countries, including the U.S. and neighboring Brazil and Colombia, refuse to recognize his leadership. They say he won an election that was neither free nor fair.

Journalist Mariana Zuniga covered Maduro's inauguration in Caracas today. She says two types of people showed up to witness it.

MARIANA ZUNIGA: There were Maduro supporters. And some of them were there 'cause they truly supported President Maduro and they voted for him. Others said that they were kind of obliged to be there because they are state workers. In Venezuela, it's not uncommon that state workers are obliged to go to these rallies or vote in elections.

CORNISH: Tell us a little bit about what Maduro had to say in his inauguration speech.

ZUNIGA: Well, to be honest, he didn't say much. People - they were expecting some economic measures. I think that's why some people were attentive today. He is expected to raise the minimum wage or maybe to say something about the increase of gasoline. But he kind of postponed these economic measures for Monday.

CORNISH: I understand there were only a handful of other heads of state there, right? He doesn't have very many allies in the region.

ZUNIGA: Yes, he doesn't have many allies in the region. From the region, we found Cuba, El Salvador and Honduras, which is atypical because for Hugo Chavez's inauguration, you could see almost the whole region being here in Venezuela.

CORNISH: How did his speech compared to the reality of what's going on in Venezuela right now?

ZUNIGA: Well, he didn't address, like, any of the problems of Venezuela. Many companies have leave the country. Also many people have leave the country. We're talking about more than 2 million people in the past three years. Only this week, for example, the bolivar lost about half its value on the streets. So it is a very different country than when he took the office the first time. And you can notice that. And he didn't address any of these problems during this speech.

CORNISH: Protests used to draw thousands of people into the streets daily, right? Where is the opposition now?

ZUNIGA: Well, in 2017, Venezuela had a huge wave of protests, but those protests were kind of broke out by the government. Many people now fear going to the streets, and they don't feel the motivation anymore because the opposition has kind of broken out. They are divided. So many people who identify with the opposition - they don't feel represented anymore. Now you can see some kind of protest in the streets, but they are not political or against the government. There's more, like, people complaining about the quality of life, people complaining about the scarcity of food, about the lack of electricity, of water. It's another kind of protest different from 2017.

CORNISH: With six more years under Maduro ahead, what do people say they want now?

ZUNIGA: Well, this morning, I had the opportunity to talk with some people that weren't participating in the swearing in, and they had - and they kind of felt hopeless. Many people say that or hope that Maduro won't finish this term. They said that it is - their situation is unbearable. Some that - some of people - they are not even willing to wait to see what will happen. Many said they are planning to leave the country. They are packing already their stuff. And to be honest, in my opinion, if he doesn't change the economic policies, I don't see how his government could stay in power longer.

CORNISH: Mariana Zuniga is a freelance journalist in Caracas. Thank you for speaking with us.

ZUNIGA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.