Venezuela Heads Into Showdown Over Food Aid
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We're a day away from a confrontation in Venezuela. The U.S.-backed opposition says it will move tons of aid from Colombia into that country. Venezuela's president, Nicolas Maduro, says no. A prelude of that confrontation came as a convoy of opposition leaders tries to travel from the capital, Caracas, outward to the border with Colombia.
NPR's Eyder Peralta has been traveling with that caravan. He's on the line. Hi there, Eyder.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: What have you been seeing?
PERALTA: So, you know, the caravan left yesterday in the morning. And this should have taken 12 hours. But so far, they're about 12 - they're about halfway there. Last night, the military blocked a major highway in this country to stop them from advancing. They put a military truck on one side and a shipping container on the other side, and they caused a huge traffic jam. I stood on a hill, and I could not see where the traffic jam ended.
And people who had nothing to do with this convoy, they got off their vehicles, and they were mad. They turned on the military. They started chanting anti-government slogans. The - one of the remarkable things that I saw was that they tried to convince the troops to turn on President Nicolas Maduro. So they would gather in front of a line of military men, and they would look them in the eye and make their case. Let me play you a bit of what that sounded like.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
HILBERTO: (Speaking Spanish).
PERALTA: That was Hilberto (ph), who only wanted me to use his first name because he fears retribution from the government. And what he was saying is that the government had taken everything for themselves and left the Venezuelan people penniless. And now all they have is force to stay in power. This socialism, he says, this government is over, and they have only themselves to blame. But much to the dismay of Hilberto and the opposition, that interaction ended when the military fired tear gas.
INSKEEP: So we have this aid, which is - which opposition leaders are trying to move into the country. We have opposition leaders themselves coming outward toward the border to try to get it. I have to note, Eyder, it's a kind of manufactured event. The opposition is enacting this drama and challenging the government to resist them. And the government is taking the bait, it looks like.
PERALTA: Yeah. Well, you know, the opposition will tell you that this is a well-orchestrated confrontation. And it's all about that interaction right there. Will - can they force the military to change positions? And, you know, the government, Nicolas Maduro, has held firm. He is - you know, he says this is - he - this is a foreign invasion if this happens. He closed the border with Brazil yesterday, and he threatened to close all the borders.
And he's given his military clear directions. Do as much damage as you can do to this invading army, he says. And his top generals have also been on state television saying that the commander in chief in Venezuela is Nicolas Maduro and that this is his military and will not - and it will not take orders from the United States or Juan Guaido, who dozens of countries recognize as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.
INSKEEP: OK. So they're using tear gas. Is there a danger that a moment comes when live ammunition is used, when lives are lost here?
PERALTA: That's the fear. That's the big fear. The opposition says that they are ready for this moment and that they cannot stop this moment. And, you know, from the day that Guaido declared himself president, they knew this is where they were going.
INSKEEP: Eyder, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.
PERALTA: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: NPR's Eyder Peralta is reporting from inside Venezuela. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.