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Power Outage Paralyzes Venezuela Amid Political Crisis

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to start the program today in Venezuela. Just when everybody thought the crisis there couldn't get any worse, it has. The country is in the grip of the biggest power outage anybody can remember, and the struggle over the presidency is intensifying. President Nicolas Maduro sent thousands of police and troops onto the streets of the capital as his opponent, Juan Guaido, held more mass demonstrations.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)

MARTIN: This was the reaction of the crowd when Guaido arrived. As you can hear, that's a peaceful crowd. But there were some scuffles with police who fired tear gas. We're joined now by our correspondent, Philip Reeves, who spent most of the day on the streets of Caracas.

Philip, thanks so much for joining us.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: You're welcome.

MARTIN: Tell us what you saw.

REEVES: Well, you know, there've been times, Michel, when you go around Caracas, you can sometimes think this city's almost normal. Not anymore. The city's in the grips of this huge power outage. It's causing traffic snarls. The subway's closed. There are long lines at gas stations because the electric pumps don't work in a lot of them because of the power outage. Shops, businesses closed, and people are having terrible trouble with Internet connections.

The cellphone network isn't working properly, and so people are stopping whenever they find a sort of sweet spot where it actually - they can get an actual connection to the cellphone network. They stop, and that means stopping their cars on freeways sometimes and also driving to five-star hotels and positioning themselves outside of those because they know that they've got boosters and locking into those to try to get messages out to their families and to find out what's going on in this country.

MARTIN: How do you think it's playing into the politics there? I mean, things have been desperate there for a while. I mean, you've been telling us about that. But is there any sense of how this is cutting? Is it making people even more angry with Maduro?

REEVES: So when you go out in the streets, you can see people in red hats and red T-shirts who are supporters of Maduro going to a rally that he's been holding. And at the same time, many people - many more people, actually - walking through the streets to gathering points and then on to a huge demonstration area where Juan Guaido has met his supporters. And in the midst of all this, Army, National Guard and police, some of them blocking roads with riot shields. Thousands of them are out today. And that's a different thing. This is something we haven't seen to the same degree.

MARTIN: Do you have any sense of Guaido's support? Is there any sense of what direction his support is taking? Is it growing? Is it waning? Are people - I mean, people must be just exhausted there. But do you have any sense of where the opposition is going?

REEVES: Well, they're still turning out in the streets in very large numbers. I mean, despite the fact that the metro didn't work and despite the police and soldiers, thousands and thousands of them were out today. But you talk to them, and you will find that they are frustrated. It's more than six weeks. They feel they need to come up with some new ideas, new approaches. They're getting worried because Maduro is still there. They blame clearly Maduro for the latest crisis. But Maduro is trying to use the crisis, the power crisis, to turn it against the opposition, saying that he's being sabotaged by the opposition and by the United States.

MARTIN: That is NPR correspondent Philip Reeves joining us from Caracas. Philip, thanks so much for talking to us.

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


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