Venezuelan Opposition Moves On Maduro Recall Amid Food Crisis
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
In Venezuela, things have gotten very bad for almost everyone who lives there.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Spanish).
MCEVERS: That's the sound of people chanting, we want food outside a supermarket in Caracas, Venezuela. Low oil prices combined with years of failed economic policy have caused dramatic inflation, and now it's really hard for people to get basic necessities like food, water and electricity.
Girish Gupta recorded the video you just heard. He's a reporter for Reuters living in Caracas, and he joins us now by Skype. Hey, Girish.
GIRISH GUPTA: Hi. How are you doing?
MCEVERS: Have you been out and about today in Caracas? And if so, tell us what it's like.
GUPTA: Caracas and all of Venezuela is extremely tense right now. I've been reporting here five years or so, and this is the worst I've seen it. People are genuinely hungry. What you heard earlier was essentially a food riot about a week or so ago. And supermarket lines every single day, including today and what I will see probably for a while now - literally hundreds or thousands of people lining up for real basics. We're talking flour, rice, sugar, milk.
People will tell me they haven't eaten for at least a day. One woman said she just had a mango yesterday at 3 p.m. So people are extremely angry, and this is not looking good for President Nicolas Maduro.
MCEVERS: How else are people getting food?
GUPTA: Well, now, what we've seen a lot over the last few years and we're seeing a little bit of now is people buying up the price-controlled goods and selling them for higher prices to someone like me, for example, who earns in foreign currency, can afford to spend a lot more than local people on things like pasta and so on. And the wealthy Venezuelans can do that.
Now, the poor Venezuelans simply cannot afford that. They're earning roughly 15 to 20 dollars a month at the black market exchange rates. And this is just ludicrous for them to spend 10 dollars on a bag of pasta or 20 dollars on a bag of pasta. It's also becoming difficult for the wealthy people to get food because you simply cannot get hold of the bags of pasta in the first place at any price.
MCEVERS: And of course Caracas is the largest city in the country. It's the most international. What's it like outside of Caracas in smaller cities and other places?
GUPTA: Well, this is it. Caracas is the best of it. One of the fairly major towns a few hours away from Caracas last week was essentially under lockdown because of a major, major food protest and riot that took place there. We're seeing deaths as well in these lootings and riots because remember; this is one of the most violent countries on Earth. Lots of people here are armed. It's a very, very tense, difficult place to be right now, especially if you don't have much money.
MCEVERS: This must be putting pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who of course has been in office since Hugo Chavez died a few years ago. What are people saying about him, and what are the pressures on him right now?
GUPTA: Well, that's exactly it. Now, what's really interesting is that Hugo Chavez was a very popular President with his supporters. Nicolas Maduro came to power. He was elected by a margin, but he did come to power saying, you know, I'm the son of Hugo Chavez. And what he's lost now is that support.
So all these Chavistas - they still wear the red t-shirts emblazoned with Chavez's face, but they say now, I can't stand Maduro. He's ruining this country. That's extremely dangerous for Nicolas Maduro. The opposition is trying to get him out in a recall referendum, but frankly the politics and the process here is so convoluted, that's not really the priority for anybody right now.
MCEVERS: So you talked about how there already have been some outbreaks of violence. I guess the question is, could some of the sporadic violence turn into more organized violence, more political violence? Is that something you think would happen?
GUPTA: That's the big question. Like I said, Venezuela is one of the most violent places in the world. Really poor, really hungry people who feel they've got nothing to lose could - they haven't been yet. But they could be organized by the opposition into something much bigger. It's something the opposition may be thinking about doing alongside this recall referendum.
MCEVERS: That's Girish Gupta of Reuters. He's in Caracas, Venezuela. Thank you very much.
GUPTA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.