BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York this is On The Media, Brooke Gladstone is out this week. I'm Bob Garfield. For the past week and a half. Following the chaos in Venezuela has required double vision.
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MALE CORRESPONDENT: Venezuela's military leaders pledged their support to President Nicolas Maduro today. A day after the US recognized 35 year old opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD: There is the authoritarian socialist Maduro. Recently re-elected in a dubious vote and trying to cling to power. And there is the opposition leader, Guaido–the head of the National Assembly who's used an obscure article of the Venezuelan constitution also to claim the presidency on the grounds of majority legitimacy. At least a dozen foreign governments support him.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Guaido maintains that the constitution allows him to assume power since the opposition considers Maduro's second mandate illegitimate.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Protesters pouring into the streets aimed at forcing President Nicolas Maduro to step down.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: New sanctions will be targeted at Venezuela's oil industry. Donald Trump says no option is off the table–including a military one. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD: In a country with a collapsed economy, hyperinflation, flagrant human rights abuses, institutional dysfunction and widespread starvation. The political crisis has added a bizarre twist of uncertainty and danger. And the nation's depleted press corps is at pains to figure it all out. Mariana Zuñiga is a freelance journalist based in Caracas, and she says it's exhausting to cover two presidents at once.
MARIANA ZUÑIGA: It's running all the time. 'Oh Maduro is speaking, no Guaido is speaking. Now both are speaking of the same time.' And being a journalist in Venezuela is very difficult. Also for the fact that there's a lot of censorship and a lot of misinformation and a lot of fake news going around. So having to verify everything is exhausting. The more impressive are the local journalists because in Venezuela there are not many independent journos, there are not many independent radio station. Most things are being taken by the government for a long time. There are a few websites working but they do a titanic work to try to maintain a whole country, 30 million people inform.
BOB GARFIELD: Guaido, we've learned, was a student activist who likes to dance. But beyond that, a total cipher. He's the opposition but is he the right-wing opposition, the centrist opposition? Is He backed by any powerful constituency. Is this a homegrown coup or a foreign supported one? Is it a coup at all? In short Mariana. What the hell is going on?
MARIANA ZUÑIGA: That's a good question. I don't know if you could help me understand as well. Until very recent, both inside and outside the country, many people didn't know who Juan Guaido was. He's a lawmaker that won that position in the National Assembly in 2015. He participated in the student movement in 2007. We just knew that, on January 5th, he was name the leader of the National Assembly, which is the only institution that is lead by the opposition in Venezuela. And for many people that meant something.
BOB GARFIELD: Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chavez, came to power in reaction to what the voters believed was an oppressive, incompetent, corrupt right-wing government. Then they learned what corrupt, oppressive and incompetent really were with Chavez and Maduro. Are there any hints about whether Guaido can actually govern? Has he been open in press conferences and responsive and articulate. Has he even articulated a set of policies to give you an idea of what may be to come, should this change in power stand.
MARIANA ZUÑIGA: For a very long time, the opposition leader's plan has always been yeah let's take Maduro out–without saying what they will change in the country, what they will do. He has expressed, this man Juan Guaido, many policies that could indicate that they want recuperation of the country, that they want to fix the economy at least. They are thinking about bringing humanitarian aid into the country which is very important. People in Venezuela have been dying in the last years because lack of food or because of the scarcity of medicines. They are also thinking about recuperatingPDVSA,the state oil company which is practically broken. Which will be very difficult for them, but the fact that they are not thinking about privatizing is something that indicates that they are not going in the opposite direction. They are also trying to fix or--or stop immediately, they haven't said how, inflation. And that's another nightmare for Venezuelans because having bolivars in your hands feel like having chocolate in a sunny day–it feels like your money is melting, losing value all the time. So they have expressed their intentions of changing something.
BOB GARFIELD: Around the world the news media, as an industry, is in freefall. Venezuela's economy is in even greater state of collapse. And then there's the censorship of the Maduro regime. What kind of journalism do Venezuelans have access to? Is there anything out there besides state media?
MARIANA ZUÑIGA: Besides state media and television there is, there is nothing actually. There are not many newspapers and one of the biggest newspapers in Venezuela, El Nacional, on December had to stop printing the newspaper because they didn't have enough resources to import the paper to the country. So now they are just online but they are also blocked constantly by the government. Journalists have to become like really inventive. For example, there's this initiative of journalists, that they jump into buses. The initiative is called ‘bus TV.’They put some kind of cartoon TV frame around their faces and they started reading the news.
BOB GARFIELD: Haha.
MARIANA ZUÑIGA: The most important thing that happened that day in the country.
BOB GARFIELD: That's hilarious and horrifying.
MARIANA ZUÑIGA: But really at the same time it's really creative. Most people don't have access to internet. They don't have a smartphone to read Twitter. Crisis makes you inventive. And that's sort of like a really good way in which journalists can advance and change as well.
BOB GARFIELD: What about internet access to the outside world. Is it blocked by Maduro? and Can people even afford broadband to begin with?
MARIANA ZUÑIGA: I mean this is not China. There are some Web sites, especially news sites, that have been blocked by the government. They are not blocked every day but sometimes it won't be easy to access–maybe for weeks or for days. In terms of internet, there are some private companies that you can hire and they don't work very well in Venezuela but there is also a company CANTV, which is the national one, that is subsidized by the government. So in theory is very cheap but it works very bad.
BOB GARFIELD: I don't even know if you know this, we're speaking on Thursday. As of this morning, according to Agence France Presse, the authorities there have detained five foreign journalists who've been covering the Maduro-Guaido standoff and deported two others. You report for Foreign news organizations, Is this a dangerous time for journalists in Venezuela? Is it an especially dangerous time for you?
MARIANA ZUÑIGA: Yeah. The fact that somebody can arrive, like happened to the guy from the news agency Efe, to your hotel room with guns and telling you, 'please sir come with us.' And put you in one of the most horrible political prisons in the country, and maybe in the region, that's scary. Of course, of course I'm scared. But that won't prevent me from doing my job. As a Venezuelan, I feel that I have an advantage because at least they can't deport me. As a Venezuelan, I feel also very proud to be able to explain, even though it's very difficult, to others what as, you said, what the hell is happening in Venezuela. Because it's really complicated. But I feel that in some way I'm making history here with my colleagues. It's really scary but it's really exciting at the same time.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, Mariana thank you very much.
MARIANA ZUÑIGA: You're welcome. Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Mariana Zuñiga is a freelance reporter based in Caracas, Venezuela.
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BOB GARFIELD: Coming up we're obsessed with people from Latin America coming toward our border. Latin America has learned to be wary of the US venturing there. This is On The Media.