Venezuela’s President Looks for Answers to Protests

Opposition supporters demonstrate against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Feb 12, 2014.
Opposition supporters demonstrate against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Feb 12, 2014.

Welcome to As It Is, from VOA Learning English. I’m Mario Ritter, sitting in for Christopher Cruise in Washington. In today’s show, we report on events in Venezuela. Protests there against the government of President Nicolas Maduro have turned deadly. Also, U.S. and Mexican officials have arrested the illegal drug trafficker who led the international Sinaloa drug organization. We hear about that later in the show.

Unrest in Venzuela and the capture of a Mexican drug trafficker are next on As It Is.

Venezuela Remains Divided after a Disputed Election

For weeks, anti-government demonstrations have been taking place in Venezuela. Protesters blame the government of President Nicolas Maduro for economic and social problems. Steve Ember has more on the story in this report from VOA’s Brian Padden.

Nicolas Maduro narrowly won the Venezuelan presidential election last year. Mr. Maduro was the chosen successor of former president Hugo Chavez. Now, Venezuelans are angry about food shortages, high inflation and violent crime. The economy is in trouble. Yet Venezuela is a major oil producer and exporter. Venezuelans are divided over who is to blame for the economic problems and how to solve them.

The student-led demonstrations began last month. The protests led to clashes with police. At least 14 people died and more than 150 others were injured in the first three weeks of unrest.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church has called for an end to the violence. Pope Francis is the first Catholic leader to come from South America. He has urged Venezuelan political leaders to work to support forgiveness and discussions.

However, diplomatic tensions with the United States increased last week. Venezuela accused three US diplomats of working with student protestors, and expelled all three. The US answered the expulsions by ordering three Venezuelan diplomats to leave. Ties between the nations remain tense. Neither keeps an ambassador in the other’s country, but their embassies remain open.

Last week, President Maduro promised to name a new ambassador to the United States soon. But that is not likely to affect the concerns of many Venezuelans.
They are angry about high inflation. The official inflation rate reached 56 percent in January. The country faces shortages of some basic goods. And crime is a problem. Eric Olsen is a Latin America expert with the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. He says Venezuelans are divided over who is to blame.

“People who are protesting are trying to hold the government accountable for this, pointing the finger at mismanagement or policy problems on the part of the government. The government itself is blaming agitators, it’s blaming the United States.”

Eric Olsen says President Maduro’s move to expel US diplomats increases his popularity among supporters. However, the president says he also wants to improve communications with the United States.

He said, “I call for the dialogue now, I accept this challenge. Let’s initiate a high-level dialogue and let’s put the truth out on the table.”

The US has denied involvement in the protests. Jay Carney is a spokesman for President Barack Obama.

“When President Maduro calls for a dialogue with the US president and an exchange of ambassadors, he should focus instead on a dialogue with the Venezuelan people, because that is what is at is