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Venezuela In Political Crisis After Supreme Court Takes Over Legislature


Let's turn to a country where the very survival of democracy is at stake, Venezuela. That country's supreme court, which is loyal to President Nicolas Maduro, issued a ruling that in effect seized power from the country's elected legislature. This comes as the economy of this oil-rich country is in near collapse and the regime is jailing political opponents. NPR and other news organizations have been denied entry to Venezuela for recent months. But we have Hannah Dreier of The Associated Press on the line from Caracas.

Hannah, good morning.

HANNAH DREIER: Hi. Good to be with you.

GREENE: So let me get this straight - these are elected lawmakers who have basically been stripped of their power by a court. What's going on?

DREIER: That's right. So Maduro has been basically ruling by decree for the past year. Congress hasn't been able to get many laws through. But this is a big departure because now the supreme court is saying, not only is the government going to ignore Congress, Congress can't even write the laws anymore. So it's essentially a body with no function anymore in this country.

GREENE: I mean, I know Latin America was once known for coups and dictators. But, I mean, democracy has kind of become the norm. Is that changing here?

DREIER: Yeah, well, that's what everybody is talking about right now down here. They're asking - has Venezuela become the second country in Latin America that's not a full democracy? And it's not clear. When does a democracy become a dictatorship? But a lot of people are saying, when you abolish a branch of power, that's a pretty good sign.

GREENE: Is Cuba the other country you're talking about, I would imagine?

DREIER: Cuba would be the other country.

GREENE: OK. Well - so opponents of President Maduro effectively saying he's a dictator and that this is a huge deal. I suppose that when you see powerful, authoritarian leaders, sometimes they are popular because they're actually getting things done. I mean, is he doing anything to restore the economy, to restore stability in this country?

DREIER: Yeah, one thing that you hear a lot down here is that Maduro's become kind of like a wounded dog. Like, he's not popular. Things are going very badly. His popularity ratings have sunk below 20 percent. People's lives have become a daily struggle just to get food and medicine. And as he loses popularity, he's becoming more authoritarian. So as the administration becomes less stable, we're seeing more things like them shutting down newspapers; kicking out NPR, as you mentioned; arresting opponents and just moving toward a dictatorship.

GREENE: And so what does that mean for people who live in Venezuela? I mean, is life going on? Is life miserable?

DREIER: Yeah, the strange thing is that even though everybody was talking about this move yesterday, you're not seeing protests in the street. Today what you see is people waiting in food lines, people just trying to get clean water, fix their cars, things that have become very, very hard and time consuming. And the opposition is calling for protests later today. But people have been very reluctant to abandon the daily tasks of life and take to the streets because the administration hasn't shown any sensitivity to that.

GREENE: And so what's next? I mean, is there effectively any opposition at all to Maduro?

DREIER: Well, the opposition was trying to effect change through Congress. And now Congress has been basically abolished. So...


GREENE: That's not going to work anymore at the moment.

DREIER: Yeah, they're kind of scrambling for a new strategy. And we're going to have a big protest probably on Saturday. But I was talking to a girl whose brother was killed in protests a few years ago - killed protesting the government. And she said she's not going to go to that protest because, for her, her brother basically died in vain. There's no use.

GREENE: Oh, wow. All right. We've been speaking to Hannah Dreier of The Associated Press. She was talking to us via Skype from Caracas, Venezuela.

Hannah, thanks.

DREIER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.