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Venezuela Is In Crisis. Its Economy Is In A Tailspin

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

For years, the face of Venezuela was its socialist president Hugo Chavez, a dramatic presence prone to poking the capitalist world. Three years after his death, Venezuela is spiraling downward. The South American country is now a place of rolling power blackouts, food and medicine shortages and anti-government riots. For the latest, we reached NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro in the capital, Caracas.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: I am in front of a supermarket where hundreds of people are waiting in line to get basic food stuffs. Women, children, old men - so many people. At this private supermarket, the people waiting in line have been told there is butter and rice. And that has caused an enormous queue to form.

Some people told us that they had slept in line, waiting to get access to the supermarket. And all these stores are being guarded as if there are, you know, banks. There are armed police outside because there have been, you know, many occasions of looting - desperate people trying to get the things that they need.

MONTAGNE: And they're telling you, basically, how bad things are. And they are pretty bad.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Things are very, very bad. I have been covering Venezuela for a long time. And frankly, I was shocked at the situation as I see it here at the moment. Basically there's only three ways to get food. One is - you wait in line at a supermarket like this one.

You're only allowed to wait in line one day per week. And it's determined by the number on your identity card. The second way is by going to the black market. And that's incredibly expensive.

And then the third way is that there are government-controlled shops that are giving out food, as well. But it is a very difficult situation for many, many people here.

MONTAGNE: Now, this is a time when the president, who is the sort of handpicked successor to Hugo Chavez, is facing an attempt by the opposition to recall him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's right. And of course, the situation in terms of the scarcity of food, the scarcity of electricity, the just general insecurity here - I mean, this is one of the most violent countries in the world. And Caracas is the most violent city in the world. And all this plays into a very tense political situation.

I've been going up to people trying to talk to them. And a lot of people simply do not want to give their names. They don't want to talk because they're worried about the repercussions if they say what's actually going on in Venezuela right now.

MONTAGNE: Lulu, you have been covering Venezuela for years. And you've just flown in under these very - I guess - different circumstances. But make a comparison to us - how things are now and how they were just maybe a few years ago.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I mean, it's extraordinary. I arrived at the airport. And one of the first things that happened is - people started getting their bags coming off the plane. And the bags had actually been looted by the baggage handlers.

And people who had baby milk and diapers had had it taken out. And I said, well, why don't you say something? Why don't you ask to get some of the stuff back? And they said, there's no point.

You know, Venezuela, for all of its problems, always had enough food. It's a dramatically different situation. I was just up in one of the poorer sections of town. This was a bedrock of support for a previous President Hugo Chavez.

And, you know, speaking to one of the mothers there - she said, I really believed in the whole revolution and what Chavez did. And now I would never vote for these guys again. And that is really what's changed here.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro in Caracas. Thanks very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.