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Protests Escalate Against Venezuela's President


One by one, Venezuelans called out their president yesterday in testimony before the country's National Assembly. Nicolas Maduro, they said, has done nothing to address one of the world's greatest economic catastrophes that followed years of socialist rule by previous president Hugo Chavez. Venezuela has lots of oil, but it is unable to even feed its people or provide medicine. Freelance reporter Ana Vanessa Herrero is covering this story from the capital, Caracas, and she joined us via Skype.

Good morning.

ANA VANESSA HERRERO: Thanks for having me.

MONTAGNE: Now, you were at the National Assembly when those folks testified there. Who are they - the opposition or are they just regular folk?

HERRERO: No, no. They're regular people. They're the faces of the crisis, the different aspects of the crisis - violence, lack of medicines, lack of food. Young people saying that they don't want to get out of Venezuela - they don't want to leave Venezuela. They want to keep here studying, but they can't.

So everyone was there trying to show what the government, they say, don't see. And the most important thing, a really interesting thing, is that every single one of them that you would see and say, OK, this is the people that would vote for Chavez, like, 10 years ago are saying right now - hey, Nicolas Maduro, please, you have to go. Please let us rebuild this country.

MONTAGNE: You live in Caracas. Tell us what it's like to buy, say, groceries.

HERRERO: Well, it's - it is not an easy task. First, you have to find a product you want. And if you do find it, then you're going to have to deal with the prices. For example, I went to the supermarket to get some things for a salad - just a salad - and it turned out being, like, $35. When your minimum wage is $27 a month, then you get a pretty clear image of the crisis we're living.

MONTAGNE: President Maduro, yesterday, announced he was raising the minimum wage by 40 percent. That sounds like a lot, except the wages are so low. Did that satisfy anyone?

HERRERO: Well, actually, it doesn't because of the inflation. We have inflation over 600 percent. It's madness.

MONTAGNE: Earlier this week, President Maduro flew to the Vatican. Pope Francis has tried to organize talks between him and the opposition. Where does that stand?

HERRERO: Well, it wasn't really a surprise for us and for the entire country because this is the second time the Vatican's trying to do this. They did say the government and the opposition were starting a dialogue, but then the opposition rejected this dialogue and called for big, big protests. And then, on Wednesday, they called for these 12-hour strike. So Sunday is the day where, supposedly, the government and the opposition are going to meet. We're going to wait to see if that's happening because the opposition said it clearly, we are not going to dialogue.

MONTAGNE: Ana Vanessa Herrero is a journalist in Caracas, Venezuela.

Thanks very much for talking with us.

HERRERO: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.