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Opposition Leader Juan Guaidó Talks Political Negotiations, Crisis In Venezuela

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's been four months since Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself the nation's legitimate president and rejected Nicolas Maduro's reelection as fraudulent. Guaido has the support of millions of Venezuelans, the United States and dozens of other countries, yet Nicolas Maduro remains president. Meanwhile, Venezuela's economic crisis with deep shortages of food, medicine and fuel, grows worse.

NPR's John Otis interviewed Juan Guaido today, and John joins us from Caracas to talk about it. Hi there.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: First set the scene for us. How and where did you talk with Juan Guaido?

OTIS: Well, we were trying to get in touch with him for a while, and his people finally called and said, hey, look; we can do the interview, but you got to get here. And they didn't tell us exactly where it was going to be. We got to an office building, and finally only there did they tell us what floor and what room it was going to be in. They have to be very careful about, you know, moving around. They move around between safe houses and so forth because there's been a lot of repression by Maduro's government against Guaido and his close associates, many of them who have been arrested.

We ended up in a rather nondescript office. There was hardly any furniture in there. It was just really Guaido sitting at a table with a glass of water. His eyes were pretty bloodshot. He looked quite tired. But you know, he says his movement's going to keep up the fight.

SHAPIRO: Let's get into your conversation with him. There have been talks between Juan Guaido's emissaries and representatives of Venezuela's government, the Maduro regime, in Norway. Did Guaido say those talks are making any progress?

OTIS: Guaido said that there had been no concrete advances in the talks. There have been two rounds so far just in the past month, so that is a good thing. And also I pointed out to him that, you know, negotiations often take a long time. And here's how Guaido responded.

JUAN GUAIDO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: So what Guaido is saying - that, you know, it's fine to take your time in some kind of a typical, normal negotiations, but Venezuela's really in a tragic state right now. There's massive food and medicine shortages. People are dying, and there really is no time to spare. That said, he did say that they would try to keep doing talks with the other side if that could lead to a breakthrough at some point.

SHAPIRO: Guaido has also tried to get the military to turn against Maduro. The latest effort was April 30, one month ago. Those efforts have all failed. Does he think that's been a mistake?

OTIS: He wouldn't admit that it was a mistake. In fact, he said, you know, we've got to try lots of different things, you know, everything from street pressure to negotiations to trying to get the Venezuelan military to turn against Maduro. It didn't happen this time, but he says, you know, that doesn't mean it's not going to happen in the future.

SHAPIRO: Did he talk about how often he speaks with people in the Trump administration?

OTIS: Yes. You know, he said he's in regular contact with officials in Washington. In fact right as we got into the office to do the interview, he'd just gotten off the phone with Vice President Mike Pence. They had about a 30-minute conversation about the situation here in Venezuela. He says, you know, he's talking with U.S. officials all the time. And you know, you'll remember the Trump administration has been one of the biggest backers of Guaido.

SHAPIRO: Guaido has also asked for strategic and operational planning support from the U.S. Did he say whether he's gotten that?

OTIS: He was pretty coy. He tries to avoid specifics about that kind of thing. He doesn't want to show all his cards. He pointed out that many Venezuelans would love to see some kind of U.S. involvement here, even a U.S. invasion, again, because the situation here is so dire.

GUAIDO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Now, here he's saying that even though military intervention would be violent, there's already a lot of violence and tragedy and unnecessary loss of life in Venezuela just because of the humanitarian emergency here.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's John Otis in Caracas, Venezuela, where he interviewed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido today. Thanks a lot.

OTIS: Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.