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Venezuela Set To Begin 2-Day Strike


Venezuela's opposition party has called for a 48-hour general strike beginning today. They hope to delay a vote that's scheduled for Sunday, a vote that would allow President Nicolas Maduro to elect a new national assembly and rewrite that country's constitution. Protesters against Maduro have been on the streets for months. Those demonstrations are likely to intensify this week.

Andrew Rosati is a reporter with Bloomberg News. He joins us from Caracas on Skype. Andrew, thanks for being with us.


MARTIN: Explain what this strike looks like. How big is it? What impact is it having on the city?

ROSATI: Well, the strike just started at 6:00 a.m. here in Caracas. So it's hard to gauge just how big it is right now. But what I can tell you is that, you know, Caracas is known for its traffic-clogged streets and being a really, you know, raucous city in the mornings during rush hour. You know, this morning, like the strike last week, it woke up to a very strange calm.

It's already, you know, I can hear birds chirping instead of horns honking. The streets in my neighborhood are almost completely dead. There's - I've only heard a couple of cars this morning. And in the lead up to this strike, you know, Venezuelans were preparing for this as if a northeastern or a hurricane were about to roll into town. Supermarkets and pharmacies, you know, even liquor stores were packed yesterday.

People were stockpiling groceries, water, everything they could get their hands on. There's a big expectation for this one.

MARTIN: So you mention a strike last week. So this is something that has happened before - to any effect?

ROSATI: Right. There was a strike last week. It was a general strike for 24 hours. And there was a big turnout. Millions of Venezuelans participated across the country. Large swaths of Caracas ground to a halt. And, you know, barricades of trash and ropes and wires blocked off streets in big parts of the city and also in other major cities across the country.

MARTIN: But does it make any difference? Does it move the government in any way? Does it move the president?

ROSATI: You know, from what we can see, the government, so far, has plowed ahead. You know, parts of the city kept working - those more loyal to the government kept working. The large industries in the country, specifically the oil industry, has kept moving. But in some regards, the opposition has counted these as big victories. You know, they've been getting a lot of press from outlets across the world.

And so they're really trying to turn up the pressure now. And we're going to see how the government reacts to this for two days. The last strike draw a lot of backlash from the government. You know, security forces clamped down in (unintelligible) cities and certain parts of the city on major highways with tear gas and rubber bullets. There was a few protester deaths as well.

They didn't let this go completely untouched is what I'm trying to say. And so there was a reaction from the government. But it hasn't stopped the city - excuse me - the country from working completely by any means.

MARTIN: Yeah, so the government is cracking down on the protesters but they're not giving an inch in terms of what the protesters actually want, which is what? What would the protesters be satisfied with? Assuming President Maduro is not going to go, which, I imagine, would be the ideal for them.

ROSATI: The big demand right now is for - to bring a halt to this constituent assembly, which is coming on Sunday. And on top of that, the main demand from the opposition is a new round of free and fair elections. They want international observers to come to make sure that these elections are genuine. And they want observers here as well to make sure that if they're going to bring this constituent assembly to a halt and or at least pause it, they want to make sure that, you know, they're genuine.

Last year there was dialogues brokered by the Vatican, but they fell apart. And a lot of people, a lot of critics said the government didn't hold up their side of the bargain. So if these things are going to stop, if they're going to come and sit down, people want to make sure it's going to happen.

MARTIN: Andrew Rosati with Bloomberg News. Thanks so much for sharing your reporting with us this morning.

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