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'Newsweek' Journalist Was At Venezuelan Military Base During Raid

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Venezuela continues to unravel. People opposed to the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro are protesting every day. Over the weekend, Maduro inaugurated a new legislature that will rule for two years and rewrite the country's constitution. That seems to have sparked a move towards armed resistance. Rebels dressed in fatigues broke into one of the nation's largest military bases Sunday. They stole hundreds of rifles and grenades.

CARLOS FLORES: This was a turning point. I mean, so far the idea of the military force here in Venezuela - it was that they were all supporting Maduro.

MARTIN: That's the voice of Carlos Flores. He's a contributing writer with Newsweek En Espanol. He was at that base during the attack. We spoke to him on Skype from Valencia, where the base is located.

FLORES: This is a huge place, and we have there - you see tanks and planes and all sort of weapons. And it's almost impossible to go, like, 20 guys and rob these guns. So they have cooperation from the inside, of course.

MARTIN: A man claiming to be the rebel leader said in a video that his people were military defectors, members of the military who no longer support Maduro. And he called on other soldiers and civilians to join him and rise up against Maduro's government. Only 15 percent of Venezuelans approve of Maduro, and Carlos Flores says, that was clear when he arrived at the base.

FLORES: It was, like, I don't know 5,000 people on the streets supporting this group. And then, the security forces, the National Guard, the National Police, they went brutal repression against the civilians. And one of these gentlemen named Ramon Rivas - a 63-year-old guy - he was shot to death right next to me by - it could be the National Guard or the National Police because they were all mixed up. But this happened right next to me. They weren't shooting rubber bullets, which they usually do. They were shooting bullets - real bullets. And this guy, he was killed.

MARTIN: And this was a civilian who had joined the protest in support of this rebel group?

FLORES: Yes.

MARTIN: And he was right next to you. That had to have been horrifying.

FLORES: Yes, it was a horrible scene. But listen. I want - I really want people to know what we're going through here in Venezuela is that everything is horrible. The people here - it is such a desperate situation. If you go on all the main avenues here, you see people's families begging for money. And you see them eating garbage out of trash cans. This happens everywhere.

MARTIN: So, what does President Maduro and his supporters - what do they say in response to that - to that poverty and just the economic conditions that seem to be deteriorating every day?

FLORES: There is no response. In Venezuela, it's just - I mean, there is no food or supermarket. There is no medicines. For instance, people with blood pressure problems, they have no medicines, antibiotics - no antibiotics in the entire country.

MARTIN: President Maduro is consolidating power. There was just an election there where a list of new members of the legislature was voted on. But now, this new legislature is filled with Maduro supporters. I understand his wife was selected to be in the new Congress, as well as one of his children. I mean, there had been vocal critics of Maduro inside that legislature. Are there any critics there anymore?

FLORES: No, not at all. You have to remember that here, if a politician is against President Maduro, he just goes to jail. We have over 500 political prisoners here in Venezuela.

MARTIN: So now there's this faction. Now the loyalty to Maduro within the military ranks is fracturing. And you think this could lead to what?

FLORES: Yes. Well, to something really violent because, you know, people from the military forces, they are not politicians. So they don't debate, they shoot.

MARTIN: Carlos Flores is a contributing writer for Newsweek En Espanol. Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your reporting.

FLORES: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.