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Venezuela’s President Looks for Answers to Protests

Welcome to As It Is, from VOA Learning English. I’mMario Ritter, sitting in for Christopher Cruise inWashington. In today’s show, we report on events inVenezuela. Protests there against the government ofPresident Nicolas Maduro have turned deadly. Also, U.S. and Mexican officials have arrested the illegal drugtrafficker who led the international Sinaloa drugorganization. We hear about that later in the show.

Unrest in Venzuela and the capture of a Mexican drugtrafficker are next on As It Is.

Venezuela Remains Divided after a DisputedElection

For weeks, anti-government demonstrations have beentaking place in Venezuela. Protesters blame the government of PresidentNicolas Maduro for economic and social problems. Steve Ember has moreon the story in this report from VOA’s Brian Padden.

Nicolas Maduro narrowly won the Venezuelan presidential election last year. Mr. Maduro was the chosen successor of former president Hugo Chavez.Now, Venezuelans are angry about food shortages, high inflation and violentcrime. The economy is in trouble. Yet Venezuela is a major oil producer andexporter. Venezuelans are divided over who is to blame for the economicproblems and how to solve them.

The student-led demonstrations began last month. The protests led toclashes with police. At least 14 people died and more than 150 others wereinjured in the first three weeks of unrest.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church has called for an end to theviolence. Pope Francis is the first Catholic leader to come from SouthAmerica. He has urged Venezuelan political leaders to work to supportforgiveness and discussions.

However, diplomatic tensions with the United States increased last week. Venezuela accused three US diplomats of working with student protestors, and expelled all three. The US answered the expulsions by ordering threeVenezuelan diplomats to leave. Ties between the nations remain tense. Neither keeps an ambassador in the other’s country, but their embassiesremain open.

Last week, President Maduro promised to name a new ambassador to theUnited States soon. But that is not likely to affect the concerns of manyVenezuelans.

They are angry about high inflation. The official inflation rate reached 56percent in January. The country faces shortages of some basic goods. Andcrime is a problem. Eric Olsen is a Latin America expert with the WoodrowWilson Center in Washington, DC. He says Venezuelans are divided overwho is to blame.

“People who are protesting are trying to hold the government accountable for this, pointing the finger at mismanagement or policy problems on the part of the government. The government itself is blaming agitators, it’s blaming theUnited States.”

Eric Olsen says President Maduro’s move to expel US diplomats increaseshis popularity among supporters. However, the president says he also wantsto improve communications with the United States.

He said, “I call for the dialogue now, I accept this challenge. Let’s initiate ahigh-level dialogue and let’s put the truth out on the table.”

The US has denied involvement in the protests. Jay Carney is a spokesmanfor President Barack Obama.

“When President Maduro calls for a dialogue with the US president and anexchange of ambassadors, he should focus instead on a dialogue with theVenezuelan people, because that is what is at issue here. This is not aboutthe United States.”

Venezuela is rich in oil and has some of the largest oil supplies in the world. However, oil makes up almost all of the country’s exports. And thegovernment has struggled to pay for the social welfare programs set up byformer president Chavez.

Eric Olsen says Venezuela has to make reforms that satisfy both governmentsupporters and the opposition.

“So the question is can you continue those kinds of program but have a betterand more reformed economic policy that doesn’t create such a crisis and Ithink that’s the challenge for both the government and for the opposition tosome extent.”

That could mean keeping some popular programs, but changing governmentpolicies.

I’m Steve Ember.

You are listening to As It Is.

Joaquin Guzman Is Captured in Mexico

The leader of one of the world’s largest illegal drug trafficking operations,Joaquin Guzman, will be tried in Mexico. Drug trafficking is the crime ofbuying and selling illegal drugs. Jonathan Evans has more on the story.

Mexican and U.S. law officers arrested JoaquinGuzman on February 22nd in Mazatlan, Mexico. He was the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, a drug traffickingorganization. The cartel’s activities extend acrossNorth America, Europe and Australia.

Law officers say they had followed Guzman for weeksbefore his arrest. Mexico’s Attorney General says Mr. Guzman escaped capture through a tunnel in one of hishomes.


Joaquin Guzman is escorted by soldiers in Mexico City on February 22, 2014.

Mexican officials will also charge Guzman for escaping from prison in 2001. In addition, they want to question Guzman about his drug organization. Theywant to break up the Sinaloa cartel. However, the United States also wants tocharge Guzman for drug trafficking. The US had offered a $5 million rewardfor his arrest.

Eric Holder is the U.S. Attorney General. Mr. Holder is the top lawyer in theUnited States. He called Mr. Guzman’s arrest a major accomplishment forboth the U.S. and Mexico.

Forbes magazine lists Guzman as one of the world’s most powerful people. The magazine says he is worth more than $1 billion. However, the U.S. cityof Chicago has declared Guzman “Public Enemy Number One.” That name isonly given to the city’s worst criminals. Guzman is the first criminal to benamed “Public Enemy Number One” since the famous crime leader AlCapone in the 1920s.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

And that is our program for today. Keep listening for the latest news at the topof the hour Universal Time.

I’m Mario Ritter.

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