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Former Venezuelan Diplomat Discusses Current Political Turmoil

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Venezuela is on edge as opponents of authoritarian President Nicolas Maduro plan a massive protest for Saturday. The U.S. is backing the opposition and has not ruled out sending troops. If that happens, Maduro warned yesterday the U.S. may face a, quote, "Vietnam War in Latin America."

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Maduro has survived challenges before in part because of the support of the Venezuelan army. I spoke today with Milos Alcalay about this. He was a Venezuelan diplomat for many years and lives in Caracas. Alcalay told me he hopes and believes that, for Maduro, this time is different because of the man who has unified the opposition, Juan Guaido, the head of the Venezuelan National Assembly and self-declared interim president.

MILOS ALCALAY: He is now one voice for all of the different political parties. This is very important because before that, there were many, many leaders who were having - from different political parties - their perspective. But in this moment, there is only one voice - the voice of the president of the National Assembly or, constitutionality, is also the president at interim. And this has made a hope for all the Venezuelans to arrive to the democratization. So whether we are in this process, the government has reacted very violently with 40 manifestantes who were killed, with hundreds of Venezuelans in prison. And of course this has a very strong impact of people who do want a return to democracy and to freedom.

CORNISH: People are also watching the military closely. Right now the army supports Maduro. The top brass has stood by him. What could change things?

ALCALAY: The things can change for three important reasons. One is the people. We have had a Venezuelan spring - the people in the street. There's expression of a river - a human river of people who are supporting Juan Guaido. And this is one very important component - the support of the people. The second important component is international support. Many of our neighboring countries are suffering. The president sent more than 3 million Venezuelans because of this situation - have gone to Colombia and Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, creating a lot of social problems. And the solution of Venezuela must be made in Venezuela. And the only reasonable way is to push for elections.

And the third component is what you're saying, the military. Of course the military are - especially the command of the military, are our government. But there is a lot of unrest in the military forces. You can see that there are more than 100 military who are in prison. Thousands of military have stepped out from the army. And of course this huge corruption that existed has made the sort of complicity with Mr. Maduro, but there is unrest.

CORNISH: Would the opposition welcome or discourage U.S. intervention in the form of troops?

ALCALAY: Of course that the opposition would like to get rid of this dictatorship through peaceful ways. But nevertheless, if the government continues harassing and continues giving the demonstrations and putting in prison - I think that in order to survive, any help will be received. Hopefully, I insist, that we continue as much as possible on the diplomatic solution and a multilateral solution.

CORNISH: If there is a peaceful solution, what would it look like?

ALCALAY: In the history, there are examples of a president who recognized that their time is over. The time of Maduro is over. And the time for democracy is to reconstruct the institutions and to have free elections to - that will allow us to return.

CORNISH: Milos Alcalay, thank you so much for speaking with us.

ALCALAY: Thank you for the interview, and good day.

CORNISH: That's Milos Alcalay, a former Venezuelan diplomat. He now supports opposition leader Juan Guaido. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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