Can Venezuela protests break authoritarian rule of President Maduro?
Thousands of anti-government protesters have been filling the streets in Venezuela, facing off against police and pro-government gangs. Demonstrators accuse President Nicolas Maduro of eroding democracy and moving the country toward dictatorship — something Maduro's party vehemently denies.
On April 7, the Venezuelan government banned the popular opposition leader Henrique Capriles from politics for 15 years, effectively removing him from running in next year's presidential elections.
"It's just to demoralize us, take hope from the people, to keep me from being a candidate, or from being President," Capriles responded after the government's decision.
"This isn't about being a candidate. It's about Venezuela and we are about to fight to change our country."
"Yesterday's protests can't even be called a protest because it was repressed even before it began," Duarte says.
"National guardsmen were throwing tear gas canisters from all which ways. I was there. I got chased by hundreds of police in their riot gear."
More than 200 people were injured. Duarte adds there are believed to be at least 117 political prisoners currently being held by government forces.
Economic troubles fuel unrest
Meanwhile, Venezuela's economy remains in shambles, with widespread shortages of food and medicine and one the highest inflation rates in the world.
"Every morning when I come out of my building, there are people fighting over the trash," Duarte tells Crowe.
"People have been reduced to having to beg on the streets or scavenge for trash, or wait hours in lines in order to find rationed goods."
A recent national poll found that 86 per cent of Venezuelans reported involuntary weight loss last year averaging 16 pounds.
Critics warn that Venezuela's struggle highlights the dangers populism can represent to democracy.
President Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chavez, had a deft hand with populism. Chavez swept to power in 1998 riding a wave of widespread frustration with the political establishment.
His supporters believed in the vision he'd laid out: to redistribute oil wealth, bump up social spending and tackle corruption. That movement was named "Chavismo" after him.
But concerns about the erosion of democratic institutions during his presidency soon began to mount. And political observers say President Maduro is continuing along the same path.
Amherst College professor Javier Corrales points to the recent efforts by Venezuela's Supreme Court to usurp the authority of the opposition-led National Assembly.
The court eventually stepped back from that effort under public pressure but Corrales says it was still disturbing.
He calls the attempt a "self-coup" — an attack on Venezuela's democratic institutions from within Venezuela's government.
Duarte notes that the Supreme Court uniformly sides with the interests of President Maduro.
After widespread condemnation inside and outside Venezuela, President Maduro said the court's decision was incorrect, which prompted the court to immediately reverse itself.
"So an undemocratic move in Venezuela was solved by an undemocratic move," Duarte says.
"That's where we are now — real proof that there is no democracy in the country."
Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.
This segment was produced by The Current's Lara O'Brien, Sujata Berry and Sam Colbert.