Student activists emerge as leaders in Venezuela's ongoing protests

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. Chaos in the streets, nearly two dozen dead, that's the toll after nearly a month of protests and violence in Venezuela and the protesters vow to continue putting pressure on the government of President Nicolas Maduro. He was the chosen successor to the man who turned Venezuela into a socialist state in his 14 years of power, the late President Hugo Chavez. But Chavez also left Maduro a bunch of economic and social problems. Students have taken the lead in the demonstrations in the capital, Caracas. Today I asked one of their leaders, Andrés García-Pretel, if this was a fight against Chavismo.

Andrés García-Pretel: This isn't really a fight against Chavismo per say, this is a fight against the Venezuelan government and their inefficiency in the way they're handling this country. A mother goes out and wants to buy some milk or wants to buy some coffee or toilet paper and they can't find any. That's the lower class, the middle class, the upper class, every productive sector of society. Crime has taken, last year, 25,000 lives here in Venezuela. There is more people dying per year in Iraq, which is a war zone. 25,000 people dying, it means that it's not just the opposition dying, it's not just lower case, it's not just middle class, it affects every sector of society.

Werman: Do you feel the country is turning to students for leadership?

García-Pretel: I think yes. I think students are now being the leaders of this movement because it started out as a student movement. Here in Venezuela, they did some polls a few months ago and it was found that the student movement has an approval rate of 82%. They only other sector of society that has an approval rate near that high would be the Catholic church. They see that our fight, our protest, our demands are honest, truthful, they don't have to do with whether we're the opposition or not. They have to do with what's really going on in Venezuela and I think that's important, I think that's why they come to asking us and in a way looking to us to tell them what the answer is going to be. What we have stated once and again is that the answer is not just with the students, the answer comes from all of Venezuela coming together to find solutions to this problem.

Werman: The government says it plans to limit your protests in the future. First of all, do you think they can do that?

García-Pretel: The repression here has been massive. In the few weeks that the protests have been going on, there's been more than 1200 arrests, there's been more 300 to 400 injured, there's been 23 deaths directly related to the protests, so the response of the government has been consistent. We tell them, in the face of balance, peace. In the face of insults from the government, peace.

Werman: Where do you want these protests to go? What do you want them to achieve?

García-Pretel: Our demands right now are simple. We want them to liberate each and every prisoner that they've taken in these months along with some other political prisoners.

Werman: Why do you think that the government is determined to stop you?

García-Pretel: They want to stop us because they don't want people to fully realize what's going on in Venezuela. The Venezuelan government, at this moment, controls pretty much all media. What we have left is social tools like Twitter and Facebook. Those are the tools that we use right now to let the people know what's going on. But these protests, you can't hide that. They might not want to show it on TV, but just by going around the city, just by driving and walking around the city, you see what's going on. You see how many people are angry and upset and are just tired of what's going on in Venezuela.

We want the same thing that everybody wants. We want our own house, we want to have our own car, we want to start a family and make something of ourselves. That's what we want. The government and the economic crisis and the bad handling of the economy as well as crime and all the other problems that are going on in Venezuela are stealing, basically, our future. Stealing our future and the people feel that, whether you're from the lower class, the middle class, or the upper class, it doesn't matter.

Werman: Student leader Andres Garce­a-Pretel speaking with us from Caracas.