DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Over the past few years, Venezuela's president, Nicolas Maduro, has presided over a crisis that has brought his nation to the brink of total collapse. Yet now he is asking his citizens to give him a fresh mandate by electing him president for a new term. That vote is on Sunday. Many of Maduro's opponents refuse to even use the word election because they consider the vote fraudulent. They prefer to call it an electoral event. NPR's Philip Reeves is in the capital, Caracas, and joins us.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi.
GREENE: So does it feel on the ground like a country that is on the brink of collapse?
REEVES: Yes. The situation has deteriorated markedly, David. We've heard for a long time about dire shortages of food and medicine and people dying of preventable diseases. All that's still happening. But now it's clear basic infrastructure is crumbling. People here in Caracas say they often don't have water. It's cut off for hours. Systems haven't been repaired in years. People working for these utility companies are among the multitude who've left the country. Some aren't bothering to turn up to work because it costs them more to get there than they receive in pay. It's all part of the devastating effect that hyperinflation's having on this country and the precipitous decline of this country.
GREENE: So for people in Venezuela, or for anyone, is this election, are they viewing it as an opportunity to try and bring change? It doesn't sound that way.
REEVES: Well, the election feels very lackluster, honestly. This is a country with a strong tradition of elections. Campaigns are usually flamboyant and noisy, but this one seems the opposite of that. I think that's partly because people have lost faith in the process. They're exhausted. So much of their time's spent just trying to get by. They're wasting hours every day standing in lines. But there are some who invest their hope in the one significant opposition candidate, Henri Falcon.
GREENE: And does he have any chance at all of defeating Maduro?
REEVES: Well, Falcon is a former governor. He used to be in the ruling Socialist camp. He split with them a few years back. The opposition regard him as a collaborationist and say that he's endorsing a fraudulent process by running. He argues that if you don't play, you can't win. And he does appear to be doing well. Some recent polls, for what they're worth, put him ahead of Maduro. But remember, David, Maduro and the government controls all the main levers in the situation. They control the electoral machine and most of the Venezuelan media.
GREENE: OK. So that's why many opponents of Maduro and many international observers see this as a total fraud.
REEVES: Yeah. That, and the fact that two of the most popular opposition leaders are barred from running. The election was called early by this constituent assembly, an all powerful body that was created last year by Maduro and the government in an election that was widely seen as rigged. The election commission that presides over this election's also considered to be government controlled. So many people don't see it as free and fair at all, and in the international sphere the U.S. has said it won't recognize the outcome, and many others have been highly critical of this process.
GREENE: So then what happens, Phil, if Maduro does win this, you know, fairly or not? What happens next?
REEVES: No one knows. The opposition's divided. It lacks effective leadership. It's unclear what their next move will be. International sanctions haven't brought about a change in Maduro's position. Some people think he'll call for dialogue, but recent talks failed, and there's a dire lack of trust in those.
GREENE: NPR's Philip Reeves in Caracas. Phil, thanks a lot. We appreciate it.
REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.