President Nicolas Maduro won re-election to another six-year term in Venezuela, but the outcome did not matter to the United States government or a bloc of Latin American countries that labeled the elections “illegitimate” before votes were tallied.
Venezuelans were still voting on May 20 when U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan informed the press the U.S. would not recognize the results.
The Lima Group, which consists of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Saint Lucia, contended the vote did not meet “international standards of a democratic, free, just, and transparent process.”
Also, the group promised to curtail diplomatic relations with Venezuela, discourage the financial sector in their countries from doing business, and lobby regional and global entities to deny Venezuela new lines of credit to deal with the country’s devastating economic crisis.
The U.S. and various countries imposed a series of sanctions in the run-up to the election, and the Trump administration signed new sanctions after the election prohibiting the purchase of Venezuelan debt. The administration is also considering oil sanctions that would further cripple the nation.
Pronouncements from President Donald Trump’s administration, the Lima Group, and other entities were intended to further isolate Venezuela and embolden right-wing opposition forces. They are not merely opposed to Maduro but the revolutionary “Bolivarian Project” itself, which was pursued by Hugo Chavez and challenged the global capitalist system.
Before the United Nations General Assembly in September 2017, Trump declared, “The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.”
“From the Soviet Union to Cuba, Venezuela, wherever through socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish, devastation, and failure. Those who preach the tenets of these discredited ideologies only contribute to the continued suffering of the people who live under these cruel systems. America stands with every person living under a brutal regime,” Trump added.
“The Maduro regime’s destruction of the economy has created a full-blown humanitarian crisis that is driving a major exodus of Venezuelan citizens,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated after a meeting with representatives from Japan, Europe, and the Western Hemisphere on April 19.
Vice President Mike Pence echoed this neoliberal perspective in remarks to the Organization of American States (OAS) on May 7.
“For generations, [Cuba’s] communist regime has sought to export its failed ideology across the wider region. And today, the seeds of Cuban tyranny are bearing fruit in Nicaragua and Venezuela,” Pence stated.
Pence called upon Venezuela suspend the “sham election,” “hold real elections,” and “give the Venezuela people “real choices.”
“On Election Day itself, the Maduro regime has already given every indication that it will resort to its standard authoritarian playbook: manipulate voting data, change polling places at the last possible minute, and engage in widespread intimidation, and even violence,” Pence said.
“There will be no real election in Venezuela on May 20th, and the world knows it. It will be a fake election, with a fake outcome. Maduro and his acolytes have already ensured that their reign of corruption, crime, narco-trafficking, and terror will continue.”
So far, there are no reports indicating changes to polling places, intimidation, or violence by the government made it impossible for Venezuelans to vote. The only groups that tried to suppress the vote were aligned with the right-wing opposition who called for a boycott.
The opposition alleged the government’s turnout figure was “inflated.” According to the election board, 46.1 percent of registered voters turned out. Reuters quoted an “electoral board source” that put the figure closer to 32.3 percent.
Henri Falcon, a former member of the Socialist Party, was the only opposition presidential candidate to participate in the election. All other potential presidential candidates from the opposition boycotted, and that contributed to the perception of a rigged election.
Once Maduro’s victory was announced, Falcon said the process lacked legitimacy so he would refuse to recognize it. He called for a new vote and criticized the “placing of nearly 13,000 pro-government stands called ‘red spots’ close to polling stations.”
Venezuela uses state-issued cards for social welfare programs. Anyone voting could scan their card and receive a reward for voting. This was blasted as “food for votes” or vote-buying and was another key component of media coverage that derided the election as a “sham” before it even took place.
Turnout was much lower than in 2013, when around 80 percent of registered voters participated in the presidential election. However, citizens in opposition-controlled parts of Venezuela were discouraged from voting, and the lack of a formidable challenger to Maduro may have depressed turnout, even among those who would vote for Maduro.
The effort to discredit the 2018 presidential election was similar to the effort to discredit the National Constituent Assembly (NCA). Opposition forces boycotted the NCA vote on August 1, 2017, and engaged in violence that involved setting off bombs. Such actions built on the tactics of the “guarimbas,” which consisted of the opposition blocking roads, setting fire to tires, and throwing objects.
The NCA was and remains widely viewed as a power grab by Maduro to rewrite the constitution so he could strengthen his regime. But the fact is calling for a NCA is within the president’s power under Venezuela’s Constitution. The opposition-controlled National Assembly could also convene a NCA with a two-thirds vote and so could the country’s Municipal Councils by a two-thirds vote.
According to Jehyson Guzman, an NCA delegate, the assembly was convened to respond to the “extraordinary threat” of the opposition’s shut down of the government, its violence, and U.S. government destabilization.
Likewise, when the NCA did not result in the outcome favored by the opposition, the opposition demanded elections. Elections were scheduled, but despite postponing the election from April to May and establishing a mutual agreement in late February with opposition party leaders on the upcoming elections, right-wing forces still believed they had the most ability to take advantage of global opposition by sitting out the election and labeling it a fraud.
As Clifton Ross wrote in the 2014 book, “Until the Rulers Obey: Voices From Latin American Social Movements,” Venezuela remains at a “crossroads.” Its “Bolivarian Revolution” opened up “spaces for people to live, work, and even hope.” It worked to eliminate “extreme poverty” and build new structures for popular participation in democracy.
Yet, as Ross articulated, Venezuela is very much a capitalist country.
“Although the [social programs] have continued to redistribute some of the nation’s vast oil wealth to the nation’s poor and have reduced misery and extreme poverty, they have also reinforced dependency on clientelism, and have done little to develop the country,” Ross wrote. “The ‘participatory, protagonistic democracy’ that Chavez promised has also been largely directed to organizing for the ‘representative democracy’ of elections. Many would argue that in Venezuela today more power resides in the command structure that Chavez left behind, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), than in the working people as a whole.”
Ross continued, “Chavez’s death in March 2013 unleashed a series of crises, beginning in mid-April when his hand-picked candidate, Nicolas Maduro, won by a 1.5 percent margin in elections opponents claimed were fraudulent and illegal. Shortages of consumer goods, a shrinking supply of dollars for imports, a growing debt, and a dysfunctional economy are making life harder for Venezuela’s 99 percent. A growing majority views the ruling party as illegitimate, incompetent, irresponsible, and corrupt. The future in which many around the world invested so much hope looks increasingly uncertain.”
All of which remains a reality for Venezuelans as they contemplate whether to become refugees, as many are doing, or remain in the country and engage in political struggle.
Venezuela rejects certain overtures to provide humanitarian aid because the Maduro government believes it will give the imperial government of the U.S. and other countries further opportunities to meddle in their affairs.
There are severe internal problems the Maduro government must address for poor and working class people, but it is hard to imagine how it will ever be able to resolve crises with the Trump administration and various Latin American countries waging economic war in an effort to coerce them to move away from socialism toward neoliberalism. Perhaps, that is the point.
Maduro’s government is supposed to fail, and in its collapse, take the project that gave supporters of Chavez hope with it. That way global capitalism can regain control of one of the largest oil reserves and re-open the country for business for the benefit of elites.