The political situation in Venezuela has become a matter of contention in the media over the past few months, and things appear to be getting more tense as the possibilities of negotiation and diplomacy fade. While there has been much media sensation about Venezuela recently, the country has been a significant point on the radar of US foreign policy since at least the attempted overthrow of Hugo Chavez in 2002. The White House has argued that its stance toward Venezuela is in the interests of the Venezuelan people and maintaining democracy in the hemisphere. It appears from the history of American interference in the region and abroad that the reasoning has little to do with democracy and hold more links to opening up the oil industry in Venezuela.
In May of 2018 Nicolas Maduro was elected to a second six-year term as president of Venezuela. This was met with denunciation from the internal opposition, led by Juan Guaido (who boycotted the election), and the international community, led by the USA and the Lima-Group (a coalition of Latin American states and Canada). It is not contested that Maduro beat Falcon (his nearest opposition in the recent election), the margin was overwhelmingly in Maduro’s favour (6,245,862 to 1,927,387). The election was instead slammed as a farce due to being fraught with voting irregularities, a common accusation from the US in regard to Venezuelan elections since the Chavez governments.
The election is being claimed as a farce due to the low voter turnout. And the turnout was low by Venezuelan standards. In the 2018 election there was a turnout of 46%, where in 2013 the turnout was 80% (a rate that is not uncommon in Venezuelan democracy). We are told these facts by the mainstream media and establishment journals. What we aren’t told is the reasons why.
Voter turnout was low because almost all of the major opposition parties had boycotted the election. The only reason why appears to be to undermine the democracy of Venezuela in favour of ousting President Maduro at all costs.
In 2013 President Maduro won his first term in office by a narrow margin of only 1.6%. The results were disputed by then opposition leader Henrique Capriles and by the USA government. 150 electoral monitors from around the world certified the result as fair (this included representatives from the Carter Centre and the Union of South American Nations). Despite this, Capriles called for a recount of 100% of the votes (above the constitutionally mandated 54%). Maduro agreed to these terms though the Venezuelan Election Council initially did not. Capriles prepared a legal challenge to the Election Council and told his supporters to take to the streets. The Election Council eventually agreed to Capriles demand of a recount without filing of the legal challenge, prompting Capriles to call off the protests. The results were held.
In 2015 there were parliamentary elections in Venezuela during which an opposition coalition took control of the National Assembly. This took place amid a deteriorating situation for the security apparatus in Venezuela and saw heightened state control, though the victory for the opposition was largely respected by Maduro. The Supreme Court dissolved and took control of the legislature shortly after the results. Maduro responded by reinstating the National Assembly.
Concerns were voiced from the opposition parties in the lead up to the election now in dispute, the 2018 Presidential election. Maduro called for mediation between the parties. Meetings took place between representatives of the opposition parties and Maduro’s Socialist Party of Venezuela. These were mediated in the Dominican Republic by the former Spanish President, Jose Luiz Rodriguez Zapatero. At the last minute, prior to signing the agreement the opposition parties withdrew and announced their plan to boycott the election unless Carpiles, (barred for significant administrative issues in his handling of Miranda province) and Leopoldo Lopez (barred from running on convictions of inciting violence), among a few other more minor political figures who are also barred from competing due to charges or convictions, are allowed to partake in the election.
Then-White House Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called the opposition delegation spokesperson and Justice First party leader Julio Borges to call off the deal, initiating the boycott.
The boycott was an engineering by the opposition coalition along with the USA government in order to delegitimize the election of Maduro. The idea behind it all was basically to claim that if there was no real opposition to Maduro (if he appeared to be running unopposed) then it could be claimed as illegitimate, allowing for a possible contest to the seat of President. The USA government had indicated prior to the election that it would not recognise the results.
The main problem with their plan was that Henri Falcon decided to run against Maduro. Falcon presented the electorate with a legitimate electoral option for Venezuelans. He was polling at a rate that was similar to the most popular of the boycotting party leaders, Leopoldo Lopez. There was a choice between standing with the Boycotters, voting for the moderate Falcon or voting for the incumbent Maduro.
Maduro won with 68% percent of the vote, the highest percentage in a Venezuelan Presidential election. This means that he won 31% of the total eligible votership (this number includes those that chose to boycott). This is a greater percentage in votership than Donald Trump won his 2016 election or Obama won his 2012 election. This kind of votership surely indicates that, while he may not have assuredly won in an unboycotted election, Maduro’s election victory under the circumstances can be recognised as legitimate and democratic by regional, international and Venezuelan constitutional standards.
The Venezuelan election has remained a contested issue since. The USA has forced international pressure onto the Maduro government. The Lima Group refused to recognise his victory along with the EU.
On the 23rd of January this year, Juan Guaido declared himself (to the surprise of almost everyone in the nation, including other opposition leaders) to be the interim President of Venezuela. Guaido is head of the National Assembly in Venezuela (an institution with a disapproval rating of 70%). Guaido was elected to his seat by a 26% vote and prior to his declaration of power 81% of Venezuelans didn’t know who he is.
Despite these facts, Guaido was happy to work with US interests to advance privatisation and other right-wing ambitions for the country. He was thusly hailed as a democratic option for Venezuela, despite having low votership and having led the National Assembly to lower approval ratings. Guaido has been noted as being on the extreme end of right-wing economic policy.
Guaido was instantly (within minutes a phone call was made by Mike Pence to recognise the new President) recognised by the USA. The Lima Group and many EU nations eventually followed after the USA demanded that nations of the world “pick a side”. Russia, Uruguay, Mexico and China have resisted the call to support Maduro’s overthrow, instead calling for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Maduro has stated that he is willing to work with the opposition in negotiations mediated by a third party that has not recognised Guaido’s claim.
Further discussion on the economic downfall of Venezuela and the media sensationalism regarding the ongoing crisis and exodus from the country will have to be undertaken in future articles. While do not think that Venezuela’s economy has been managed effectively, I also do not think that any foreign power should be intervening in the domestic affairs of Venezuela, particularly not when Venezuelan elections have been validated as open and fair.
By Nathan Booth