By Emile Schepers
Venezuela’s incumbent president, Nicolás Maduro, of the United Socialist Party, won a new six-year term, according to preliminary results announced Sunday night by the National Election Council (CNE). Most of the right-wing opposition to the leftist government had boycotted the election, but some oppositionists broke with this plan and ran their own campaigns. These efforts did not, however, prosper.
Maduro, who was also supported by other parties, including the Communist Party of Venezuela and the Homeland for All (Patria Para Todos) Party, scored over 5.8 million votes, or 67.7 percent on a turnout estimated at 46-48 percent. His closest runner up, Henri Fálcon, got 21.1 percent, Evangelical Christian Candidate Javier Bertucci 10.75 percent, and far-left candidate Reinaldo Quijada 0.4 percent.
This election season has been a wild ride for Maduro and Venezuela. After the death of President Hugo Chávez in March 2013, Maduro, a former bus driver and labor union activist, succeeded him with a mandate to continue the “Bolivarian Revolution” that had transformed political life in Venezuela and in the whole Latin American and Caribbean region and greatly improved the living standards of ordinary Venezuelans.
He immediately found himself faced with multiple, severe crises. The right-wing opposition, supported by the United States, organized “guarimbas,” or violent street riots intended to destabilize the country and undermine public confidence in Maduro’s ability to maintain security.
Shortly into his presidency, the bottom dropped out of the international oil market. Venezuela had been exceedingly dependent on selling oil to the world, and since long before Chávez came to power in 1999, had used its oil wealth to import necessities from outside. As oil prices dropped to the point that the sale of the oil was barely exceeding production costs, scarcity, smuggling, and sharp inflation began to take a toll on the economy and saw government coffers shrink.
Adding to the economic crisis, the import and distribution of goods from around the world is controlled in Venezuela largely by big private companies that are aligned with the right-wing opposition. Maduro and his supporters have accused these companies of sabotaging the national economy by withholding goods from the market to worsen consumer shortages.
There has been much debate in Venezuela about how the government has responded to these challenges, with criticisms coming from both right and left. The left, including the Communist Party, would like to see more decisive action against Venezuela’s own big business interests and wealthy elites, and more empowerment of the working-class grassroots.
The right would like to see the national and international humanitarian goals of the Chávez and Maduro governments eliminated or scaled back drastically so as to curry favor with international lenders, transnational capitalist entities, and the United States. The strongest of the non-boycotting right wing candidates, Fálcon, went so far as to advocate the dollarization of the Venezuelan currency, a strategy that would have given the U.S. even more leverage over Venezuela than it has now.
The right wing complains that two of its more prominent leaders, Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo López, were disqualified from running as presidential candidates—Capriles because of alleged financial irregularities when he was governor of Miranda State and López because he is under house arrest over his role in provoking the bloody Guarimba riots in 2014, in which 43 people, mostly government supporters or bystanders, died.
However, it looked at one point earlier this year as if the opposition and the government had come to an agreement whereby elections could go ahead without any boycotts or disputes. Maduro changed the date of the election from April 22 to May 20 to accommodate opposition demands, but then the main opposition alliance, the MUD (Democratic Unity Roundtable), announced that it was going to boycott despite the government’s concessions. When Fálcon and Bertucci decided to launch their candidacies anyway, they were sharply criticized by the MUD leadership for breaking ranks.
Foreign observers noted that, by and large, things went smoothly on election day. The Maduro victory appears to have been due to the government’s continued support among workers and the poor. But predictably, losing candidate Fálcon denounced the election as unfair and demanded a new one later this year. He also criticized the MUD leadership for their foolish boycott. Maduro, meanwhile, called for dialogue among all political sectors in Venezuela.
The big question on everybody’s mind is what the Trump administration, and its allies in the Lima Group of right-wing Latin American governments, will do now. The corporate-owned press in the U.S. is putting out extremely distorted depictions of the situation in Venezuela, which will prepare the U.S. public for any actions Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo may take against Venezuela.
Venezuela is already being damaged by U.S. sanctions designed to choke off its access to international credit, and the transnational oil companies are working to re-seize control of some of their properties in Venezuela that were legally nationalized by Hugo Chávez.
Sabotage, terrorism, and even direct U.S. intervention are all things to be guarded against. One thing is certain: The Trump administration will continue to support the right wing in Venezuela with not only diplomatic and economic pressure, but with direct financing as well. (IPA Service)
The writer, a veteran rights activist, is a contributor to People’s World.