The Bolivar and Zamora Revolutionary Current (CRBZ), a grassroots revolutionary organization with strong campesino work, analyzes the post-May 20 scenario and proposes a plan to get out of the current crisis.
By Bolivar and Zamora Revolutionary Current
We won. Those are the first words we should utter. Given the circumstances that we were faced with, this is a remarkable feat. We confronted the opposition candidates, and we soundly defeated them. Likewise, we fought against the campaign of those who, backed by the United States and its allies, called for abstention. The conditions of this electoral contest – the fourth in less than a year – were difficult not only in the political arena, but also materially and existentially. The people carried out a historic feat, and, as a result, we won again.
The difference in votes between our candidate Nicolas Maduro, his second contender Henri Falcón (more than 4 million votes), as well as with the third contender Javier Bertucci is evidence of our strength, our social base, and our indispensable unity. Our opponents were defeated at the polls, with Falcon rapidly announcing that he will not recognize the results, giving fodder to the abstainers’ claims of “fraud” and deepening the opposition’s conviction that the only road to success is through force. By crying fraud, Falcon has only bolstered the line that was already written before the elections: cries of fraud followed by more international, economic, and diplomatic sanctions.
However, we also need to analyze the levels of voter participation.
Measured in international terms, the numbers compare favourably with patterns of participation in the American continent or in Europe. On the other hand, if we take Venezuelan elections as our base, we must acknowledge that participation was indeed much lower than in the last presidential elections (though it remained stable when compared with the elections of mayors and governors).
The explanation for this is twofold. First, there is the local and international abstention campaign from right-wing sectors. Secondly, people’s daily economic situation has deteriorated and there is political discontent due to the behavior of a large sector of the establishment. There were barrio dwellers and peasants that didn’t vote, not because they have moved away from Chavismo or stopped believing, but because they were immersed in solving their day-to-day problems.
This indicates a key challenge that the nation must confront: recovering lost votes, which must really be thought of as recovering majority support and hegemony. That means going back to Chavez’s way of doing politics and responding immediately to the people’s grave economic problems. With this in mind, we call for the implementation of a National Emergency Plan made up of deep, unconventional and revolutionary measures.
We believe that the whole of the country’s energies should be focused on four areas with short, medium and long-term goals. This plan must be carried out with complete transparency. The processes and mechanisms that are used in the debates and in developing diagnoses, studies and analyses must be publicised, and the implementation must happen publically under the whole nation’s scrutiny. The reconstruction of the public sphere and its ethics must be one of our main objectives, as well as the active participation of organized popular sectors in the whole process from diagnosis and planning to execution and supervision.
The national priorities that we identify and propose are:
1- Food production: Prioritizing staples in accordance with the nutritional needs of the country. We propose reprising land reform, which is a necessary condition for recovering our agricultural production. We need to be true to a revolutionary principle that more or less sums up Chavez’s agrarian legacy: the land belongs to those who work it. In turn, a financing plan must be developed for all sectors that produce, focusing now on the primary producers. With this in mind, it is urgent to reign in the private banks that manage the savings of all Venezuelans in a willy-nilly way, and which currently favor agroindustry and other sectors. Another key issue in regards to food production is to carry out a transparent audit of state-run agricultural enterprises, calling for the immediate replacement of management teams that head unproductive companies.
2- The national electrical system also requires a thorough review, as does the communicational platform (telephone and internet). The management teams responsible for these areas must undergo a strict and transparent evaluation, in which the workers participate directly. A plan based on economic efficiency and improved performance must be developed, and it has to include co-management with organized communities: the blueprint for this plan will have to include funding for the production and distribution of up to date technology, provisions for system and platform maintenance, as well as a plan to improve the working conditions in these sectors.
3- Developing a plan for the improvement of the national public healthcare system, focusing on the recuperation of central and municipal hospitals, is urgently needed. It must include the renovation of infrastructure (especially areas such as emergency rooms, operating rooms, and hospitalization) in addition to the full restocking of medicines, surgical materials, and ambulances. Last but not least, there must be a salary hike for all medical center staff, from the doctor and the nurse to the janitorial personnel.
4- A recovery plan must be implemented for the national school and university system involving better school infrastructure and a thorough policy to protect educators’ real salaries, encouraging them to remain in the country. The education plan must also include the recovery and expansion of the free school lunch program.
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The National Emergency Plan must be the result of a broad debate involving all sectors that are committed to the nation, and it must transcend political and ideological barriers. It must be taken up as a joint effort by the people and the government for the nation’s sake. An honest and realistic perspective is needed to address the huge economic crisis that affects popular sectors and the lower-middle class.
We are aware of the financial difficulties that the nation is facing, but we are also conscious of the enormous resources that are being wasted and squandered daily due to inefficiency and incapacity to prioritize, as well as a lack of planning and thriftiness, not to mention the high levels of corruption in the public administration. Any sort of plan must eliminate the privileges of the bureaucratic and governing classes in the administration and PSUV leadership, who have become elites that live worlds apart from the grave problems and profound suffering that the Venezuelan people are now experiencing.
We put forward this proposal following an electoral victory in the midst of a critical economic situation that calls for an urgent response based on an attitude of revolutionary realism. Now that we have achieved this indispensable victory, we cannot wait any longer, we must rectify and deepen the process. We are standing up to imperialism and its allies (the oligopolies, the oligarchy, etc), indeed Chavismo must confront them, but at the same time must give an answer to those who need it. This is the message which we hear from the shantytowns, from the countryside, and from the coast, from the millions of ordinary men and women who make up this nation.
National Coordination of the Bolivar and Zamora Revolutionary Current (CRBZ)
Translated by Cira Pascual Marquina for Venezuelanalysis.
Perth Indymedia – Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela has come under increasing attack from both Western governments and the international capitalist press. With prices doubling every month and poverty reportedly on the rise after years of social improvement for the mass of the people, the Maduro administration also faces fierce criticism from at least some elements of the left.
Journalist, political commentator and co-author of Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-First Century Socialism, Federico Fuentes, addressed the question of whether this latest election was illegitimate or even rigged, as claimed by much of the Western press.
President Nicolas Maduro addresses supporters gathered at Miraflores Palace on Sunday evening. (Reuters)
Lucas Koerner, Caracas, May 21, 2018 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was elected to a second term Sunday with 6.2 million votes, beating out his closest rival Henri Falcon, who garnered just 1.9 million votes.
Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) announced the result shortly after 10pm Sunday evening, revealing that Maduro had won with 67.79 percent of all votes cast, ahead of opposition contenders Henri Falcon, Javier Bertucci, and Reinaldo Quijada, who won 21.01, 10.82, and 0.39 percent, respectively.
Despite a boycott by the main opposition parties of the right-wing Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition, turnout was 46 percent, with 9,085,629 of Venezuela’s 20,527,571 registered voters casting ballots.
Speaking Sunday evening, CNE President Tibisay Lucena called for respecting the outcome of the vote, which she said reflects “the will of Venezuelans.”
“The people have decided,” she told the nation.
On Monday an international observer mission led by the Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America (CEELA), comprised of former top electoral officials from throughout the region, said the election was clean.
“Technically, up until today, we have not observed any element that could disqualify the electoral process,” said CEELA President Nicanor Moscoso in a press conference.
“We can emphasize that these elections must be recognized, because they are the result of the will of the Venezuelan people,” he added.
Prior to Sunday, CEELA observers participated in all fourteen of the pre-election audits conducted by the CNE in conjunction with all participating political parties, in addition to overseeing the “hot audit” of 54.4 percent of all voting machines mandatorily carried out on election day.
Faced with a clear defeat at the polls on Sunday night, opposition presidential frontrunner Henri Falcon refused to recognize the results.
Prior to the announcement of the official results, the former Lara State governor gave a press conference, in which he called the vote “illegitimate,” demanding new elections in October.
“We do not recognize this electoral process, and we brand it as illegitimate,” he stated.
Desconocemos este proceso electoral y lo calificamos como ilegítimo; lo digo con responsabilidad y no por eso voy a salir mañana del país.
In particular, Falcon accused the government of violating a series of electoral guarantees agreed to in March through the use of “red points”, which are kiosks set up by United Socialist Party activists near electoral centers where pro-government voters are encouraged to check in after voting for the purposes of exit polling.
The opposition candidate did not, however, specify how the use of “red points”, which has been a standard feature of the ruling party’s mobilization strategy for years, affected the election result.
Falcon did denounce abstention, which was being actively promoted by the MUD, as one of the causes of his defeat, saying that the boycott had “left behind an extraordinary opportunity.”
Evangelical candidate to the presidency Javier Bertucci likewise initially rejected the results “on account of the red points,” which he said were “bribing people with food and money.”
For his part, Maduro called on his opponents to recognize the election result and join him in a dialogue for “national reconciliation.”
“I call on all of the presidential candidates who participated in the election of May 20… to a meeting for dialogue in order to establish a constructive agenda,” he said on Monday.
The call for dialogue was seconded by former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, who offered to mediate any future talks.
Zapatero, who facilitated the previous round of government-opposition dialogue in the Dominican Republic in January, said that Sunday’s vote had gone forward “peacefully” and opposition candidates should direct any complaints they have regarding the electoral process through the appropriate institution channels.
Responding to the outcome on Monday, US Vice President Mike Pence called the election “a sham.”
“Venezuela’s election was a sham — neither free nor fair. The illegitimate result of this fake process is a further blow to the proud democratic tradition of Venezuela,” he stated. The vice president did not, however, cite evidence to support the allegations of fraud.
Following Venezuela’s announcement of presidential elections this past February, the Trump administration has repeatedly made clear its refusal to recognize the vote, despite the Maduro government agreeing to a series of electoral guarantees with opposition parties, including moving up the date to May 20, among other agreements.
Sunday’s result was similarly rejected by the bloc of regional right-leaning governments known as the “Lima Group,” which includes Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Santa Lucia.
In a statement released Monday, the group vowed to recall their ambassadors to Caracas for consultations and present a new resolution on Venezuela at the next meeting of the Organization of American States.
The 14-member bloc additionally resolved to “coordinate actions in order that international and regional financial organisms do not grant loans to the Venezuelan government” in a bid to increase the pressure on the re-elected Maduro administration.
Meanwhile, Maduro’s victory was recognized by a number of close Venezuelan allies, including Cuba, Bolivia, El Salvador, Iran, Russia, and Nicaragua.
“The parties involved must respect the decision of the Venezuelan people,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang at a press conference in Beijing on Monday.
Similarly, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Latin America director, Alexander Schetinin, called the outcome “irreversible” and denounced Washington and other governments “who openly called for a boycott of the vote.”
“The elections have been held and their results have an irreversible character: two-thirds of the votes went to the current president of the country, Nicolás Maduro,” he concluded.
Maduro will be formally sworn in on January 10, 2019, when his six-year term officially expires.
Mexico’s Foreign Minister speaks alongside U.S. Deputy Secretary of State (L) during a G20 Meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers in Argentina, May 21, 2018. | Photo: Reuters
TeleSUR English – The U.S.-alligned Lima Group and the EU are following in Washington’s footsteps with aggressive policies against Venezuela.
After incumbent Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro received an overwhelming majority of the votes in Sunday’s elections, the United States and its allies slammed the electoral process and called for further measures aimed at keeping up with the interventionist policies to topple the Bolivarian revolution in the name of “democracy” and “humanitarian intervention.”
The U.S. State Department had announced earlier Monday that President Donald Trump put in place new economic sanctions aimed at Venezuela in an executive order banning U.S. citizens from being involved in sales of that country’s accounts related to oil and other assets.
“Today’s executive order closes another avenue for corruption that we have observed being used: it denies corrupt Venezuelan officials the ability to improperly value and sell off public assets in return for kickbacks,” a senior administration official told reporters.
“Venezuela’s election was a sham – neither free nor fair,” U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said shortly before the sanctions order. “The United States will not sit idly by as Venezuela crumbles and the misery of their brave people continues … The Maduro regime must allow humanitarian aid into Venezuela and must allow its people to be heard,” he said.
In a separate statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States “will take swift economic and diplomatic actions to support the restoration of their democracy.” He did not elaborate.
And in a series of tweets written in English and Spanish, the infamous Senator Marco Rubio called the Venezuelan elections a “fraud” and even said there was no electoral exit while the Bolivarian revolution is in power, echoing previously declarations in which he directly called for a military coup. “The only mafia in Venezuela is its regime. Today is the beginning of its end,” tweeted Rubio.
Across the Atlantic, U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson issued a statement Monday saying he was “disappointed” by a “neither free nor fair” electoral process that has “further eroded Venezuelan democracy.”
“The condemnation of the international community is loud and clear. We shall work closely with our EU and regional partners in the coming weeks to determine how we can continue to support a political resolution,” said Johnson.
The controversial foreign secretary claims he was “deeply concerned by the man-made humanitarian and economic crisis, which is growing worse by the day” and urged the Venezuelan government to take immediate action and let international humanitarian aid to deliver food and medicines, but didn’t mention anything about the increasing sanctions on the Bolivarian revolution that have hampered their efforts to stabilize the economy.
Also in Europe, the Spanish Prime Minister, who has led EU efforts against Venezuela, expressed his rejection to Sunday’s elections. “Venezuela’s electoral process has not respected the most basic democratic standards. Spain and its European partners will study appropriate measures,” tweeted Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Meanwhile Venezuela’s neighbors led by right-wing governments issued a statement under the banner of the so-called Lima Group said it did not recognize the vote and would downgrade diplomatic relations with Venezuela.
The group deplored Venezuela’s “grave humanitarian situation” and vowed to help crack down on corruption and block loans to the government.
May 17 marked the end of the political campaign for the upcoming presidential and legislative council elections, that will take place on Sunday May 20. In Caracas, in the traditional rally-holding place in Avenida Bolívar, Nicolás Maduro gave his closing campaign speech, surrounded by a large crowd that had mobilised in the early hours of the morning and converged from multiple locations in Caracas.
Ricardo Vaz, Investigaction – In his speech, Maduro reiterated some of the main tenets of his campaign: the promise to take on the economic “mafias” and to bring forth an “economic revolution” (1), the rejection of foreign interference in Venezuelan affairs, and a call for participation in the upcoming elections. He also renewed a call for dialogue addressed to all sectors of Venezuelan society.
This final rally brought the curtain on a campaign that saw Maduro all over the country, supported by what has become an impressive electoral machine, with a big ability to mobilise people. Multiple sectors inside the heterogeneous chavismo also voiced their support for Maduro. Even groups that have kept a critical line with regard to government policy in recent times have it clear that only a Maduro victory can guarantee the continuity of the Bolivarian Revolution and the possibility to continue the struggle for socialism.
Maduro delivering his final campaign speech (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)
The two main opposition candidates on 20M are Henri Falcón and Javier Bertucci (out of the other two initially running, Reinaldo Quijada is expected to have a very small showing and Luis Ratti joined Falcón). For a while the possibility of a unified front with a single candidate hung in the air, but did not materialise in the end, which makes Maduro the favourite for the upcoming vote.
Henry Falcón “disobeyed” instructions and threats from the US and the main opposition parties of the MUD, stepping forward as a candidate. His main proposal is to dollarise the economy, as well as appeal to instances such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for support. However with the main anti-chavista figures and parties insisting in their non-recognition of the elections and calling on people to stay away, he will find it hard to mobilise the middle class, which historically has been the core anti-chavista vote.
While Falcón focused mainly on holding meetings and press events, evangelical pastor Javier Bertucci made use of his experience and mobilising capacity to hold a few massive events on the streets. Bertucci refused to step out of the race in favour of Falcón, believing (or having us believe) that he is in a better position than his rival. In any case, his arrival on the political scene is surely with a view beyond these elections, looking to capitalise on the disastrous decisions of the opposition in the recent past to present himself as a political alternative in the future, in a similar fashion to what has been seen with evangelical movements in other Latin American countries.
Main opposition candidates Henri Falcón (left) and Javier Bertucci (right) (Photos from respective twitter accounts)
These elections arrive with Venezuelan suffering from a deep crisis and growing economic war. Prices have skyrocketed in recent months, and the government response through salary increases and bonuses has failed to keep up with inflation, resulting in a very difficult reality for ordinary Venezuelans. There is also an important international dimension to this. The US empire, and its loyal allies, have been ramping up the attacks against Venezuela, for example barring all access to credit or making it more difficult to pay for imports.
Giant Chávez puppet during the closing Maduro rally (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)
Along these lines, the US and its echo chamber, the Lima Group, have railed against these elections, arrogantly demanding they be suspended and announcing, months in advance, that they would not be legitimate and that they would not recognise the results (2) (3). This is simply a consequence of the fact that an anti-chavista victory was far from certain. After a growing wave of violence in the first half of 2017, chavismo responded with remarkable strength, achieving peace with the Constituent Assembly elections and then going on to win regional and municipal elections. In light of all this, the decision was to abandon the electoral route and look for a different “regime change” avenue.
Taking all of this into account, the 20M elections are a key moment in the history of Venezuela and Latin America. A chavista defeat would imply a massive setback for the left in Latin America, and it would bring about a merciless onslaught against poor and working-class Venezuelans. But at the same time a Maduro victory will be greeted with even greater imperialist hostility, with further sanctions and an eventual oil embargo on the horizon.
All of this does not discard that there are important choices and changes to be made in terms of government policy, especially in what concerns the repeated appeals, always followed by preferential dollars or credit, to private businessmen, so that they will produce or import. At the end of the day the strength and creativity of the pueblo are the only resource that really matters, and the mobilisation in defence of the revolution, even in the difficult current circumstances, show that the political conscience that was built is perhaps the most important achievement of the past 20 years. And it shows that there is no way forward except to radicalise the revolution. There is a tough battle coming up on May 20, and then another one the following day.
(1) With plenty of goodwill we can grant that a strong electoral showing will give Maduro some backing to implement tough measures, but on the other one cannot help but wonder why these tough measures were not put into place in recent months and years.
(2) Trying to out-Trump his master, Colombian president Santos announced that he was aware of a months-long evil plan by the Venezuelan “regime” to register and transport hundreds of thousands of Colombians and have them vote!
(3) Here we also have to wonder what the “recognition” from the US and its followers is actually worth. We only have to go back a few months to the Honduran elections, where there was a blatant display of fraud, and nevertheless results were “recognised”.
Cover photo: Closing rally of the Maduro campaign (Photo: Presidential Press)
The Dawn News / May 18, 2018 – Amid the aggression by the US and its allies, Venezuela is going to poll on May 20. We look back at the Bolivarian Republic’s history, its resistance against imperialism and the achievements of socialism.
The Trump administration’s foreign policy toward Venezuela includes supporting a boycott of Sunday’s elections in Venezuela, hinting at the possibility of a coup, and enacting harmful economic sanctions, with consequences for democracy in the country beset by poverty and unrest.
A young protestor faces the Venezuelan National Guard in May 2017. (Wikimedia Commons)
Alexander Main, NACLA – It used to be generally frowned upon to openly call for military coups and U.S. intervention in Latin America. Not anymore. At least not when it comes to Venezuela, a country where—according to the prevailing narrative—a brutal dictator is starving the population and quashing all opposition.
Last August, President Trump casually mentioned a “military option” for Venezuela from his golf course in New Jersey, provoking an uproar in Latin America but barely a peep in Washington. Similarly, Rex Tillerson, then-Secretary of State, spoke favorably about a possible military ouster of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro.
Rarely does anyone point out that this is an insane debate to be having in the first place, particularly regarding a country where elections occur frequently and are, with few exceptions, considered to be competitive and transparent. On Sunday, May 20th, Maduro will be up for reelection. Polls suggest that, if turnout is high, he could be voted out of office.
The fact that coups, not elections, are the hot topic is a sad reflection of the warped direction that the mainstream discussion on Venezuela has taken. For many years now, much of the analysis and reporting on the oil-rich but economically-floundering nation have offered a black-and-white, sensationalized depiction of a complex and nuanced internal situation. In addition, there has been little serious discussion of the Trump administration’s policies toward Venezuela even as they wreak further damage to the country’s economy, worsen shortages of life-saving medicines and food, and undermine peace and democracy.
Lest we forget, Maduro—often described by U.S. politicians and pundits as a dictator—was democratically elected in snap elections carried out a month after the death of his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, in early 2013. As a presidential term lasts six years in Venezuela, his current constitutional mandate will end in early 2019.
From the get-go, some sectors of the Venezuelan opposition rejected Maduro’s legitimacy and called for his immediate departure from office. In 2014 and again in 2017, they endorsed protest movements explicitly aimed at generating major disruptions in key urban areas to try to force the removal of the government, for example through overwhelming popular pressure or via internal or external military intervention.
Though many of these protests were peaceful, others became violent and resulted in dozens of fatalities, some attributable to state security forces and others attributable to members of the protest movement, according to credible reports and documentary evidence. Hundreds of protesters were detained, and a few opposition figures, including former Chacao mayor Leopoldo López, were sentenced to jail for allegedly inciting violence. López is currently under house arrest after serving three years in prison.
Opposition supporters believe that the due process rights of López and others involved with the protests were violated, and there certainly are grounds for this argument. Meanwhile, some government supporters believe that these individuals deserved harsher penalties for having attempted to usurp the popular will through destabilization and violence, in a manner reminiscent of the lead-up to the short-lived 2002 military coup against Chávez that López and other opposition leaders were involved in.
In late 2015, Venezuela’s opposition won a large majority of seats in National Assembly elections. But the country’s executive and legislative branches were soon at loggerheads over alleged cases of electoral fraud that led Venezuela’s Supreme Court, a body that is widely seen as loyal to the government, to disqualify three opposition legislators. The removal of these legislators meant the loss of the opposition alliance’s two-thirds supermajority that gave it broad powers to intervene at the executive level.
The opposition cried foul and refused to abide by the court decision. In response, the court refused to recognize the legitimacy of the parliament. Venezuela’s institutions ceased to interact according to the constitutional playbook and each side adopted increasingly radical tactics to try to gain the upper hand.
Opposition leaders supported a new series of protests that grew increasingly combative and violent, paralyzing key thoroughfares in Caracas and other cities for days at a time. Groups of protesters clashed frequently with security forces and dozens of people were killed, including protesters, state security agents, and bystanders.
The Maduro government responded to the growing chaos in the streets by convening elections for a National Constituent Assembly that would draft a new constitution and, according to Maduro, bring “order, justice, peace” to Venezuela.
The opposition, denouncing the initiative as a ploy designed to displace the National Assembly, boycotted the elections. Unsurprisingly, the new body is almost entirely pro-government and the U.S. and allied governments have refused to recognize it. Following the Constituent Assembly elections, the protest movement floundered and the opposition grew more divided, with hardliners calling for further boycotts of the subsequent regional and municipal elections. As a result of this and other factors, opposition voters failed to mobilize and the government won a majority of votes in both electoral contests in late 2017.
The backdrop to Venezuela’s prolonged political crisis has of course been the country’s ever-worsening economic quagmire. Though plunging oil prices have certainly played a role, Maduro undoubtedly bears part of the responsibility for the deep depression and hyperinflation that has prompted hundreds of thousands of his countrymen to emigrate and caused his poll numbers to plummet.
While many ideologues blame “socialism” for the country’s economic ills, most economists point to a set of policy errors that have little or nothing to do with socialism.While many ideologues blame “socialism” for the country’s economic ills, most economists point to a set of policy errors that have little or nothing to do with socialism. Most devastating has been the dysfunctional exchange rate system, which has led to a worsening “inflation-depreciation” spiral over the past four years, and now hyperinflation. Free gasoline and price controls that didn’t work also contributed to the crisis. The Trump administration’s financial sanctions—more than all previous destabilization efforts, which were significant—have made it nearly impossible for the government to get out of the mess without outside help.
As if this profoundly distressing situation weren’t enough, media outlets have frequently published exaggerated accounts of the conditions in Venezuela, depicting widespread starvation, for instance. To be sure, soaring food prices have contributed to increased undernourishment throughout the country, but this is a far cry from a large scale famine.
More importantly, there has been scant U.S. media reporting on the further economic damage provoked by the Trump administration’s financial sanctions, announced in late August last year (shortly after Trump’s statement about a “military option” for Venezuela).
As my colleague Mark Weisbrot has explained, Trump’s unilateral and illegal financial embargo – which cuts Venezuela off from most financial markets – has had two major consequences, both of which entail increased economic hardship for the Venezuelan people. First, it causes even greater shortages of essential goods, including food and medicine. Second, it makes economic recovery nearly impossible, since the government cannot borrow or restructure its foreign debt, and in some cases even carry out normal import transactions, including for medicines.
Aside from fomenting greater economic havoc in Venezuela, Trump and his coterie of advisors on Venezuela, including Republican Senator Marco Rubio, have supported opposition hardliners in their efforts to scuttle attempts at dialogue and undermine elections, even when these offer the possibility of a peaceful political transition.
Case in point: this Sunday’s presidential elections. Opposition leader Henri Falcón— a former governor and campaign manager of the opposition’s 2013 presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles—is running as an independent candidate against Maduro and three other candidates. Several major opposition parties are boycotting the election because, among other reasons, they object to the early date of the elections, which they say leaves them insufficient time to organize a strong campaign—the electoral authority did, however, agree to a one-month delay from the initial date. Two opposition parties, First Justice and Popular Will, were also unable to register candidates because they allegedly didn’t meet the formal requirements to do so.
However, voter surveys carried out by Datanalysis, Venezuela’s most frequently cited pollster, indicate that Falcón would win if there’s a high turnout. Before confirming his candidacy, Falcón secured strong guarantees from the country’s electoral authority, ensuring transparency, voter accessibility and vote secrecy, as in all contested prior elections since Chávez took office in 1999.
But the Trump administration, after unsuccessfully threatening Falcón with individual financial sanctions if he didn’t give up his candidacy, has supported the election boycott by more hardline opposition sectors that see Falcón, who was a Chávez ally until 2010, as too willing to compromise with chavistas if elected. The U.S. administration has even threatened sanctions targeting Venezuelan oil if the elections are held. Sources indicate that when both Falcón and the Venezuelan government requested that the UN send an international observation team to monitor the elections, U.S. officials intervened to ensure that no such monitoring effort would take place.
With the U.S. government and Venezuela’s opposition doing their best to empower hard-liners’ call for a boycott, there is a high probability that turnout from the opposition camp will be low and that Maduro will win the election by a strong margin. We can expect the administration to immediately denounce a “fraudulent” and “illegitimate” process and take further actions that will make life even more difficult for ordinary Venezuelans.
Regime Change in Venezuela: An Ongoing U.S. Policy
It’s worth noting that Trump’s Venezuela policy is mostly a continuation of President Obama’s policy toward Venezuela, although the financial embargo and calls for a military coup are particularly outrageous and disdainful of international law and the norms of civilized nations. The Trump sanctions build on an Obama sanctions regime identifying Venezuela as an “extraordinary threat to national security.” Around the time that Obama initiated a process of normalizing relations with Cuba, he began targeting assets of various senior officials and individuals associated with the Maduro government.
Under Obama, the U.S. government continued Bush-era funding to opposition political organizations in Venezuela and lobbied regional governments, again and again, to censure Venezuela in multilateral organizations, like the Organization of American States (OAS). It also refused to accept a Venezuelan ambassador to Washington—while inviting one from Cuba—and joined hard-liner opposition members in refusing to recognize Maduro’s electoral win in April 2013.
Essentially, the Obama administration—like the Bush administration, which was involved in the short-lived 2002 coup against Hugo Chávez—had a policy of promoting “regime change” in Venezuela. That policy has taken a more aggressive, overt, and dangerous direction under Trump.
Sadly, there has been virtually no criticism of U.S. government efforts to topple the Venezuelan government anywhere in the major media.Sadly, there has been virtually no criticism of U.S. government efforts to topple the Venezuelan government anywhere in the major media. In the U.S. Congress, where a large number of legislators now oppose the embargo against Cuba, for instance, there is little outcry, with the important exception of a small group of progressive Democrats who have opposed sanctions against Venezuela, under both Obama and Trump. The majority of the political and media establishment appears to believe that Trump has the right policy agenda for Venezuela, with many liberals pointing to cases of corruption, human rights violations and other crimes allegedly involving Venezuelan officials as justification for harsh measures.
Yet none of these critics are calling for broad economic sanctions against Latin American countries with far more violent and repressive records. Against Honduras, for instance, where the military was recently deployed to violently repress peaceful demonstrations following fraudulent elections, which the U.S. government recognized. Or against Colombia and Mexico, where, over the last few months, dozens of political candidates and social leaders have been killed with impunity.
Venezuela is treated differently by the U.S., for obvious reasons: it has a government that seeks to be independent from Washington and it sits atop hundreds of billions of barrels of oil reserves, which—when the Venezuelan economy finally recovers— will enable the government to have far-reaching regional influence.
In fact, that is exactly what happened during the Chávez administration. Venezuela grew in popularity in Central America and the Caribbean thanks in great part to the government’s generous Petrocaribe initiative, which brought tangible economic benefits to many countries in the region. It was also influential in building regional institutions such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which were much more independent of the U.S. than the Organization of American States, located in Washington, DC.
Regardless of how one feels about Venezuela’s current government, it is time to acknowledge that U.S. policy towards that country is making things worse. It is generating greater economic pain, instability and political polarization in Venezuela and undermining the odds of reaching a peaceful solution to the country’s political crisis.
Talk of coups and military intervention in Venezuela, or anywhere in Latin America, needs to return to its previous taboo status, particularly given the current U.S. leadership’s receptiveness to absurd ideas. Instead, it’s time for cooler heads from across the political spectrum to work together to change the direction of U.S. policy toward Venezuela. First, U.S. citizens who care about Venezuela must organize to force Trump to lift his financial embargo; then we must encourage efforts to build trust and dialogue across the political divide while marginalizing hardliners who oppose any form of compromise.
Alexander Main is senior associate for international policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC.
When are elections free and fair, according to corporate media? When the US government says they are, writes Alan MacLeod.
Fair.org – The May 20 Venezuelan presidential elections pit Hugo Chavez’s successor, President Nicolas Maduro, against opposition challenger Henri Falcon. Maduro has called for the United Nations to observe and oversee the contest. Despite calling for elections throughout 2017, many local opposition groups, together with the US government, have demanded no observers should come, arguing that it would “validate” the elections, and have preemptively decided they will not recognize the victor.
The US State Department (2/8/18) has cast doubt on the validity of the elections, claiming they represent a “dismantling” of Venezuela’s democracy, as “they do not have the agreement of all political parties.” That the country is ruled by a dictator presiding over fake elections is taken as a given by corporate media; the Miami Herald (5/2/18) declared the contest “fraudulent,” a “sham,” a “charade” and a “joke” in one column alone.
The major argument for this declaration is the barring of certain candidates from running, chiefly Leopoldo Lopez. Lopez is under house arrest after being convicted of leading a violent coup attempt against the government in 2014, and was also a key member of the 2002 coup against Chavez; even the State Department has called him “arrogant, vindictive and power-hungry.” Glossing over or simply not mentioning these key details in a 9,000-word puff piece, the New York Times Magazine (3/1/18) presented him as a Christ-like figure, “the most prominent political prisoner in Latin America, if not the world,” comparing him to Martin Luther King.
This is hardly the first time media have labeled elections in Venezuela a sham. As detailed in my new book, Bad News From Venezuela: 20 Years of Fake News and Misreporting, US media overwhelmingly presented, by a 12:1 ratio, the 2013 elections as unclean. The Miami Herald (4/13/13) claimed that there was “evidence that the country’s 2.4 million public-sector workers, and hundreds of thousands of government welfare recipients, were being pressured to vote along party lines,” and that “the media disparity is one of the most visible examples of the government’s campaign advantage,” with Maduro lording over a huge state media empire and the opposition “competing” on the “cowed” private media.
Unsurprisingly, polls show that Mr. Maduro will win this grossly one-sided contest. If by some chance he does not, the regime is unlikely to accept the results.
This contradicted years of positive appraisals from independent observers like the European Union. An AGB Nielsen report on the country showed that the state accounted for less than 10 percent of the TV market.
It was even contradicted by US organizations Washington had paid to go there. The Washington-based Carter Center’s report on the 2013 election noted that Maduro’s opponent received nearly three times as much TV coverage, mostly positive, while Maduro’s coverage was mostly negative. It also reported that less than 1 percent of Venezuelans claimed to have been pressured to vote in any direction, and twice as many for the opposition as for Maduro. Indeed, its founder, Jimmy Carter (9/11/12) stated categorically: “The election process in Venezuela is the best in the world…. They have a very wonderful voting system.”
In recent months, the US government has begun to discuss an invasion, with President Trump noting, “We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option.” It is also openly promoting a coup in the beleaguered nation, as then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (BBC, 2/2/18) stated:
In the history of Venezuela and South American countries, it is often times that the military is the agent of change when things are so bad and the leadership can no longer serve the people.
Senator Marco Rubio (Twitter, 2/9/18) was even less cryptic, announcing:
The world would support the armed forces in Venezuela if they decide to protect the people and restore democracy by removing a dictator.
Such direct interference is the sort that Russia can only dream of. Yet much of the media, indignant about Russian impact on the US elections, are openly supporting a coup in Venezuela. The Washington Post (11/15/17) ran with the headline “The Odds of a Military Coup in Venezuela Are Going Up. But Sometimes Coups Can Lead to Democracy,” while the New York Review of Books (3/8/18) lamented, “The army does not at present seem to be showing signs of rebellion.”
Washington Post (11/15)
It appears the only pushback against a coup is on strategic grounds; Foreign Policy (5/4/18) noted, “The most viable path to change involves the military in some way,” but cautioned that a failed coup might backfire, encouraging Venezuela to seek more active ties to Russia and China, giving them a foothold in our “backyard.”
Opposition on moral or legal grounds appears low to nonexistent. Previous FAIR studies found that 95 percent of op-eds expressed clear and open hostility to the elected government. Indeed, this is hardly the first time the media have supported a coup in the country. AsBad News From Venezuela catalogs, in 2002 the US trained and backed similar opposition groups, who, after deposing Chavez, then liquidated the Supreme Court, dismissed every elected official and began rounding up and arresting political and media figures who opposed them.
The coup was met with unabashed enthusiasm by much of the US media, with many insisting that no coup had taken place, even weeks after the brief coup government had collapsed and Chavez was swept back to power by a popular revolution. And only 11 of 112 articles mentioned even the possibility of US involvement, with the New York Times (4/13/02) claiming (emphasis added):
With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chavez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader.
While the Post (4/14/02) blamed Chavez for the whole affair:
Mr. Chavez was a terrible leader. His senseless mix of populist and socialist decrees seriously damaged the economy and galvanized opposition.
Writing in the New York Times (3/6/18), Henri Falcon has promised to open the country up to international agencies like the World Bank and IMF, and to dollarize the local currency, moves which are sure to be a bonanza for Western corporations. Nevertheless, some opinion polls show Maduro is the favorite to win, in part due to the highly unpopular opposition parties that even the Post (11/15/17) describes as “hopelessly ineffective.” Perhaps this explains why the US government and the media have already decided the whole process is a sham.
The Venezuelan public is faced with a choice between the poorly performing Maduro administration or a Trump proxy government likely to impose economic shock therapy on the country, argues Alan MacLeod
Venezuela Analysis – The May 20 presidential election officially pits Hugo Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro against four other candidates, the chief among them opposition challenger Henri Falcon, a former governor of Lara State. Yet these elections are as much Trump vs. Maduro as Falcon vs. Maduro.
Despite the fact that the country has a long history of free, fair and internationally observed elections, something his own country certainly cannot claim to have, President Trump has pre-emptively decided that the US will not recognize the results, reflecting a longstanding American tradition of casting doubt upon elections whose result does not go its way. The Trump administration has called for a boycott of the elections and placed multiple rounds of punishing sanctions on Venezuela, crippling the economy. It has also directly threatened Venezuela’s bondholders not to negotiate with the country, thus stopping any sort of debt restructuring.
The election takes place in the shadow of a possible US-sponsored coup or even an invasion if the people vote for Maduro. Senator Marco Rubio announced that “the world would support the armed forces in Venezuela if they decide to protect the people and restore democracy by removing a dictator” while Trump noted that “we have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option”.
These are hardly idle threats; as I detail in my recently released book, Bad News From Venezuela: 20 Years of Fake News and Misreporting, the US openly supported a military coup that toppled Chavez in 2002, funneling millions of dollars to the coup leaders through organizations like USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy. Yet the media treated the idea of US involvement as absurd, one newspaper stating “Anticipating correctly that the Chavez government would fall of its own accord, like a rotten fruit. The last thing the Americans need is a new set of myths about Yanqui coup mongering, after the fashion of their alleged role in the overthrow of Chile’s Salvador Allende.”
That Maduro is despised and needs to be taken care of is treated as a given in the press, with the only second thought given to how it may backfire if not successful. Yet he maintains significant support, particularly among the working class. Indeed, his approval ratings are higher than many of his neighbors’, including Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos and Brazil’s Michel Temer. Yet there are no calls for coups against these pro-American right-wing regimes.
The US also supported a 2014 attempt at overthrowing the government led by Leopoldo Lopez. Lopez’s plan was to essentially force a resignation through a wave of violence. His followers burned down government buildings, destroyed roads, buses and subway stations, attacked doctors and teachers and even garroted passers by. The movement was highly unpopular inside Venezuela, polling up to an 87 percent disapproval rate, backfiring on the opposition and causing them to lose support. Yet it was extremely popular in the West, as the opposition and their friends in the international media were careful to present themselves as brave protestors standing up against a dictatorship. It was certainly successful in their attempt to garner international sympathy but actually reduced their influence in the country. Despite the violence, the US described Lopez’s group as “peaceful protestors” met with extraordinary violence from the security services and accused Maduro of concocting “totally false and outlandish conspiracy theories” about US involvement as an attempt to “distract” the country away from his misrule. However, it was the US was concocting outlandish narratives when Obama declared a “national emergency” with respect to the “extraordinary threat” to the US Venezuela was causing. That national emergency has been re-declared three times and is still active. Lopez’s placement under house arrest is one of the key White House arguments as to why the upcoming elections are not free and fair.
Lopez’s condition is a key White House argument as to why the elections are unfair and why many in the opposition are choosing to boycott them. However, former soldier and state governor Henri Falcon has stepped up to run as a serious challenge to Maduro. Falcon announced his reasons for running not in the Venezuelan media, but in The New York Times, perhaps signaling who he believes his real constituency to be. Closely advised by Wall Street economists, he promises that he will open the country up to international banking organizations like the IMF and replace the local currency with the US dollar. Both are sure to be a huge boon to US business interests but are unlikely to help the people, judging by the many examples of economic shock therapy in Latin American history.
That the US has bankrolled, trained and supported virtually every group opposed to the Chavistas for nearly twenty years is simply taken as a given in Venezuelan politics. Thus, the election is not so much about Maduro vs. Falcon but Maduro vs. Trump. The public is faced with a choice between the poorly performing Maduro administration or a Trump proxy government. If Maduro does win, the US is sure not to accept the results, resulting in more economic warfare. Yet if Falcon wins the country is faced with potential economic shock therapy. Either one may be a bitter pill to swallow.
This is the best opportunity since 1998 that the opposition has to defeat the Bolivarian Revolution. So why are they boycotting the election? Greg Wilpert asks
New Internationalist – Venezuela will hold its 24th electoral event in 20 years this Sunday, 20 May. The path to this election was perhaps one of the most convoluted and difficult of Venezuela’s now nearly 20-year Bolivarian Revolution.
First, there was a snap election in 2013, a mere five weeks after president Chávez died of cancer on 5 March. The opposition believed this was their best chance since 1998 to oust ‘Chavismo’ from power and so, when its candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, lost to Nicolas Maduro by a mere 1.5 per cent, they cried fraud and launched a wave of violent protests and riots that left at least nine dead.
The following year the opposition launched another wave of violent protests (known as ‘guarimbas’) that lasted about three months and left 43 people dead. This opposition tactic, which the opposition tried again in 2017, was immensely effective on an international level because every time it was applied, and people were killed (most of the time at the hands of the protesters themselves), the international perception of Venezuela – as mediated by international news outlets – was significantly worsened. It was thus only a small step to routinely begin to refer to Venezuela as a dictatorship, despite its more than annual electoral contests.
Meanwhile, following president Chávez’s death, Venezuela’s economic situation began to deteriorate significantly. The inflation rate rose from 21 per cent in 2012 to over 100 per cent in 2015 (and turned into hyper-inflation in 2018), basic consumer items and of food staples became increasingly difficult to purchase because of shortages, oil revenues dropped by two-thirds, from an estimated $77 billion in 2012 to $25 billion in 2016 – all of which gave the opposition additional reasons to launch ever-more uncompromising attacks on the government.
The reasons for the economic crisis are manifold, but its heart can be found in the confluence of: a fixed exchange rate, a concerted business sector effort to undermine the economy, declining oil prices, and – beginning in 2017 – US financial sanctions, all of which combined to create one of the worst economic crises in Venezuelan history.
Seeing its situation as increasingly precarious, the Maduro government decided to engage in a series of negotiations with the opposition, which the government of the Dominican Republic and Spain’s former prime minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero mediated. In the course of the negotiations there was a general agreement that Venezuela’s presidential election, which normally was scheduled to take place in October or November 2018, should be moved up to the first half of 2018.
At first, the 22nd of April was the agreed-upon date, but in the last minutes before the agreement was to be signed in late February, opposition representatives decided to withdraw. Exactly why they withdrew is not completely clear, but it seems quite plausible that the US government intervened and convinced the opposition not to sign the agreement.
Rodriguez Zapatero went out of his way to criticize the opposition’s last-minute withdrawal, stating, ‘I find it shocking that the document was not signed by the opposition representation. I do not agree with the circumstances and the reasons, but my duty is to defend the truth and my commitment is not to give up on the achievement of a historic commitment among Venezuelans.’
The Maduro government then announced that it would sign the agreement anyway and proceed with the 22 April presidential election, with or without the opposition. The opposition, in contrast, announced it would boycott the election.
At first, the only major opposition leader to break from this decision was Henri Falcon, who immediately announced his candidacy for the presidency. Eventually, Falcon and Maduro agreed to set a new date – 20 May – for the presidential election, to give more time for campaigning.
Henri Falcon has always been a bit of a ‘maverick’ politician. Originally, he was a staunch Chavez supporter and governor of Lara state, one of Venezuela’s more populous states. However, he broke from Chávez in 2010. Already before 2010 Flacon had been regarded with suspicion by many Chavistas, mainly for his somewhat pro-business stance and for his often lukewarm support of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) party. Eventually, in 2012, he joined the opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) and formed his own political party, Progressive Advance. In 2013 he even became Henrique Capriles’ campaign manager in the presidential election of that year.
Falcon’s break with the MUD for the 2018 presidential election has caused hardline opposition leaders to regard him very suspiciously. However, despite this, he is enjoying the support of many moderate opposition leaders, such as Claudio Fermin, a long-time Venezuelan politician, who is now Falcon’s campaign manager, and of Jesus Torrealba, the former chair of the MUD.
The MUD’s decision to boycott the election should be puzzling. This is the best opportunity since 1998 that the opposition has to defeat the Bolivarian Revolution. The economy is now in hyper-inflation territory, real wages have dropped dramatically, and shortages continue to cause problems, especially in the area of medicines. Under such circumstances it ought to be possible to defeat even the enormously popular Chavez himself, were he alive today.
So why is the MUD boycotting the election? The official explanation is that there are insufficient guarantees that there will be no fraud. Key opposition demands and the creation of a new National Electoral Council and the dropping of charges against several key opposition leaders. I will return to the issue of the safety of the vote a little later, but even if the fraud concern were legitimate, no election in history has been successfully challenged with a preemptive boycott instead of participating and subsequently proving fraud.
The only other plausible explanation for a preemptive boycott is that the opposition does not want to win ‘only’ the presidency. That is, it wants a radical break from the Bolivarian Revolution and the only way it can do that is to provoke a political and economic crisis that would lead to a coup or some other form of radical regime change. That is, Chavistas continue to dominate not only the Supreme Court, the National Electoral Council, the Attorney General’s office, but also the National Constituent Assembly, which is in charge of re-writing the constitution.
Under such circumstances governing from an opposition-controlled presidency, even under Venezuela’s somewhat presidential system, would be extremely difficult. Given that opposition leader Julio Borges and others are lobbying for ever tougher sanctions against Venezuela, it seems clear that the strategy is to force a complete collapse of the government and not to participate any longer in any democratic processes within Venezuela.
Those who know about Venezuela from mainstream media no doubt dismiss Venezuela’s electoral system as a sham. However, contrary to popular belief, Venezuela actually has one of the most transparent and fraud-proof election systems in the world. It developed such a system precisely because of the country’s pre-1998 experience with rampant fraud, which led to the development of an exceptionally secure voting system.
This is not the place to go into this in detail, but it is a dual balloting system, in which paper ballots and electronic ballots are both cast and compared against one another. Also, every step of the process, from the voter registry, to the voting machines, to the fingerprint scanners, to the tabulation systems are thoroughly audited by election observers from all political parties. All of this makes Venezuela’s voting system far more secure and fraud-proof than practically any other voting system in the world.
The main problem that opposition candidate Henri Falcon faces now is not the voting system, but the lack of institutional support. With all of the main opposition parties boycotting the vote (only three parties out of over 20 opposition parties are supporting his candidacy), he is having a hard time mobilizing supporters for rallies and for his campaign more generally. On top of it all, Falcon must convince opposition voters not to participate in the boycott. Maduro, on the other hand, has the formidable machinery of the PSUV at his disposal. The country’s severe economic crisis, though, evens the scales quite a bit.
Opinion polls have been all over the place in terms of who is ahead in this race. In the past Venezuelan opinion polls have always been extremely partisan, with pro-government polls reliably showing the government candidate ahead and opposition polls showing the opposition candidate ahead. However, usually in the week before the election the polling numbers of the two sides tended to converge. This time around, though, they have remained as far apart as ever before. Pro-government pollsters, such as the company Hinterlaces give Maduro a 17 point advantage. Opposition pollsters, such as Datanalisis, are giving Falcon an 11 point advantage over Maduro. The main reason for the uncertainty in polling is the boycott. It is extremely difficult to know how many voters will participate. Opposition polls say it will be no more than 35 per cent, while pro-government polls put the participation figure at 70 per cent. In the end, whether Falcon or Maduro will win will depend entirely on how many voters abstain.
Regardless of who wins, however, Venezuela’s future remains extremely uncertain. US efforts at radical regime change – targeting not just the presidency, but all state institutions – will make governing the country difficult no matter who wins. Already the US, and under its pressure almost all other conservative governments in the region, has pledged not to recognize the result. The pre-emptive non-recognition of an election, despite the use of one of the world’s most secure voting systems, is completely unprecedented in Latin American history.
If Maduro wins, the US will no doubt intensify sanctions, perhaps prohibiting the import of Venezuelan oil. If Falcon wins, he would also have to manage an extremely complicated situation, in which most state institutions remain in Chavista hands and in which the opposition and the US possibly refuse to recognize him as the legitimate president.
As president of the Second Republic of Venezuela, Simón Bolívar, explained in the early 19th century, the US thus continues to ‘plague [the] America[s] with misery in the name of liberty.’
Gregory Wilpert is author of Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chávez Government (Verso Books, 2007), co-founder of Venezuelanalysis.com, and currently Senior Producer at The Real News Network.