Venezuela Elections – Overcoming Odds, Maduro Triumphs
R Arun Kumar
VENEZUELAN President Nicolas Maduro was re-elected as the president on May 20, with 6.2 million votes, beating out his closest rival Henri Falcon, who secured 1.9 million votes. Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) announced the result stating that Maduro had won with 67.79 per cent of all votes cast, ahead of Henri Falcon, who won 21.01 per cent. Due to a boycott announced by the main opposition parties of the right-wing Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition, the turnout was 46 per cent, with only 9,085,629 of Venezuela’s 20,527,571 registered voters casting ballots.
Voter turnout was extremely low in the wealthier areas of big cities – traditional strongholds of the right-wing opposition. Turnout, though was higher in the working-class and poor areas, which are the traditional base of support for the Bolivarian Revolution, it was lower than it usually was in earlier elections. Most of them voted to defend what remains of the gains of the Revolution. They were clear that if the opposition were to win the election, they would destroy everything and make the lives of workers and the poor that much harder by accepting an IMF-prescribed ‘adjustment’ programme.
Those who had voted for Maduro are the hardcore Chavistas, who turn out at every election in defence of the Bolivarian Revolution and the struggle for socialism that Chavez represented. But even they are finding it increasingly difficult to mobilise other layers of the society. Amongst the Left-wing of the Chavistas, there is an increasing criticism against the PSUV leadership and the bureaucracy, who are considered to have failed in dealing with the economic situation and are identified as an obstacle to the revolutionary initiative of the masses.
Another area of discontent among the the economically poor Chavista forces is the government’s reaction to the land question. During the last few months there have been several instances, where groups of peasants organised in communes – on officially granted land – were evicted. These evictions took place at the behest of landowners and involved the local bureaucracy representing all the layers of the State, including police, judiciary and politicians. In the run-up to the election, Maduro promised that there would be no more such evictions. The mood among the Chavista peasants can be understood from the interview given by one of them: “We're going to give him (Maduro) a vote of confidence. If this does not work, that’s the end of it. I'm going (to the polls) with hope, but if the country does not improve, people are going to take to the streets. I will vote for Maduro because he has given his word that things will improve, if he understands what giving one’s word is, he should fulfill his promise”. These words indeed express the feelings of many Chavistas.
BACKGROUND TO THE ELECTIONS
Elections in Venezuela were held under extreme duress to the people. It should be remembered here that the country is facing an extreme form of ‘economic war’ and reeling under severe sanctions imposed by the US administration. The opposition parties tried to capitalise on the ensuring discontent by inciting people through violent demonstrations against the government. They repeatedly ignored the appeals of Maduro government to discuss and sort out the issues. With the urging of the Pope and under the auspices of the government of the Dominican Republic, Maduro government and sections of the opposition agreed to negotiate in order to end the cycle of violence and the deterioration of living conditions in Venezuela. It is through the course of these negotiations that they had come to a tentative agreement to hold elections and an agreement was drafted for the government and the opposition to sign on. At the last minute, under US’ coercion, the opposition backed out from signing.
The US first accused Venezuela of not scheduling presidential elections. Then, when elections were scheduled, they objected to the dates and then ultimately to the entire election process itself. The US declared the elections to be a sham and fraudulent even before they were held, apprehending that the people might vote for the ‘wrong candidate’, that is Maduro. And this is what had in fact happened.
The opposition’s decision to boycott the election was puzzling because many felt that this is their best opportunity since 1998 to defeat the Bolivarian Revolution. The economy is now in hyper-inflation, real wages have dropped dramatically, and shortages continue to cause problems. In spite of all this, they called for boycott. As some commentators pointed out, the opposition does not want to win ‘only’ the presidency. It wants a ‘radical break from the Bolivarian Revolution’ by provoking a political and economic crisis that would lead to a coup or some other form of regime change.
In 2015, then US President Obama declared Venezuela as a threat to the security of the US and imposed sanctions. It should be noted here that the US has military bases to the west of Venezuela in Colombia and to the east in the Dutch colonial islands. The US Fourth Fleet regularly patrols Venezuela’s Caribbean coast. In spite of all this, Venezuela was declared a ‘security threat’. Each year Obama renewed and deepened sanctions against Venezuela under the National Emergencies Act.
Last August, the new US President Trump openly raised the “military option” to overthrow Venezuela’s democratically elected government. David Smilde of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) disagreed with the president and argued for a regime change, not by military means, but by “deepening the current sanctions” to “save Venezuela”.
Trump’s first State of the Union address calling for regime change of Leftist governments in Latin America, boasting, “My government has imposed harsh sanctions on the communist and socialist dictatorships of Cuba and Venezuela”, was applauded by both the Democrats and Republicans. These sanctions designed, in Richard Nixon’s words, to “make the economy scream” so that the people will abandon their democratically elected government for one vetted by the US, have taken a punishing toll on the Venezuelan people.
Not satisfied with the economic sanctions, in early April, the US Southern Command conducted a series of military exercises, dubbed ‘Fused Response’, just 10 miles off the Venezuelan coast simulating an invasion. Juan Cruz, special assistant to President Trump and senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, defending these exercises, stated: “If you look at the history of Venezuela, there’s never been a seminal movement in Venezuela’s history, politics, that did not involve the military. And so it would be naïve for us to think that a solution in Venezuela wouldn’t in some fashion include a very strong nod – at a minimum – strong nod from the military, a whisper in the ear, a coaxing or a nudging, or something a lot stronger than that.”
US designs on Venezuela were exposed when its, (though an unverified document), ‘Plan to Overthrow the Venezuelan Dictatorship – Masterstroke’, (February 23, 2018) saw light. According to reports: “The document signed by the head of the US Southern Command demands making the Maduro government unsustainable by forcing him to give up, negotiate or escape. This Plan to end in very short terms the so-called “dictatorship” of Venezuela calls for, ‘Increase internal instability to critical levels, intensifying the decapitalization of the country, the escape of foreign capital and the deterioration of the national currency, through the application of new inflationary measures that increase this deterioration.” Masterstroke calls for “Continuing to harden the condition within the (Venezuelan) Armed Forces to carry out a coup d’état, before the end of 2018, if this crisis does not cause the dictatorship to collapse or if the dictator (Maduro) does not decide to step aside.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
The coming period will see an intensification of the imperialist campaign against the Venezuelan government with increased sanctions. Already new set of sanctions were announced and US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said that they are considering oil sanctions, which would have a crippling impact on the economy. These attempts by the US-led imperialist forces should be squarely resisted and defeated.
If the right succeeds, it will be an imperialist backed brutal structural adjustment plan, accompanied by an attack on democratic rights and would be a complete disaster for Venezuela. Moreover, it will also impact the progressive movements throughout the world.
For the Bolivarian masses the main issue will be the deep economic crisis, which has resulted in hyper-inflation, a collapse in the purchasing power of wages and a scarcity of basic products. Maduro promised to deal with these problems after the election and deliver “economic prosperity”.
Maduro government should decisively deal with the ruling classes and move towards building a genuine, revolutionary alternative that benefits working people. This is vital for the future of Venezuela. If the government fails to fulfill its promise, it will be facing tough times, with the right-wing waiting in wings to gobble the country.