By Stefan M. Kløvning
Venezuela, Politics – After five years of Nicolás Maduro of the United Socialist Party (PSUV) ruling Venezuela by decree, the Venezuelans will vote again on Sunday for a new presidential election. Maduro is running for reelection, however, and currently has about 20% of the country’s support, according to polls by Datanalisis. His main contestants in the race are Henri Falcón and Javier Bertucci. Henri Falcón, leader of anti-Chavista party Progressive Advance, is currently in the lead with about 33%, whereas Bertucci is running as an independent with only 18%.
Maduro has repeatedly shown that he doesn’t care about for the democratic process. Last year he disqualified his opposition from running, infuriating the main parties Justice First, Popular Will, and Democratic Action. According to Reuters, his administration ironically later accused the opposition of not running solely because ‘it knows it will lose,’ and claimed the elections to be completely transparent. Furthermore, in an election last year determining who would ‘rewrite the nation’s Constitution and rule Venezuela with virtually unlimited authority until they finish their work’ – of a list of government allies, including Maduro’s wife – the vote was altered by at least a million votes according to Smartmatic, the software company responsible for setting up voting systems for the country. There are countless instances of such corruption occurring in the country, for instance with anti-Maduro neighborhoods getting a shortage of polling stations in a gubernatorial election in October, and thus being ‘robbed of votes’ according to opposition activists.
This has made many Venezuelans lose trust in the political system in the country, causing much of the opposition to plan to boycott the vote. According to Gallup, 75% of Venezuelans believe that corruption is widespread in the Venezuelan government. Venezuela is also rated 18/100 on corruption by Transparency International (where 0 is most corrupt). The Venezuelans are in a difficult situation, especially those suffering from the failure of the Socialist policies implemented there, but they seem to have preferred Chavéz over Maduro, with 58% approving of Chavéz, whereas Maduro only got 34%. This is a rather strange statistic as Maduro inherited a country on top of the world misery index from Chavéz in 2013. He somehow managed to literally make the country seven times worse, moving it from 79.4 to 573.4 on the misery index and becoming the 57th country to hyperinflate at the end of 2016. That statistic seems also to have doubled for the measurement of 2017. According to the opposition-controlled National Assembly, they’ve now reached nearly 14,000% in annual inflation. Maduro tries to solve the problem by printing more money, taking his country down the same road as Zimbabwe (which reached an incredible 79.8 billion percent month-over-month inflation rate in mid-November 2008 and as a result stopped printing money in 2009). How does he still manage to get support? He puts the blame on American sanctions.
To which degree, then, has American sanctions influenced the Venezuelan economy? There are four main pieces of American legislation that has instated sanctions on Venezuela under the rule of Maduro, two of which came after Trump entered the White House. The Venezuelan Human Rights and Democracy Protection Act was passed by the U.S. Congress in May 28, 2014, which directed sanctions against officials involved in the mistreatment of protesters in Venezuela. Former President Obama also declared Venezuela a threat to its national security in 2015, and issued an executive order ‘aimed at persons involved in or responsible for the erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to anti-government protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of anti-government protestors, as well as the significant public corruption by senior government officials in Venezuela.’ The executive order states that the property and interest in property of the people described are blocked from the United States, and prohibits U.S. citizens from engaging in transactions with such individuals or entities. State.gov describes the executive order as not targetting the people or economy of the country, but only those matching the criteria mentioned above. It might be said that the government and economy is so packed with corruption and authoritarianism that the sanctions had such an effect, but it would still take much to argue that these sanctions alone are the reasons for Venezuela’s score on the world misery index has increased by a factor of seven within three years. After Trump took over as President, he has gotten quite a bad name among the Maduro administration after saying that he’s ‘not going to rule out a military option’ in confronting them for their human rights violations and deepening crisis. He has also passed two executive orders instating additional sanctions against the country, which further restricted Venezuela’s ability to make transactions with the U.S. and its citizens. That’s what they get back after giving him half a million dollars for his inauguration!
An exclusive report by Reuters released on Friday also revealed that more Venezuelan soldiers have rebelled and deserted in the run-up to the vote. ‘Some soldiers are planning how to flee the country or fretting about how to feed their families on a minimum salary of just $2 a day,’ they conclude from interviews with serving and former soldiers. They also found that hundreds had left the Venezuelan army last year and that the number of soldiers detained for treason, rebellion, and desertion has risen three-and-a-half times from the four first months in 2017 to the same period this year.
Does Maduro’s opposition stand any chance? Henri Falcón may be in the lead in the polls, but as explained above, the election results in Venezuela often become – to a big degree – more what the administration wants them to be rather than what the voters demand. As a former soldier in the army, Falcón stands as the main opposition against Maduro, observing that ‘The same thing is happening in the barracks as is happening in the slums: people are going hungry; they are suffering an overwhelming crisis.’ Falcón was once a Chavista and a member of the PSUV but has later turned critical to both Chavéz and the party, causing him to resign in 2010. TeleSUR claimed indirectly, however, that his resignation might also be linked to his being investigated on corruption charges the year before. They don’t mention any specifics about the investigation, but it might be linked to the Maduro administration using similar tactics as Frederic 3. applied in Denmark-Norway in 1660, ousting the disloyal on corruption charges (as everyone in the administration is more or less corrupt), and placing in more loyal members. Falcón created Progressive Advanced in 2012, which has gotten allies both from the leftist Movement Towards Socialism, right-wing Venezuelan Ecological Movement and the Christian Democrats (COPEI). A lot of support from COPEI has, however, moved over to the evangelical candidate Bertucci for this election. There doesn’t seem to be much hope for Bertucci in the election according to the polls. Falcón fares far better there, but it would be rather naïve to think that the Maduro administration will be shy on their tactics in gaining victory in this key election.