Amy Goodman called him "the democratically elected president of Venezuela" on Democracy Now, 15 May 2019. Medea Benjamin of Code Pink has also anointed Nicolás Maduro "the democratically elected leader" of Venezuela. Veterans for Peace has also recently come out with a statement in support of what they are calling "the democratically elected government of Venezuela."
These opinions are very representative of what I refer to as the white-Left when it comes to the recently "elected" president of the "socialist" government of Venezuela. Examining the 2018 Venezuela election, even in brief, as I do here, can give us a very revealing view of just what "democracy" looks like to these people who seek to claim the mantle of leadership in the socialist revolution we badly need in the United States.
Not only does the Maduroist democracy they defend not pass the smell test, it stinks.
There is another reason why this trip is worth the journey. Maduro is far ahead of Trump when it comes to abuses of executive powers. Studying how he has corrupted state power and rigged elections in Venezuela, can alert us when Trump attempts to employ these same tactics here. For example, this is one Trump hasn't tried...yet, but its par for the course in Maduro's Venezuela:
Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly couldn’t hold its Tuesday session after intelligence service agents entered the legislative building early this morning wearing ski masks and carrying rifles as they searched for what they said was a bomb.— Álex Vásquez S (@AlexVasquezS) May 14, 2019
The road to the election these white Leftists hold up as an example of democracy was long and riddled with potholes placed there by President Maduro. To shorten this narrative we will skip over the Bolivarian Revolution, the death of its leader Hugo Chávez, and Maduro's rise to power in snap elections in 2013, to more recent events framing the 2018 election.
Venezuelans queued to have their signatures on a petition for
a recall referendum validated
The CNE also set very strenuous conditions for the recall vote petition drive. In 24 states in just three days in late October, they would need to collect and verify 4 million signatures from 20% of the voters. Then a week before this drive was to start, the CNE cancelled it! They cited voter fraud in the petitions they had previously certified for phrase one. An estimated 1.2 million Venezuelans hit the streets to protest the cancellation.
Mr. Maduro’s governing United Socialist Party had lost control of the National Assembly in the 2015 elections. With it now in opposition hands, the Maduro government held a special election on 30 July 2017 to elect members of a new super-body, the Constituent National Assembly (ANC), with the power to rewrite the constitution. The last time this body was convened was in 1999, and it was assembled following a referendum. This time it was convened by presidential decree. While the opposition called the election a fraud and boycotted it, more than 6000 Venezuelans ran for 545 constituent seats, but Maduro decided who could run. His wife and son were elected, and close ally, former foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez, was elected president.
Maduro's ruling Great Patriotic Pole (GPP) also won 18 out of 23 state governorships in regional elections held on 15 October 2017. To that point protests against the Maduro government had left 125 people dead and thousands wounded or in jail. That election should have taken place in December 2016, but the CNE delayed it in what many saw as a violation of the constitution, which Maduro excused, saying:
“Holding elections is not the priority. Venezuela’s priority is to recover the economy.”A little over a year latter, elections were again a Maduro priority. The presidential election had been scheduled for December 2018. Although it wasn't a constitutional requirement, Venezuelan presidential votes traditionally took place in December. Then Maduro's ANC did something many don't think it had the constitutional authority to do, it announced that the presidential election would be brought forward from December to "sometime before May." On 23 January, Maduro told a rally of his supporters:
"They [the ANC] should find the closest date, to get this out of the way so we can begin to make a great revolution."..."If it was in my hands, the election would be this weekend."Mexico, one of several foreign governments mediating talks in the Dominican Republic between Maduro supporters and his opposition, said it was withdrawing its support for the talks to protest the Maduro government's move.
On 7 February, the electoral season was suddenly truncated to three months when the government announced the election would be held on 22 April. That move was widely condemned in Venezuela and internationally, with many saying the results would be invalid. For example, the NGO Foro Penal announced on 23 February that it could not endorse the election, and:
[T]hat the institute's position is based on the fact that the ANC does not have constitutional powers to call elections because it would only be empowered to write a new Constitution.The Democratic Unity Roundtable [MUD], the main opposition coalition, announced a boycott. On 1 March, the date was pushed back to 20 May after a deal was made with former Lara Governor Henri Falcon to break ranks with the boycott and give the race some legitimacy by running against Maduro. Still, the Carter Center refused to send an observation team, as did many others. After the opposition protested, the UN refused to send a mission. Smartmatic the Venezuelan-owned electronic voting machine company that had been involved in the majority of the Bolivarian elections, stopped Venezuelan operations in March 2018, saying it could not guarantee the validity of election results through its machines.
The ANC, even if it had been validly constituted and convened, and that is not the case, does not have constitutional or legal powers to interfere in the political life of the nation by calling for elections. Nowhere in the Constitution is it said that this body can make calls of an electoral type.
The majority of the most popular leaders were banned from participating in the election by a variety of government administrative and legal procedures. These included Henrique Capriles, a candidate in the 2012 and 2013 elections. The government banned him from public office for 15 years for alleged misuse of public funds, a punishment that if applied regularly, would strip the Maduro government bare. Also banned were Leopoldo López, sentenced to 14 years for his part in the 2014 protests, Antonio Ledezma, who was placed under house arrest, Freddy Guevara, who had his parliamentary immunity removed and fled, and David Smolansky currently in exile, as well as María Corina Machado and Miguel Rodríguez Torres, former defense minister and dissident chavista.
|Teodoro Campos, opposition lawmaker and security chief of Venezuelan|
presidential candidate Henri Falcón, receives help after suffering an injury
during a Falcon rally in Caracas, Venezuela, April 2, 2018. REUTERS / Rayner Peña
On May Day, Maduro told supermarkets that if they raised prices ahead of the election, he would punish them because after 20 May "I'll be president anyway...by hook or by crook." A day earlier, he had mandated a 95.4% increase in the minimum wage. Since inflation surpassed 13,800% last year, that was the third adjustment that year. Conveniently, it came just three weeks before the snap election.
A poll conducted by Meganalisis, a polling company with 39 years of operation in Venezuela, between 9 April and 14 April indicated that 61.7% said they did not plan to vote, and 65.4% saw Falcon as "a collaborator" with Maduro. 85% said the country was in a “grave humanitarian crisis” and that people “were going hungry.”
Twelve days before the 20 May election, the NGO Venezuelan Electoral Observatory (OEV) issued a 50 page report detailing irregularities in the process which:
[F]rom the call made on January 23 until the start and development of the campaign, have been marked by shortening of the lapses, violations of the 1999 Constitution, the Organic Law of Electoral Processes (LOPRE) and its regulations, which cut stages that in previous elections such as the 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections of 2015, went from weeks to just days in 2018.
"The OEV has accumulated enough evidence to indicate that it is an event marked by different violations of existing laws. In effect, the political rights of Venezuelans, as voters and as citizens, have been drastically limited by the rules of the game imposed by the electoral referee."It added this about the Maduro government's treatment of indigenous people:
Also, since 2016 the electoral justice that is imparted in the country "is not impartial", citing the cases of the indigenous deputies of Amazonas who were dismissed from their positions for alleged irregularities in their election, which after two years have not been proven, while the allegations of fraud made by the candidate for the Governor of Bolívar, Andrés Velásquez in October 2017, have not been investigated.While the CNE allowed voter two months to register at 1,300 places nationwide for the 2012 presidential election, this was reduced to 10 days, 10th to 20th of February, for the 2018 election at only 531 locations nationwide.
Probably, the most despicable thing Maduro did to win the election was to use his control of the food supplies for his starving people to buy votes. Many people would show up at Maduro rallies simply because food might be handed out. The New York Times reported, 18 May 2018:
A large majority of Venezuelans are dependent on the government for subsidized groceries distributed by local councils loyal to the president. Food has even entered the election, potentially controlling the way Venezuelans will vote.These special identity cards are used in the “carnet de la patria,” or “Fatherland Card” system which was developed in 2018 with the help of the Chinese telecom giant ZTE. It is patterned after the smart card ID system Beijing uses to track the social, political, and economic activity of its citizens. Anthony Daquin, a Venezuelan technical adviser who was for the program before he saw its potential for abuse by the government, said “they were looking to have citizen control.” He told Reuters that when he raised his objections, he was detained, beaten and extorted by intelligence agents. Last year the Maduro government spent $70 million with the Chinese telecom giant to set up the Venezuelan tracking system:
Many people receive their subsidies using a special identity card that is playing a big role in this election. For Sunday’s vote, Venezuelans have been told to present these cards at stations run by Mr. Maduro’s governing party at polling places — so that party organizers can see who has voted and who has not.
“Everyone who has this card must vote,” Mr. Maduro has said at his campaign rallies, directly linking government handouts to voting. “I give and you give.”
The database, according to employees of the card system and screenshots of user data reviewed by Reuters, stores such details as birthdays, family information, employment and income, property owned, medical history, state benefits received, presence on social media, membership of a political party and whether a person voted.In November 2018, Reuters also gave this example of card misuse by the government:
When scanning their cards during a presidential election last May, employees at several government offices were told by bosses to message photos of themselves at polls back to managers, they said. A Justice Ministry document reviewed by Reuters featured a list of state employees who didn’t vote.It further reported:
Ahead of the vote, ruling party officials urged voters to be “grateful” for government largesse dispensed via the fatherland cards. They set up “red point” kiosks near voting booths, where voters could scan their cards and register, Maduro himself promised, for a “fatherland prize.”The New York Times produced this video on how Maduro used food to buy votes. It accompanied the 10 January 2019 article Venezuela Is in Crisis. So How Did Maduro Secure a Second Term?
Those who scanned their cards later received a text message thanking them for supporting Maduro, according to several cardholders and one text message reviewed by Reuters. The prizes for voting, however, were never issued, cardholders and people familiar with the system said.
Maduro also used Cuban doctors to coerce Venezuela voters. The New York Times interviewed sixteen doctors who had worked at Mission Barrio Adentro, a clinic in a poor neighborhood, All sixteen said they were required to participate in voter fraud. The doctors said they were ordered to tell patients that if they didn't vote for Maduro they would lose medical services. The doctors also were given counterfeit cards to vote even though they were not eligible voters. They witnessed vote tampering with officials opening ballot boxes and destroyed ballots, and they were told to instruct easily manipulated elderly patients in how to vote. In an even more desperate move, the Maduro government had other government employees dress up as fake doctors to go out and dispense medicines for votes without really knowing the medicine. “They were putting the lives of so many people at risk, the lives of children, all to win votes,” said Dr. Raúl Manuel, one of the Cubans interviewed.
Maduro's final campaign rally on 17 May was an example of corruption that Donald Trump will undoubtedly try to top because the Tal Cual newspaper called it the "greatest demonstration of corruption" for its "shameless" use of state resources. The paper published the PSUV party operational plan for the rally. Instead of assigning tasks to party members, they were assigned directly to the ministries and other public agencies: PDVSA, the state-run oil company, was responsible for the main stage, the backing, the sound system, and generators. The Ministry for Mining Development was responsible for decoration. The Defense Ministry was responsible for fireworks, and other agencies were responsible for portable toilets, refreshments, etc. The plan even specified that those closest to the stage should be militia members dressed as civilians.
When election day finally rolled around almost exactly a year ago, 20 May 2018, incumbent Nicolás Maduro won in a landslide, getting 68% of the vote in an election that had the lowest voter turnout for a presidential race in Venezuelan history, with less than half the voters casting ballots.
The countries that have refused to recognize the results of this election include Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Japan, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Lucia, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Many of the countries that did recognize the results where either shaky on democratic traditions, such as Turkey and South Africa, or themselves ruled by authoritarians that pretend to be the people's choice, including Russia, China, Syria, Cuba, Iran, Belarus, and Egypt. His election was also recognized by a number of countries dependent on Venezuelan oil, including St. Vincent, Grenadines, Antigua, Barbuda, and Dominica.
Today Maduro may enjoy the militant support of the white Left, but it is estimated that he has the support of less than 20% of the people he so "democratically" rules over. He maintains his grip on power largely because the military backs him. At the beginning of the year Human Rights Watch published the result of an investigation into the lengths Maduro has been willing to go to to insure the loyalty of his army:
Venezuela: Suspected Plotters TorturedMilitary Officers, Family Members Detained and Abused
9 January 2018
(Washington, DC) – Venezuelan intelligence and security forces have detained and tortured military personnel accused of plotting against the government, Human Rights Watch and the Venezuelan nongovernmental group Foro Penal said today. Authorities have also detained and tortured the family members of some suspects in an effort to determine their whereabouts.
Some detainees were subjected to egregious abuses that amount to torture to force them to provide information about alleged conspiracies. In most cases, members of the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) or the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) carried out the arrests. More...
As we can see from the quotes from Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, and Veterans for Peace that began this post, they and many other representatives of the white Left, don't just oppose the blatant imperialist aggression coming from the US toward Venezuela, and its attempts to use popular discontent against the Venezuelan government to make mischief, they positively stand with that government against the people when proclaiming that the Maduro government has been democratically elected is to make a mockery of the term.
Embassy Protection Collective, a group of US Maduro supporters from the white Left that have gone from fighting US imperialism to supporting the Maduro wing of the internal Venezuelan struggle by occupying the abandoned Venezuelan Embassy in the name of that government. Their support for Maduro is based on his claims to have been legitimately elected president. Because they see Maduro as fighting US imperialism, their need to support him causes them to overlook the bankruptcy of the process that kept him in power. They do this by taking the narrowest possible, and most technocratic view, of the electoral process. This is how Zeese assured Democracy Now listeners and viewers that Maduro's election was on the up and up:
I was in Venezuela last May for the re-election of President Maduro. There was actually an election. He was not a dictator. Nine million people voted. Maduro received 6 million votes. There were more than 150 international election observers, and they unanimously came out and said that it met international standards for democracy, there was no fraud, and Maduro was legitimately elected.Those Maduro friendly international election observers that everyone cites as proof the election was fair, wrote a letter to the EU protesting that body's decision not to recognize the results of the election. Among other things, their letter made this extraordinary claim:
There was no vote buying because there is no way that a vote CAN be bought. The procedure itself precludes any possibility of anyone knowing how a voter cast her or his vote.Of course, many Venezuelans don't believe that their "Fatherland Cards" only record if they voted, not how they voted. This is especially true because PSUV party members were telling voters that the card did record how they voted. For example Reuters reported:
Current and former Cantv employees say the database registers if, but not how, a person voted. Still, some voters were led to believe the government would know. The belief is having a chilling effect.I'm sure Kevin Zeese wouldn't know anything about that. I'm sure the Maduro government is "democratic" enough for people of color as far as the representatives of the US white Left in the Embassy Protection Collective are concerned, but they would never accept this "democracy" for themselves.
One organizer of a food handout committee in the west-central city of Barinas said government managers had instructed her and colleagues to tell recipients their votes could be tracked. “We’ll find out if you voted for or against,” she said she told them.