Venezuela Update: Confusion in Caracas…and Washington

Photo credit: INTERNATIONAL REALTOR / Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: INTERNATIONAL REALTOR | Foter.com | CC-BY

Three weeks after elections to choose Hugo Chávez’s successor, confusion still reigns in both Caracas and Washington.  The Venezuelan opposition has rejected the results of the election, which the electoral tribunal says Chávez’s handpicked man – Nicolás Maduro – won by only 1.8 percent.  Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles originally asked only for a vote recount – considered reasonable by many because of the narrow margin – but his lawyers upped the ante on 2 May when they officially demanded that the vote be invalidated and new elections be held.  Isolated incidents of political violence turned up the heat in Caracas, although the Götterdämmerung scenarios in the streets that some analysts predicted have not yet materialized.

Every major country of the hemisphere has recognized Maduro as President – except the United States.  (Canada wavered at first but seems to have moved on.)  Washington has invested millions of dollars in “democracy promotion” programs over the years and has provided Capriles and the opposition enduring political support in their efforts to beat Chávez at the polls and later to beat Maduro as his hand-picked successor.  Since the April election, the U.S. government has endorsed the opposition’s call for a vote recount.  So has the OAS, which offered experts to assist in the process.  But only Washington has said that while it is “working with” the Maduro Government, it doesn’t recognize its legitimacy.  The State Department spokesman dodged the issue repeatedly last week, and in an interview with Univisión broadcast at the conclusion of his visit to Mexico last Friday, President Obama himself refused to say whether his Administration officially recognized Maduro as President.  He left little doubt as to his real position, however, when he said that basic principles of human rights, democracy, press freedom and freedom of assembly were not observed in Venezuela following the election.

As AULABLOG pointed out on 23 April, the irony of the United States demanding a hand-count of the ballots is not lost on millions of Latin Americans who remember Washington’s performance in the 2000 Bush-Gore vote – and that it was a politically divided Supreme Court that made the final decision.  The tightness of the vote, Venezuelan electoral realities (past and present), and President Maduro’s over-the-top rhetoric – last week he again accused Washington of backing “neo-Nazis” allegedly trying to overthrow his government and accused a filmmaker of being a spy – make it hard for observers to argue that the elections are legitimate.  President Obama’s statements, including his remark that the spying charge was “ridiculous,” have been measured and continue a noteworthy shift since the near-hysteria about Venezuela during the Bush Administration.  But the fact remains that the U.S. Government’s posture on Venezuela – perhaps unique in its bilateral relations with Latin America since the Cold War – has made it once again the outrider and, among people who remember the Bush-Gore decision, the butt of many jokes.  Importantly, Capriles may be reading Washington’s stance as an endorsement of his own increasingly puzzling demands.  As our 23 April post suggested, Capriles ought to see himself as having a historic chance to lead, poised to challenge Chavismo easily at the polls the next time around.  Yet, like Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador in 2006, he may be squandering an opportunity to present himself to the Venezuelan electorate as the responsible grownup in the room.

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8 Comments

  1. Your analysis curiously ignores the documented irregularities that marred the election, like blatant abuse of public media, voter intimidation, violence, “assisted voting”, threats to public officers, etc. In view of these and other allegations, to be substantiated in the coming trial, there is nothing “puzzling” about Capriles’ demands. As always, some analysts from developed countries hold double standards: they close their eyes in face of blatant unfairness that they wouldn’t accept for a minute in their own countries’ elections.

    Reply
    • And how would a total or partial recount address these issues? It seems to me that a recount tells you how many votes each side got. Not whether the campaign was fair, or the advantages of incumbency were exploited, or threats were used against opponents — all of which adds up to the abuse of power but doesn’t make a case for fraud or a miscount of the votes.

      Reply
      • You’re right that a simple recount, as the one being now done by the CNE, won’t address the general unfairness of the campaign, but what the opposition is asking for is an audit, that is, a full review of all the instruments used for voting, including the voter rolls (“cuadernos de votación”). The opposition alleges that voting results were altered by allowing multiple votes by people with multiple IDs and by people using deceased people’s IDs. They have documented cases of opposition witnesses being expelled at gunpoint in order to facilitate these practices. The opposition has also asked for the data on non-conformity between fingerprints and IDs, which would substantiate the charge of multiple voting, but the CNE has stubbornly stalled on its promise of showing that data for the October, December and April elections.

  2. Mitch

     /  May 7, 2013

    Any one of these irregularities would render an election void or partially annulled in any other country. The fact that the CNE refuses to do the part of the audit which will substantiate the fraud speaks volumes. What is the fear to do a full audit? That is what an audit is. To take ALL the information and make an analysis. To allow the country to plunge into such uncertainty, the CNE and ruling PSUV party are seriously damaging the entire electoral system. And it is probably because they have something to hide. We may see an exodus of people when it all comes out not unlike what happened after the fall of Perez Jimenez.

    Reply
  3. I put this in my blog, http://www.lasarmasdecoronel.blogspot.com :
    AMERICAN UNIVERSITY LATIN AMERICAN BLOG
    Venezuela Update: Confusion in Caracas…and Washington
    by clalsstaff

    An article by members of the faculty of American University carried the article on Venezuela titled as shown in above link. The article contains, in our view, some important errors of perception or interpretation. I comment on them below:
    AULA blog: Three weeks after elections to choose Hugo Chávez’s successor, confusion still reigns in both Caracas and Washington. The Venezuelan opposition has rejected the results of the election, which the electoral tribunal says Chávez’s handpicked man – Nicolás Maduro – won by only 1.8 percent. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles originally asked only for a vote recount – considered reasonable by many because of the narrow margin – but his lawyers upped the ante on 2 May when they officially demanded that the vote be invalidated and new elections be held.
    My comment: This is incorrect. Capriles asked for a recount and he was offered a partial exercise that did not include the voter lists that are an integral part of the process. Without these lists the exercise was a mockery. Then only then, Capriles introduced a fomal legal recourse against the elections.
    AULA Blog: Every major country of the hemisphere has recognized Maduro as President – except the United States. (Canada wavered at first but seems to have moved on.) Washington has invested millions of dollars in “democracy promotion” programs over the years and has provided Capriles and the opposition enduring political support in their efforts to beat Chávez at the polls and later to beat Maduro as his hand-picked successor.
    My comment: Presidents who have benefited from Chavez’s past prodigality have been the ones recognizing Maduro, while privately twisting Maduro’s arm to go ahead with a proper recount and obtaining from him such a promise during UNASUR’s recent meeting. In fact, they now feel deceived by Maduro since he has broken his promise and are now reconsidering their invertebrate attitude. Peru is asking for another meeting of UNASUR in this regard. Legislatures in Uruguay, Peru, Paraguay, Chile and other countries are rejecting Maduro. The international mood is turning rapidly against Maduro, as evidence of fraud are mounting. In this respect, the U.S. has been correct in holding a recognition of Maduro as legitimate president. Your assertion that Washington has spent “millions of dollars” to help Capriles to defeat Chavez and Maduro is frankly audacious and totally absent of proof.
    AULA blog: Yet, like Mexico’s Andres Manuel López Obrador in 2006, he [Capriles] may be squandering an opportunity to present himself to the Venezuelan electorate as the responsible grownup in the room.
    My comment: As opposed to Lopez Obrador, Capriles has collected impressive evidence of fraud that is presenting to the Supreme Tribunal of Justice and, eventually, to international organizations, since the tribunal is in the hands of the regime and does not offer any chance of being impartial.

    Reply
  4. Eric Hershberg

     /  May 13, 2013

    We welcome the opportunity to air differences of views: dispassionate debate is what the AULA blog aims to promote. To associate us with “sandalismo” http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=8125355648059480100&postID=6916472539700056876 reflects both a misreading of our political and intellectual trajectories, as well as a resort to the sort of name-calling that we think has clouded understandings of Latin America in the United States. The roots and consequences of such gestures are a topic for a separate discussion. Here I’ll simply focus on the original AULA post regarding the Venezuelan election and its aftermath.

    It seems to me that where our perceptions differ from those of Mr. Coronel is not for the most part on the empirical details but rather on how to interpret them. Our comment about Capriles having “upped the ante” by calling for annulment of the election strikes us as accurate, and the question is whether it was a wise tactic. We think not, and we think that the comparison with Lopez Obrador’s political strategy in 2006 is valid regardless of how justified either party was in their respective accusations of fraud. Concerning the position taken by Latin American governments, we think that it is misleading to suggest as Mr. Coronel does that support for Maduro’s inauguration was limited to countries that had benefited from “Chavez’s past prodigality,” or that the stance taken by Peru’s Foreign Minister implies “reconsider(ation) of (an) invertebrate attitude” or, more specifically, a sign that the region’s governments are tilting away from their preference for Maduro. As for Washington’s investments in defeating Chavismo, we don’t know how else to characterize the expenditures made in Venezuela over more than a decade by the Congressionally-funded National Endowment for Democracy. Whether the NED’s “democracy promotion” efforts are prudent in the 21st century is also a topic for a future discussion – we believe that they are not – but to deny that they constitute an attempt to defeat Chavismo simply makes no sense.

    On some matters we agree with Mr. Coronel, e.g. in an earlier post we referred to the government’s abuse of the advantages of incumbency. While we share the conclusion of analysts such as Max Cameron (http://blogs.ubc.ca/cameron/2013/02/26/delegative-vs-liberal-democracy-in-latin-america/), to the effect that the abuses do not cross the threshold where Venezuela should no longer be characterized as a (deeply flawed and imperiled) democracy, in part because of the capture of institutions such as the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, that threshold is admittedly murky and fair-minded observers will reach disparate conclusions.

    Reply
  5. This discussion reflects a series of deep misunderstandings about the nature of election fraud and how to handle it. In Venezuela elections are unfair. There is no question about that. Venezuela has a politicized state that is used to stack the deck against the opposition. And since the election, the opposition has suffered much mistreatment at the hands of the government. (It is also the case that the opposition has often misbehaved, but let’s leave that aside for a minute). There is a difference between an election that is unfair and one that is fraudulent. Fraud means that the outcome has been misrepresented. That the votes have not been counted honestly. That someone fiddled with the numbers. That the real winner lost. That the loser usurped power. That is fraud. It used to happen in Mexico all the time. Nowadays, it is very rare.

    Fraud does not mean voter suppression. It does not mean the abuse of incumbency advantages. It does not mean having an electoral list that is incomplete or has inaccuracies. It does not mean the intimidation of opponents, or inducements to vote. Those things are different from fraud in the specific sense that they cannot be demonstrated much less rectified by recounting the votes. There are many things that are wrong with Venezuelan elections. Fraud is not among them. What the critics of the election seem to want is for the election to be annulled on the basis of unfairness. That is fine. Just don’t suggest that a full recount is how you do that. You do that by building a democratic movement to argue conscientiously for freer and fairer elections.

    The Venezuelan election gave us a pretty fair snapshot of the state of Venezuela today. It is deeply divided. Both sides need to learn to compromise and to work within a common set of political rules. A good starting point would be to use clear language. Let’s call a spade a spade. And let’s drop the loose talk of fraud. It earns you zero credibility.

    Reply
    • Roy

       /  June 2, 2013

      You are wrong. There are around 600,000 votes that are considered to be fraudulent. Some of those votes include people who are die and are not living anymore. In the electoral votes around 200,000 thousand voters do not have signature. Also, There are some centers in “los llanos” controlled by the FARC where the same guy gets to vote 40 times. Also, we have to highlight that the transmission was interrupted more than hour in the voting centers that are considered opposition neighborhoods . Your analysis is biased because you have not lived in Venezuela and it takes many years to understand a country. I go to AU pero pareciera que “no sabes como se bate el cobre hoy en dia en Vzla” la trampa fue clara esta vez y asi es todo en Vzla una trampa, sobreprecios, sobornos, amenazas. Las elecciones solo fue la muestra de como se mueve el pais hoy en dia (by cheating).

      Reply

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