April 18, 2013
Set against the backdrop of a deeply polarized election campaign over
the future of the post-Hugo Chavez era, it became clear late Sunday
night that Nicholas Maduro would become the next President of
Venezuela—albeit with a very narrow margin. When the final vote count
came in, it was announced that Maduro had won with 50.7% of the vote,
with his opponent Henrique Capriles taking 49%. In the absence of any
unforeseen situations, Maduro is scheduled to be officially sworn in on
Given the 1.7% margin of victory, Capriles is alleging widespread
irregularities and is demanding a manual recount of all votes. Until
this happens, Capriles has publicly stated that he will regard Maduro
as “an illegitimate president.” Secretary of State John Kerry was quick
to jump on the opposition bandwagon, telling a hearing of the U.S.
House Foreign Affairs Committee that
"We think there ought to be a recount. . . . Obviously if there are
huge irregularities we're going to have serious questions about the
viability of that government."
According to the National Electoral Council, due to the nature of
Venezuela’s voting system, it is impossible to conduct a manual recount
of all votes. In response to the opposition’s demands for a 100%
recount, Venezuelan Chief Justice Luisa Estella Morales said that the
nation’s 1999 constitution eliminated manual recounts, reaffirming that
"In Venezuela the electoral system is completely automated. Therefore, a
manual count does not exist. Anyone who thought that could really
happen has been deceived. . . . The majority of those who are asking for
a manual count know it and are clear about it. Elections are not
audited ballot by ballot but through the system." Instead, the National Electoral Council said it had conducted an audit of 54% of the ballots and their respective voting slips.
During the elections on Sunday, international observers did not
report any incidents or suspicious activities which were of concern.
Such groups included a delegation from the U.S. Lawyers Guild, members of the Scottish Parliament, and former presidents
Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic and Alvaro Colom of
Guatemala. In September 2012, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter remarked that
"As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we've monitored, I would
say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world."
In a televised speech Maduro responded by stating that
"The U.S. intervention in Venezuelan internal affairs in recent months,
and particularly during the election campaign, has been brutal, vulgar.
. . . Its direct coordination with the 'yellow bourgeois,' with the
oligarchs, has been truly obscene.” Such responses have bolstered the
opposition supporters, leading to a further polarization of the country.
Since Sunday, the ongoing political clashes have resulted in eight reported deaths and hundreds of injuries and arrests. It has also been reported that
Cuban medical doctors have been the targets of opposition violence—with
several Cuban staffed clinics set on fire by opposition supporters.
Attacks have also been reported on the Telesur and VTV media buildings, in addition to the houses of various government officials.
While Maduro did not give specifics of U.S. intervention in his
speech, based on the historical record such claims should not be
dismissed as simply wild speculation. It has become commonly understood
that USAID, the International Republican Institute, and the National
Endowment for Democracy have all funded and strategized with the
Furthermore, the New York Times
has acknowledged that in 2002 that the C.I.A. backed a coup d’etat
against Chavez, which was foiled due to immediate popular pressure for
his reinstatement. Despite their failure in 2002, the U.S. government
remained undeterred in their quest to undermine Chavez. Such was
revealed in a 2006 Wikileaks cable
that outlined U.S. government’s five-point strategy to weaken the
Chavez government. The five points are outlined as being: strengthening
democratic institutions, penetrating Chavez's political base, dividing
Chavismo, protecting vital U.S. business interests, and isolating Chavez
As of Wednesday, the governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad, and Uruguay have all come forward and congratulated Maduro on his electoral victory. Regional organizations such
as MERCOSUR and UNASUR have all offered their congratulations to Maduro
for his electoral victory. Tellingly, the U.S. backed Organization of
American States refrained from openly accepting the results.
In reference to the U.S. position articulated by John Kerry, Bolivian President Evo Morales remarked that
“I would like to express that this is a flagrant U.S. interference in
Venezuela’s democracy, as neither that spokesperson nor the U.S.
government has moral authority to question electoral results in any
Latin American country or around the world.” Similarly, Argentinean
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has also criticized the stance
of the State Department regarding their failure to recognize the victory
of Maduro, stating that
“I dare ask, with much humility, [that] the government of the United
States . . . recognize the Venezuelan government after transparent and
However, close or controversial election contests are nothing new to
the hemisphere. In the 2000 U.S. Presidential election, an extremely
tight race led to a recount of votes in Florida. It was later revealed
that African American voting precincts had three times the number of
discarded or spoiled ballots in a result where George Bush won by 537
votes. In 2012, the U.S. was quick to congratulate Enrique Peña Nieto’s
victory over the left leaning Andrés Manuel López Obrador—despite widespread allegations of voter fraud and bribery. The United States has also given the thumbs up to the 2010 elections in Haiti where Michel Martelly was elected in a race in which 14 political parties were banned, or in Honduras in 2009
when the United States recognized an election which institutionalized
the coup d’etat of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. The
list is much longer; however, political double standard should be
obvious to anyone.
Despite this record of selective support for democracy, the U.S.
mainstream media attacks upon Maduro have been relentless—portraying his
victory as part of a sinister plot. An April 16 piece by the Washington
Post editorial board highlighted their collective ignorance of the
situation and the nostalgia for a return to the Monroe Doctrine by remarking that
“The (Obama) administration should begin coordinating with Mexico,
Chile, and other important Latin American democracies to prevent Mr.
Maduro from killing his way into power.”
While it is understandable that the United States is not pleased with
the outcome of the election in Venezuela given their economic
interests, it does not give them the right to undermine the political
process of a sovereign country. Such irresponsible editorials and
political posturing by the U.S. media and government no doubt add fuel
to the opposition’s fire and puts hopes for a peaceful settlement
further out of reach.
While the situation in Venezuela still remains tense and unclear, one
can only hope that a peaceful political settlement can be reached. It
should be the duty of the international community to help Venezuela
achieve this goal—not undermine it. If the goal is for the democracy to
run its course in Venezuela, it is incredibly important that
anti-democratic means do not become the tools of choice in order to
bring about a change in government more favorable
to U.S. interests. Anything else risks sending the country onto a path
of prolonged political conflict and economic regression which will only
harm the Venezuelan people and severely damage the already strained
relations between the United States and Latin America.