Situation in Venezuela (short version)

Amidst the Boston Marathon bombings, the Texas plant explosion, and the recent Boston/MIT shootings, I bring you some more news to keep you on your toes.

Some of you may have heard about the unrest in Venezuela after this past Sunday’s elections. I wanted to give you a quick summary of what has happened. I’ll save the discussion of why Chavismo has been so destructive to Venezuela for later and stick to the facts now.

Mega quick summary:
(Note: this is a work in progress and I’m still adding references–ignore the empty brackets)

Venezuelan Presidential elections were held on Sunday. The two main candidates were Maduro (Chavez’s chosen successor) and Henrique Capriles Radonski (HCR, current governor of Miranda and main opposition leader). The CNE (National Elections Council) announced results on Sunday night, putting Maduro ahead by a narrow margin (235,000 votes) [].

The margin was small enough and there were enough irregularities throughout the elections that HCR decided to call for a full audit of the ballot boxes (Venezuelan votes are digital, but you get a physical receipt that you drop in a box, which can later be used to verify the digital tallies). Such audits are abided by the law–anyone has 15 business days to file a petition for it []. The CNE had, until last night, chosen to ignore such petitions and declared Maduro as the winner (note that 4 out of 5 of the CNE’s directors are from the same party as Maduro).

People took to the streets in protest on Monday and Tuesday. There were some confrontations and violence: people hitting/shooting other people [], the national guard (GNB) shooting (tear gas and pellets) against civilians [], buildings vandalized and set on fire (party offices from both sides, telecom networks) [], etc. So far at least 8 people have died, hundreds have been injured and detained. There have been clear violations of human rights (e.g. footage of a national guardsman shooting (pellets) at an unresisting civilian) [].

The opposition is demanding an audit/recount. If Maduro had won legitimately, there should be no reason why he would oppose this. The opposition is also reporting over 3,000 documented irregularities that occurred throughout election day. These include instances of assisted vote (where someone looks over your shoulder while you vote) [], illegal proselytism at voting centers, voter intimidation by hordes near centers [], centers illegally closing earlier or later than they were supposed to close, witnesses being expelled from centers (sometimes with death threats), etc. The law states that anywhere these events occur, the votes should be void and recast. The CNE and Maduro had chosen to ignore all these claims, until last night!

[On a personal note, I ran a quick analysis over the numbers that the CNE had put forth initially and wrote it up on a blog post []. My blog (that I created on Monday just for this) was subsequently blocked by the government-owned ISP. It has been unblocked since yesterday.]

During the week, government workers who voted for HCR started getting fired from their jobs (there have been two documented cases of this–one of which is a recording of a manager openly saying that he’ll fire everyone who voted HCR) [][]. In the National Assembly (the AN, equivalent of Congress), opposition delegates have been denied the right to speak by its president (who is from the same party as Maduro) []. One of the congressmen was physically assaulted–a microphone was thrown at his face [].

Things have been calming down a bit more recently. The opposition continued to push for the audit through legal means, and HCR tried to maintain peace by urging his supporters NOT to go out and protest in the streets (even though some supporters saw this as a sign of weakness). Instead, he urges them to protest from home by banging on pots in what is known as a cacerolazo [].

We got our first victory last night. After an 8-hour discussion with the opposition, the CNE announced that it would conduct an audit of the remaining 46% of the tables (54% are audited by default) throughout the next month. However, they did not specify the terms of the audit (ballot box, voting books, fingerprint scanners, etc.). Nothing was said about what is to be done, if anything, about the remaining reported irregularities. Regardless of the audit, Maduro was sworn in today. Despite all of this, HCR has shown that the all-powerful government that would never give in before, can in fact be pressured into giving in to the people’s demands, at least partially.

My take is that no proof of wrongdoing will come out from the full audit, either because there was no wrongdoing (in the actual vote counting), or because they would’ve had enough time to dot their i’s and cross their t’s by then. The real wrongdoing here has happened before and during the election day: the use of government funds to finance Maduro’s campaign, the unfairness candidate airtime (allowing HCR 30-seconds of airtime per day during the campaign, while Maduro went on 5+ hour nationwide broadcasts), the freebies handed out to pro-Chavez voters, the voter intimidation through violence and fear of losing your job, and all the other irregularities that I’ve already mentioned.

Nonetheless, I think it is a step forward. I think HCR has gathered even more support throughout these days. The opposition has offered support to those who have been wrongfully arrested or unreasonably fired from their jobs. Maduro has proven to be a weak leader, has been caught outright lying[], has lost hundreds of thousands of supporters, and is simply (IMO) incapable of moving the country forward given the dire state that Chavez left it at (especially now that money will be tight since oil prices are going down). The end is near. My pessimistic prediction is that in 3 years Maduro will be ousted in a recall referendum.

That’s it for the “short” version. Thanks for reading. What really happened is much more nuanced than this overview. I’m working on a longer version that offers more detail and explanations. I’ll update this and FB/G+ when it’s ready.

–to be completed. For the time being, I’m collecting all references here.
[] William Davila assaulted at National Assembly (Spanish).