Armando Chaguaceda

A view of Caracas on Election Day. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — Those of us who had been following the Venezuelan elections had not expected it: the narrow victory of the Chavista presidential candidate was a veritable surprise for political adversaries and adherents alike.

Despite having tapped all of the symbolic capital bequeathed him by the recently deceased Hugo Chávez, mobilized the State’s immense apparatus and budget and having a partial Electoral Council in his favor, Nicolás Maduro was not elected, as he had predicted, with 10 million votes. In fact, he didn’t even manage to satisfy my prediction, that he would win by 7 percentage points.

On the contrary, he managed to secure 8.37% less votes than were obtained on October 7. By comparison, the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, ignored by the state media and with far fewer campaign resources than his rival at his disposal, went up in popularity by 10.30%, consolidating himself as the leader of that half of Venezuela opposed to Chávez’ project.

Aware that Maduro had the lead, Capriles relied on an electoral strategy which consisted in his sympathizers going to the polls steadily as the day progressed.

The aim was to neutralize the so-called “Operation Tow-Truck” (“Operación Remolque”), a strategy which had yielded impressive results for the Chavistas in the past presidential elections, whereby the list of those who had voted was compared to different social policy data bases at midday on election day, so as to identify probable supporters who had not yet voted and get them to the ballot boxes.

Neither candidate had a clear lead as the votes began to be tabulated. According to reliable sources, Capriles was ahead by 3 percentage points sometime in the early evening, a lead that gradually dwindled as the hours passed.

The National Electoral Council (CNE) convened to count the votes, gathering for longer than was customary. It reminded me of December 2, 2007 and voting on Venezuela’s Constitutional Referendum, in which Chávez’ government tasted its first defeat at the ballot boxes.

For the time being, it looks as though oil shipments to Cuba and other countries which comprise the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) face no immediate threat. However the room for maneuvering of the Maduro government at the regional level is now in question

The delay of the CNE’s announcement, the meetings of the High Command held at the Ministry of Defense, the tension and silence that took hold of the streets…the fireworks in Chavista neighborhoods…the rumors of a victory for the opposition spread through Twitter…it was a confusing spectacle where no one had the lead and nothing was yet decided.

Later, in the speech he would deliver from the presidential balcony, Maduro would resort to a familiar triumphalism, without even acknowledging that half of Venezuela is opposed to his government.

To make matters worse, he made a fatal – though unwittingly very apt – analogy, comparing his narrow victory to that of President Felipe Calderón some years back, forgetting that, on that occasion, the Mexican Left had, with good reason, requested a recount of the votes, a request that was ultimately denied.

Maduro, who claimed the Mexican Left had peacefully accepted the election results, attempting to legitimate his tight victory with vague comparisons to elections in other countries, is apparently unaware of this.

This immediately sparked off a debate among several of us who had been discussing the issues on Facebook, prompting the following question: if, then, we maintained that it was unjust to deny the Mexican opposition that right (a move that raised serious questions about the legitimacy of those elections), is it not just that we maintain a similar attitude and make the same demand in connection with the Venezuelan elections? This is what I understand by “democratic coherence”.

In the end, the image presented us by the CNE at midnight on April 14th showed 50.66% of the votes for Maduro and 49.07% for Capriles. Seeing these results, the CNE Director, Vicente Díaz (the one opposition member on the Council), requested a popular audit, aware that Maduro could lose the lead when results come in from abroad, where the opposition traditionally secures more votes.

This has been the briefest and most intense electoral process that Venezuela has experienced since 1999. It has also been the most suspect, because of the more than 3,000 irregularities caught sight of during election day, from the harassment of voters and supervisors, through the theft of ballot boxes, to campaign propaganda tactics deployed by Chavistas at polling places.

The delay of the CNE’s announcement, the meetings of the High Command held at the Ministry of Defense, the tension and silence that took hold of the streets…the fireworks in Chavista neighborhoods…the rumors of a victory for the opposition spread through Twitter…it was a confusing spectacle where no one had the lead and nothing was yet decided.

I feel it is time, thus, to ask of Venezuelan democracy what we demanded, in Mexico, for the candidate who went against the dominant powers in 2006: a recount of the votes, to weed out all irregularities and dispel all doubts regarding the final result.

Beyond these elections, we must accompany the Venezuelan people in their struggle to build, with everyone’s help, a country without exclusion: neither social, inherited from governments before Chavez’, nor political, consolidated in the course of these past 14 years (under Chavez).

These have been the best electoral results secured by the opposition since 1998, placing it, statistically, as the first governmental alternative at the next elections.

Lastly, it is worth noting that these results undermine Maduro’s authority within the Bolivarian movement, something which may spell an imminent internal crisis.

For the time being, it looks as though oil shipments to countries which comprise the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) face no immediate threat. However the room for maneuvering of the Maduro government at the regional level is now in question

Though Sunday’s vote may signal to Cuba that it need not hasten its economic reforms, the island should not lose from sight the fact that the work of its officials within Venezuelan politics has not sufficed to consolidate Maduro’s authority. Likewise, the presence of Cuban military and intelligence advisers was alleged during the campaign by the opposition.


Armando Chaguaceda

Armando Chaguaceda: My curriculum vitae presents me as a historian and political scientist. I'm from an unclassifiable generation who collected the achievements, frustrations and promises of the Cuban Revolution and now resists on the island or contributes through numerous websites, trying to remain human without dying in the attempt.

4 thoughts on “Uncertainties after the Venezuelan Elections

  • April 15, 2013 at 6:15 pm
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    I was surprised at the closeness of the election as most opinion polls showed Maduro with a 10 to 15 point lead.

    Hopefully, both sides of the political divide will stop demonizing each other, and instead focus on many of the social and economic challenges facing their country.

  • April 15, 2013 at 1:58 pm
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    Grady, you have no proof of any “powerful US government subversive apparatus” supporting Capriles. I can guess why you and people who think like you would imagine this in your head, but why would you write something you just made up or worse, you heard some other airhead say. By the way, given the pace at which the Maduro campaign was self-destructing, if the election had taken place a week later, he would have lost convincingly.

  • April 15, 2013 at 12:59 pm
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    Chavez’ policies were not working optimally. Inflation has more than wiped out the modest increases in subsidies for the poor. Soaring crime rates, scarcities in basic commodities, a falling standard of living, climbing unemployment and rising inflation is what the Venezuelan people have to look forward to.

  • April 15, 2013 at 11:29 am
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    I don’t think anyone is surprised that Maduro’s percentage of votes went down somewhat from that achieved by Chavez. It was almost inevitable. The idea expressed in this article, that Capriles was a great underdog due to lack of resources however, seems far fetched.

    He had the support of the powerful US government subversive apparatus, and all its Venezuelan collaborators and dupes, plus the powerful and pervasive Venezuelan mass media which worked tirelessly to subvert Maduro’s candidacy–as it had worked tirelessly to subvert and defeat the Chavista project from day one.

    The real import of the close election seems to be–as Armando points out–that close to half the Venezuelan people did not express electoral support for the Chavista policies. One would think that it should have been closer to 75%, if the policies were working optimally.

    Best wishes for the Venezuelan people.

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