When asked in a very recent Venezuelan poll who they considered to be the legitimate president of Venezuela 57% replied Nicolas Maduro, the elected president of the country, compared to just 32% for Juan Guaido who “declared” himself president on January 23.
The same polling firm reports that over 80% of Venezuelans oppose any form of military intervention which Guaido has said he wouldn’t reject. A similar percentage rejected economic sanctions as well. Guaido has recently become President of the opposition-controlled National Assembly because the four main parties in the bitterly divided opposition had agreed to take the presidency in turns. It was Guaido’s party Voluntad Popular’s turn. Despite his violent right wing party only holding 14 out of 167 seats, he then simply declared himself President of the country after being encouraged to do so by the US government and its agencies.
It seems clear that a big majority of the people of Venezuela simply refuse to accept the imposition of a new leader for their country by the US empire.
Venezuela is a deeply divided nation. What became known as the Bolivarian revolutionary process was initiated with the election in 1998 of Hugo Chavez as president of that country. Since then the government has been in conflict with the wealthy oligarchy who had been used to running the country and looting the oil wealth for their own advantage. The white Spanish descended elite displays a deep class and race prejudice and bigotry towards the darker African and indigenous poor majority, of course. The US empire has always been a reliable ally of the Venezuelan oligarchy in this task. That has been true in a long and bloody history throughout Latin America.
The US openly supported the completely unjustified military coup in 2002 that only lasted a few days because of the mass opposition that erupted on the streets of Caracas and other cities that is wonderfully recorded in the film The Revolution Will Not be Televised now available and a must watch on youtube.
The opposition to the Bolivarian revolution has resorted to military coups, mass demonstrations, US-led economic sanctions, big business lockouts, violence and thuggery to try and impose their will. 75% of business activity remains in private hands as does the majority of the media. Sometimes the opposition participates in elections and accepts the result but they often boycott the elections they know they will lose in order to undermine their legitimacy.
But it is almost impossible to defraud the election process in Venezuela. A person must present their ID and are then have their identity confirmed by fingerprint. They then cast an electronic vote which is recorded and a print out of the vote provided to the voter to check it is correct. This paper ballot is then kept in a separate box to be checked against the electronic ballot in an audit of 55% of all polling booths to prevent cheating. Former US president Jimmy Carter along with many hundreds of official observers election testify to their validity.
Here are some election results:
1998 Presidential election: Hugo Chavez wins by 3.7m to 2.6m – 56% to 40%.
2000 Presidential election: Hugo Chavez wins by 3.75M t.o 2.36m – 60%.
2004 Presidential recall referendum: Chavez wins by 4.99m to 3.57m. – 58% to 42%
2006 Presidential election: Chavez wins by 7.3m to 4.3m – 63% to 37%.
2010 National Assembly election (not boycotted) Government 5.45m Opposition 5.3m. 48-47%
2012 Presidential election: Chavez wins by 8.2m to 6.6m – 55.1% to 44.3%.
Voter participation steadily increased from less than 60% to 80% in 2012. Chavez’s vote went from 3.7 to 8.2m. The opposition votes also increased but not enough to undermine the overwhelming support for Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution. This is why the opposition keeps resorting to economic sabotage, violence and coups to try and get their way.
However, Chavez died in 2013 and at the same time, oil prices collapsed. 80% of Venezuela’s foreign exchange came from oil. Under Chavez, it was used to reduce poverty from 80% to 20%. But it became difficult to sustain these programmes as fully as before. To take advantage of the perceived weakening of the economy and popular support for the government, the economic sanctions by the US and sabotage by internal opponents was intensified. In the election forced by Chavez’s death, Nicholas Maduro represented the government and Bolivarian revolutionary movement and the opposition united around Henrique Capriles.
2013 Presidential election: Nicolas Maduro 7.587m to Henrique Capriles 7.364m – 50.6% to 49.1%.
Clearly, the results were much closer but Maduro was still the clear winner.
The economic conditions continued to deteriorate as the economic blockade intensified and the opposition launched violent anti-regime protests through 2014 and 2015 to try and overthrow the government.
Then came the 2015 National Assembly election which was the only one in the last two decades the opposition can claim they won fair and square. Then they blew their opportunity as I will explain.
2015 National Assembly elections: Opposition 7.73m Pro-Government 5.62m – 56% to 41%.
This was a clear win. It seems clear that a section of the Bolivarian movement’s base used the election to register a kind of protest vote.
However, Venezuela, like the United States, is a Presidential system of government so Maduro remained head of state. Five seats were ruled by the courts to have been elected in an unlawful manner and new elections for these seats were ordered. But the opposition simply refused to accept the court’s rulings for the three they held and seated the three unlawfully. The court then ruled the National Assembly was in violation of the constitution and no decisions they made could have legal force.
The opposition continued to use the assembly as a sounding board and a tool to try and overthrow the government. It became clear what their programme would be – destroying the social programmes in favour of the poor and privatising the oil industry. They fomented violent protests in 2016 and again in 2017 and very soon had completely discredited themselves.
A section of the Bolivarian base had decided to make a protest vote in 2015, but they did not want the opposition to use that vote to try and derail the entire the revolutionary process and destroy the gains that had been made by working people in the previous two decades.
The opposition-controlled polling bodies discovered that the approval rating for the National Assembly dropped to 25% – levels matching those for president Maduro and the government during this difficult time. And of course, they are similar to the approval ratings for coup supporters like the current leaders in France, the UK and Colombia to name a few.
The government needed to find a way to reestablish a constitutional order for the country so used the existing constitution’s provisions to allow for the election of a new Constitutional Convention in July 2017 to redraft the constitution to make society more democratic and inclusive.
The opposition refused to participate in this convention. But 8 million Venezuelan citizens did participate in a rejection of the opposition and endorsement of the Bolivarian revolutionary process. This was a giant blow to the opposition and their violent coup plans.
New regional elections were called in October 2017 and the opposition was so demoralised they felt they had to participate again.
2017 Regional Election: Pro-government 5.88m, Opposition 4.98m – 56% to 44% – 61% turnout.
The Bolivarian revolutionary movement triumphed by a million more votes on over 60% turnout. The opposition won only 5 out of 23 governorships and the winning candidates were then told not to take their seats by the demoralised opposition leaders. But four out of the five did take their seats and submitted to the authority of the new Constituent Assembly when they did so.
The opposition had been pushing for earlier presidential elections and when the government agreed they decided to boycott them – except for one major leader of the opposition. Henri Falcon broke with the other opposition leaders and declared himself willing to stand. This was not welcomed by the elites or the US empire who threatened him with personal economic sanctions if he stood.
It is true that three senior opposition figures were in prison or house arrest and unable to stand in the Presidential election. But these arrests were for the fact they had participated in violent attempts to overthrow the elected government on more than one occasions. One was also caught up in a massive bribery scandal. But they had plenty of other leaders who could have stood – like the present younger leader who has just proclaimed himself president without bothering to stand in the election.
Despite the opposition being split, there was still a high turnout in last years election which Nicholas Maduro won fair and square.
2018 Presidential election: Maduro 6.2m, Falcon 1.9m. 67.8% to 20.9% with a turnout of 46%.
If the opposition had stood a united candidate I have no doubt there would have been a much stronger vote for the opposition, but it is also very likely that Maduro’s vote would have gone up another million or so votes. We will never know. What we do know is that boycotting the election was the opposition’s choice and people who actually hate having to submit to a popular vote and prefer coups and dictatorships to real democracy shouldn’t be allowed to decide whether an election is democratic or not.
The Venezuelan elites became even more determined to overthrow the elected government rather than submit to judgement in a fair electoral contest. That is why the validity of the 2018 Presidential election has been challenged from day one. That is why the oligarchs and their friends in Washington settled on a plan to simply try and overthrow the President by using the illegitimate and unpopular national assembly to impose a president on the people.
It seems these plans are failing. The pretender has little support inside the country. The working people of Venezuela are mobilising again in their millions to reject the coup makers and reaffirm their support for the popular revolutionary process. Because of the whip of the counter-revolution that process is taking on an increasing plebian popular character that is represented in the new Constituent Assembly.
- Power to the people of Venezuela.
- No to the US empire’s coup and war plans.
- Stop the economic sanctions.
- For a global solidarity movement to demand “Hands Off Venezuela”.