Venezuela: Opposition's ridiculous claims mar political scene

May 5, 2013
'The Bolivarian revolution guarantees the rights of workers.' Pro-government May Day march, Caracas, May 1. Photo from ABV/Veneu

It would be hard to find somewhere that celebrates May Day more enthusiastically than Venezuela. But this year celebrations were marred by claims made in a document that could easily be mistaken for a lift-out from a UFO enthusiasts' magazine.

Since losing the presidential election on April 14, right-wing opposition leader Henrique Capriles has repeatedly accused the government of committing widespread electoral fraud; stuffing ballot boxes with tens of thousands of fake votes, intimidating voters and hiring goons to eject objectors at gunpoint.

But somehow nobody noticed this except Capriles even his own party's electoral observers agreed on the day that due process had been followed.

To prove that this narrative is more than just a wild fantasy, the opposition has produced a document containing all its “evidence”.

In the tradition of dodgy conspiracy theorists the world over, Capriles has collated a series of grainy photographs and accompanied them with vague statements to support his conclusion. The second half of the dubious document does away with the illustrations, and simply makes more broad statements in gargantuan sized fonts.

Capriles' short booklet of unsubstantiated claims and photography doesn't stand up to scrutiny. After the election, the CNE conducted a random audit of 54% of the ballot, in the presence of opposition observers. No inconsistencies were found.

Given this, the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research found that "the probability of getting an audit result that was obtained on April 14, if there were enough machine errors to reverse the result, is far less than 1 in 25,000 trillion".

Despite his lack of evidence, the National Electoral Council (CNE) struck a deal with Capriles on April 18. Under the agreement, the election would be audited again.

Within a matter of days, however, Capriles backed out of the deal, and started demanding that voter fingerprints and signatures be checked ― all 15 million of them. To support his argument, he presented his collection of poorly shot photographs to the CNE, only to act indignant when the electoral body dismissed his case.

As CNE head Tibisay Lucena pointed out, the body had already “announced the decision for an additional audit and Capriles publicly accepted”.

In a bid to reinvigorate dwindling opposition protests, Capriles called on his supporters to rally on May Day. The move was criticised by the government as an attempt to provoke violence.

Despite clashes between lawmakers in the National Assembly the night before, the May Day marches were generally peaceful. After Capriles planned a march in Caracas that would have come close to colliding with a previously planned Chavista rally, President Nicolas Maduro changed the pro-government march route.

In other parts of the country, Chavista and opposition marches were likewise kept separate.

In the Andean city of Merida, thousands of Chavistas marched, chanting slogans of support for the government and Maduro. Unlike the rallies following the April 14 elections, the marchers appeared to be optimistic and confident.

“Maduro is the son of Chavez,” one Chavista told Green Left Weekly. Others chanted, “Chavez lives!”

In Caracas, Maduro urged Capriles to recognise the election results, telling him to “accept your defeat”. Maduro accused Capriles of seeking to incite hatred and violence.

After Maduro won the April 14 vote by about 1.8%, violent protests by opposition supporters left nine people dead. Health clinics, food stores and the offices of the CNE and the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela were torched.

However, Capriles chose instead to announce that his “evidence” would be taken to the Supreme Court.

Earlier, Capriles said he doubted the Supreme Court would rule in his favour. After all, as Lucena pointed out when dismissing his demands for additional voter identity checks, the opposition would need to produce actual evidence to argue their case.

Previously, Capriles said he believes “this case will end up in the international community”.

This scenario is not as unlikely as it sounds. Most of the region has acknowledged Maduro's victory, but the US continues to back the opposition, and so far has embraced every opportunity to discredit the Maduro government.

Moreover, US efforts to destabilise Venezuela are likely to intensify next year. After the elections, the US State Department 2014 budget was presented to the Committee on Foreign Affairs by Secretary of State John Kerry. Under the budget, “political efforts” in Venezuela will receive increased funding.

As Kerry indicated, there is a “need to change the dynamic in the Western Hemisphere”. Indeed, for over a decade Venezuela has been the epicentre of anti-imperialist struggle in the hemisphere. Today, there is a vibrant political movement across Latin America to move away from US hegemony, and claim true independence for the first time since Spanish colonisation in the 15th Century.

To Kerry, however, such a “dynamic” is unacceptable in what he called “our backyard”.

For now, the State Department seems to be endorsing Capriles' humble pamphlet by refusing to accept Maduro's victory. Whether Kerry will support the tendering of a handful of pixelated photographs in an international court is yet to be seen. They could perhaps be used as justification for more sanctions on Venezuela.

In either case, Capriles' “evidence” is a slap in the face to not only the government and due process, but also to his supporters.

Many Venezuelans who backed Capriles' on April 14 did so out of frustration with the very real problems of corruption and insecurity, with which the government continues to struggle. This was shown on May Day with large marches for and against the government. Capriles continues to command a considerable movement, mustering tens of thousands of supporters to rally across the country.

However, after seeing the opposition leader's “evidence” of “fraud”, it's hard to believe that many voters who backed Capriles aren't having second thoughts.

[Ryan Mallett-Outtrim is a Green Left Weekly journalist based in Merida, Venezuela.]

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