- - Monday, April 22, 2013



The death of Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian Revolution would have happened on its own. On April 14 and since, Chavez’s remaining disciples took the matter into their own hands and are diligently setting the stage for passing from the scene.

Days of demonstrations and increasingly harsh threats from fraudulently elected Nicolas Maduro have resulted in a curious calm, broken by eruptions of mass pot-banging and horn-honking by supporters of opposition leader Henrique Capriles. The relative calm belies what is, in fact, a chaotic situation confronting the Cuban-reinforced new government and its supporters on the one hand, and on the other, a united and spirited opposition led by the “defeated” Mr. Capriles, who insists that all opposition activities be peaceful.

Mr. Capriles’ clear polling lead going into the presidential vote, massive public receptions wherever he went during the campaign, and solid coverage of the electoral commission’s facilities and most polling places were formidable. However, they were outgunned by the spending of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and the national oil company, plus firm control of the electoral commission by four Chavista directors and one only from the opposition.

According to Ana Mercedes Diaz, a 24-year electoral commission director until 2004 and now living in exile, the commission established 540 polling stations in jungle areas of southwest Venezuela, where 500,000 votes cast by guerrillas and Bolivian expatriates were undoubtedly manipulated. She noted that at hundreds of polling places, workers from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela voted multiple times, each time cleaning their ink-stained finger with Clorox before voting again.

Hours after the polls closed, electoral commission Chairman Tibisay Lucena termed the vote count “irreversible” and stated there would be no recount. Late Monday evening, Mr. Maduro himself called for a recount on national television but, pressured by campaign manager Jorge Rodriguez, quickly recanted. Former commission director Ms. Diaz had earlier observed that the best evidence of electoral fraud is refusal to conduct a recount.

Since announcing Chavez’s death on March 5, Mr. Maduro has cynically violated the country’s constitution innumerable times. Most recently, he defied the constitutional right to public assembly, prohibiting Wednesday’s planned peaceful demonstration by Capriles supporters. Seemingly mocking his own behavior, Mr. Maduro waved a miniature copy of the Venezuelan Constitution during his election-night victory speech, repeatedly declaring he would strictly abide by it during his presidency.

No official observers from foreign countries were allowed by the electoral commission, which instead invited carefully selected guests to “accompany” the voting. Few if any responsible invitees accepted, although representatives from the Carter Center did so shades of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter terming Venezuela’s election process “the best in the world.” Most notably, Andres Pastrana, the former president of neighboring Colombia, declined the electoral commission invitation, recalling the history of Venezuelan elections “leaning permanently in favor of those holding power” and noting that “the composition of [the electoral commission] reflects this reality.”

There is no question of the stern police-state tack being taken by Mr. Maduro. During a noisy Tuesday demonstration by Capriles supporters calling for a recount, police fired lead pellets and tear-gas canisters at peacefully demonstrating citizens, while water trucks hosed them down.

The level of unrest in Caracas among United Socialist Party of Venezuela worthies, opposition supporters and uninvolved citizens is palpable. Where the confusion and concern will lead next is unpredictable, but what is clear is that the general public is weary and disgusted with events, increasingly blaming the government for the economic malaise, political paralysis, social unrest and rampant crime.

President Obama, previously on cordial terms with Chavez, has joined numerous world leaders in calling for a recount, but it remains a question of the extent to which his administration will pressure the Maduro regime. Calls for strong action by Obama-supporting media could make the difference.

Elides J. Rojas, editor of leading opposition newspaper El Universal, wrote Wednesday in a signed editorial that “Chavismo is crumbling nothing is left, and nothing will be left. The defeat of Chavismo, with Maduro leading absolutely nothing, is the first phase of what is coming. He lost in hundreds of polling places in barrios and states where Chavez had ruled . [The electoral commission] is part of the Castro communist team to maintain the mafia in power [and] is only the start of a series of stupidities that will end in sweeping away this part of history.”

Within months after taking office, Mr. Maduro’s inherent leadership weaknesses will be apparent, as a Cuban-style dictatorship takes hold. United Socialist Party of Venezuela officeholders will be increasingly nervous as the economy continues to crumble and citizen dissatisfaction mounts. The party, already dispirited by Chavez’s handpicked successor, will split into groups led by would-be leaders National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello and Foreign Minister Elias Jaua, devolving into feuding factions.

A distinguished professor of political science, Anibal Romero, summarizes neatly: “The result was, paradoxically, very good and very bad. Very good, because it is now clear that there is no ‘Chavismo without Chavez’ … only an archipelago of competing figures and groups. But also very bad, because the new government lacks legitimacy (I believe they actually lost), and the opposition will do no more than demand a recount . So we are in for a period of heightened instability, economic decline, social protest and, finally, a violent outcome of the political crisis.”

In short, with the self-described “first Chavismo president of Venezuela” steering the ship, the current chaos in Caracas will become ever more dangerous and debilitating to the already perilous state of the Venezuelan nation. Make no mistake: Mr. Maduro and his cohorts will be blamed by a furious people.

John R. Thomson is a former diplomat, journalist and analyst. Norman Pino De Lion is a former ambassador and frequent contributor to Venezuelan newspapers.



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