The Venezuelan People Have Spoken

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Venezuelan Acting President Nicolas Maduro was elected to a full term as president, to replace Hugo Chavez, on April 14. The right wing opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, has taken advantage of the fact that the margin of victory was smaller than anticipated in the polls to not only question the results but also to launch street actions which have turned violent, resulting in deaths and the destruction of property.

The Venezuelan electoral system is highly sophisticated and has been praised by many, including former President Jimmy Carter. As a routine matter, an audit of 54% of all votes (far greater than one would need for a statistically significant sample) has already been carried out. Both the National Elections Commission and the Venezuelan Supreme Court have signed off on the results.

Mr. Capriles, not satisfied with this, demanded a complete hand recount and launched street demonstrations which included violent thug elements. The result has been the burning of buildings belonging to Mr. Maduro's political party as well as attacks on health centers and other public and private property.  Up to 8 people have died in this violence so far. This is not "freedom of expression", it is criminal violence; the Venezuelan government would be remiss not to try to get it under control before more die or are hurt.

Soon after the election, numerous governments and international organizations recognized Mr. Maduro as the president.  The United States, to date, has not. Some who initially did not recognize the election results, including the government of Spain and Mr. Jose Insulza, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, have now moved to do so.  In the Latin American region, even relatively right wing governments, such as those of Mexico, Colombia and Chile, have recognized Mr. Maduro as president.

Further, Venezuelan election authorities have now agreed to audit the remaining 46% of the vote.

The United States is not in a position to pontificate about the quality of other countries' electoral systems:  In such matters, charity begins at home! Long before the notorious "Citizens' United" Supreme Court decision, which essentially allows private for-profit corporations to buy elections on the grounds that "corporations are persons" and therefore their rights of freedom of expression would be infringed by limits on their campaign spending, there have been many well  known problems with the integrity of elections in the United States, the general effect of which has been to make it harder for poor working class people, minorities, the elderly and youth to vote.  The Obama administration surely realizes this, as these voter suppression methods have been used against its own electoral support base.

Venezuela and numerous other countries complain bitterly, in fact, against illicit US interference in their elections. This has come through taxpayer funded projects run by AID via the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the National Endowment for Democracy, not to mention entities such as the Central Intelligence Agency. There are credible reports that for years, these U.S. government agencies have been channeling support to the right wing opposition in Venezuela.  Then there are private, U.S. based organizations, many of them connected with the right-wing Cuban exile networks of South Florida and with left-over political figures from the Reagan, Bush I and Bush II administrations. Some of the individuals and groups in this sector have a record of terroristic violence.

All progressive people should call on the White House and the State Department to take the opportunity of the Venezuela crisis to take a new tack on U.S. relations with Latin America, by:

  • Immediately recognizing Nicolas Maduro as the new President of Venezuela.
  • Upgrading U.S. diplomatic relations with Venezuela to the ambassadorial level.
  • Stopping the practice of funding semi-governmental and private agencies to channel U.S. taxpayer money toward interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
  • Recognizing that the Monroe Doctrine and its Roosevelt Corollary are dead, and that the United States is going to have to deal with the countries of Latin America, the Caribbean and beyond as sovereign states with the right to determine their own trade and foreign policies-no more "big stick", no more "gunboat diplomacy" via the Fourth Fleet which should be withdrawn from Latin American waters.
  • What goes for Venezuela goes for Cuba too.

PHOTO: Tribuna Popular