The Biggest Obstacle to Free and Fair Elections in Venezuela is the US

MAY 22, 2024 – BY ROGER HARRIS –

Illustration by Nathaniel St. Clair

For all the hullabaloo about “free and fair elections” in Venezuela by the US government, its sycophantic corporate press deliberately ignores the elephant in the room – namely, the so-called sanctions designed to make life so miserable that the people will acquiesce to Washington’s plan for regime change.

As Foreign Policy puts it, “Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro values his political survival above his country’s economic well-being.” Translated from Washington-speak, the US government is blackmailing the Venezuelan electorate with, in the words of Foreign Policy, “the looming threat,” of continuing unilateral coercive measures unless they vote against the incumbent in the presidential election on July 28.

The New York Times reports that a Maduro win will “intensify poverty,” conveniently omitting the cause will be the tightening of US sanctions. Typical of such coverage, the article blames Maduro for the “dire” economic situation, but not until the 25th paragraph is there even a passing reference to US sanctions.

Such outside electoral meddling by the use of sanctions is orders of magnitude greater than the supposed “Russiagate” interference in the 2016 US presidential contest. Washington brazenly leaves no ambiguity about its intent to punish the Venezuelan people for choosing a government not to its liking. With no sense of shame or irony, the State Department imperiously calls this bullying “democracy promotion.”

US hybrid war on Venezuela

As documented by Venezuelanalysis, US sanctions against Venezuela are “a war without bombs.” These actions, more correctly called coercive economic measures by the United Nations, are killing Venezuelans. Never mentioned in the corporate press is that these unilateral measures are a form of collective punishment, considered illegal under international law.

The over 930 US sanctions are designed to crash the Venezuelan economy and, above all, to prevent any recovery. Initially they succeeded in the former objective and, equally importantly, failed in the latter.

The bipartisan offensive was initiated in 2015 by President Obama, who incredulously declared “a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security” posed by Venezuela. (Note, none of the corporate press subjected this extraordinary claim to any kind of scrutiny.) Coercive measures were intensified by President Trump, targeting the vital Venezuelan oil industry. Seamlessly, President Biden continued the “maximum pressure” campaign with minor adjustments, mainly designed to benefit US and select foreign business interests.

As a result, Venezuela experienced the largest peacetime economic contraction in recent world history. The free-falling economy suffered triple-digit inflation, again, the highest in the world. Some seven million economic refugees fled the country.

The US continued other “hybrid warfare” measures including recognizing Juan Guaidó as the self-proclaimed “interim president” of Venezuela in 2019. The then 35-year-old far-right US security asset had never run for national office and was at the time unknown to over 80% of the population. Nevertheless, some fifty US allies initially recognized his government.

Further, US-backed coups have continued since the 2002 one that lasted only 47 hours. Recent capers included the “bay of piglets” operation in 2020. Biden recently repatriated two of the US mercenaries, who had been captured in that failed coup, in a prisoner exchange that resulted in freeing Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab.

Coup attempts are ongoing according to the Venezuelan government. US official policy on such extra-legal measures is “plausible deniability.”

Venezuela successfully resists

Contrary to all odds and most predictions, President Maduro has turned the Venezuelan ship of state around against such unfavorable winds. By the end of 2023, Venezuela had recorded 11 quarters of consecutive growth after years of economic contraction. GDP growth during the first four months of 2024 exceeded forecasts of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and are projected to be 4% for the year, compared to IMF figures for the US at 2.7% and China at 4.6%.

Today, on the diplomatic front, only the US, Israel, and a handful of other Washington vassals still fail to recognize the democratically elected government of Venezuela. Even the US-backed opposition has itself renounced the Guaidó presidency.

Until recently, Colombia (then a hostile US client state) served as a launching pad for paramilitary incursions onto Venezuela’s western border. In 2022, President Gustavo Petro, the first leftist in the entire history of Colombia, replaced the rightwing Iván Duque. The next year, the friendly Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva replaced the hostile government of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil on Venezuela’s southern border.

Meanwhile, progressive regional governments such as Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Mexico have continued to support Venezuela. Most significantly and indicative of a shifting world order toward multipolarity, Venezuela has strengthened ties with China, Russia, and Iran. This, in turn, has only intensified hostility by the US.

Lessons from the 1990 electoral defeat of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua

Conditions in Venezuela today, in the run-up to the July presidential election, bear some parallels to a similar situation in Nicaragua in 1990. In 1979, the Sandinistas overthrew the US-backed Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua. By the 1990 presidential election, polls looked favorable for the reelection of their FSLN party’s Daniel Ortega.

Everyone, including the US president, who was bent on overthrowing the Nicaraguan Revolution, anticipated a Sandinista victory, according to Dan Kovalik’s book on Nicaragua. But the vote was unfavorable, issuing in seventeen years of neoliberal regression.

Both the State Department and the US ambassador to Managua had made it abundantly clear that the Nicaraguans had best vote the “right way” or the US-sponsored contra war would continue. The contras were mercenaries recruited largely from Somoza’s former army who were waging an armed terror campaign against the population.

In addition, the country was under US economic sanctions and suffering from hyperinflation. Brian Willson, who lost his legs in civil disobedience protesting the US Contra War in Nicaragua, reported that the US-funded opposition parties and NGOs in the 1990 election. The CIA alone poured in $28-30 million. Willson concluded that the US “purchased the 1990 Nicaragua elections.”

Prospects for the Venezuelan Presidential Election

While Venezuela is not under siege by US-paid mercenaries as was Nicaragua, it is nonetheless subject to Washington’s hybrid war of coercive economic measures, funding of opposition forces, international diplomatic belligerence, and covert actions.

An assessment in February by the US intelligence community found Maduro “is unlikely to lose the 2024 presidential election.” A May 3 Encuesta Nacional Ideadatos opinion poll reported a 52.7% preference for Maduro. Other polls give the lead to opposition candidate Edmundo González with the Unitary Platform who allegedly worked with the CIA.

Within the Chavista core – those who support the Bolivarian Revolution of Hugo Chávez and its current standard-bearer Nicolás Maduro – it is only to be expected that there is a certain level of weariness. Venezuelan political commentator Clodovaldo Hernández cites ongoing issues of inadequate healthcare delivery, salaries and pensions that have not kept pace with inflation, erratic electric power, incompletely addressed corruption, and dysfunctional police and judicial services, all of which disproportionately impact the Chavista base of poor and working people. How this will translate come July 28 is uncertain.

The propaganda campaign by the US state and its stenographers in the press to delegitimize the Venezuela election process is ramping up. For example, the US “newspaper of record” reports that “the last competitive election was held in 2013.” Not “fit to print” is the news that the presidential term is six years, or that the US literally ordered the opposition not to run in 2018. The leading opposition candidate at the time, Henri Falcón, was threatened with sanctions when he chose to ignore Washington’s demand.

The very fact that any of the US-backed opposition is contesting in the upcoming election rather than boycotting indicates that they are no longer relying on an extra-parliamentary overthrow of the government. This itself represents a significant victory for the Chavistas.

Roger Harris is on the board of the Task Force on the Americas, a 32-year-old anti-imperialist human rights organization.