In Venezuela, everything is okay. Or at least, that is what the government keeps repeating to the population. On average, 1 person is murdered every 21 minutes. The average salary is under 10 dollars a month in the black market. Hyperinflation is expected to rise up to 13,000 percent this year. But for the government, most of these numbers are created by American imperialism. Because everything is okay.
The Bolivarian Revolution of Hugo Chavez, followed by his successor Nicolas Maduro, has relied on the large resources of oil in Venezuela to maintain the country financially. However, between the corruption and the gross mismanagement, they have led the country to its worst crisis.
Yesterday, the fourth presidential elections since the creation of the 5th Republic were held in Venezuela. But you probably missed it. Whether there was a lack of coverage or a personal lack of interest, apart from Latin America, the public has not paid attention to what is happening in Venezuela. Or at least, not enough.
With the economic, humanitarian and political crisis that the country is struggling with, few participated in this year’s elections. It is not due to lack of hope, but a lack of choice. The only two potential opposition candidates, Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles, are one under house arrest and the other banned from any political activity respectively. The only candidate running against the current government is considered to be Henri Falcon, a former state governor who used to be an ally of Chavez. Falcon failed to gain the trust of the members of the opposition, who believe he still profits from the current dictatorship.
Our elections are not democratic. They provide the illusion of democracy, the illusion of choice. To understand the current issues in the country, it is necessary to take a look at the past. Leading the Bolivarian Revolution, the military officer, Hugo Chavez tried a failed coup d’état in 1992. He was incarcerated and later elected democratically in 1998. He ruled until his death in 2013, in which he created the fifth Republic of Venezuela. Among the constitutional changes that were made, the presidential term upgraded from 5 to 6 years.
The 2013 Presidential elections
In October 2012, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles lost the presidential elections against President Hugo Chavez, who was elected for a fourth term alongside his vice-president Nicolas Maduro. A few months later, the President leaves for a “medical check-up” in Cuba before disappearing for 4 months. On March 5, 2013, Nicolas Maduro, barely known by the public then, announces the death of Hugo Chavez on national television. As expected, the former bus driver and vice-president declared himself the provisional President of Venezuela. We do not need to analyze closely to understand that all these events were unconstitutional: Hugo Chavez had clearly lied about his illness during the elections, which would have made him incapable of being considered a candidate. Similarly, he never got to attend the inauguration of his new Presidential term, and therefore Nicolas Maduro was not officially the vice-president yet. Finally, the constitution states that the speaker of the National Assembly should assume interim presidency if a president cannot be sworn in.
Seven days of mourning, a military parade, and a long ceremony later, Venezuelans were invited to see the embedded body of their Comandante, displayed for three days. New elections were held, and candidate for the second time, Henrique Capriles, is defeated again. However, he called the elections fraudulent on national television and demanded a recount of the votes. However, this never happened. Protests were held around the country and pictures of National Guards burning the voting ballots circulated on social media. But, like everything in Venezuela, the opposition got tired and no change was made.
At the beginning of 2017, the National Assembly asked Nicolas Maduro to leave the presidency. Two days later, he announced that the Assembly had been dissolved. Seen as a coup d’état by the local population, for the public opinion, it marked the start of an official authoritarianism. Consequently, the opposition took over the streets and asked for new elections to be held. With the government in control of military power, the population demonstrated their discontent with any possible resources they had. A new trend, the puputov, are an example of what they used: a bottle filled with feces, thrown to the authorities who answered with tear gas or real bullets. Above 120 people were killed, thousands were injured and more than 5,000 were detained and often tortured.
Since Nicolas Maduro came to power, the 2017 demonstrations marked the second time the students and other Venezuelans protested against the government. In 2014, over 40 deaths and 4,000 arrests summarised a violent repression from the authorities.
Where is the opposition?
In 2014, leader of the protests and the opposition, Leopoldo Lopez, was incarcerated and sent to Ramo Verde, a military prison. During the protests in 2017, Antonio Ledezma, another leader of the opposition, was detained and sent to the same place. First, put under house arrest at the beginning of July, Lopez was arrested and sent back home again few days later while Ledezma escaped and fled out of the country. Meanwhile, in April 2017, Henrique Capriles was formally banned for 15 years from any political activity. Consequently, the 2018 Presidential elections –which were supposed to be held in October; did not have anyone to represent the opposition. According to the United States, this is considered an unfair and anti-democratic election.
Neither the elections nor the protests have been able to end the dictatorship or the daily struggle the Venezuelans are facing. This year, few participated in elections for which the winner was already suspected: Nicolas Maduro. Declared President of Venezuela for his second term yesterday, only 46.01% of participation was announced. Here again, the numbers will never be confirmed.
Isabel Bonnet is a first-year communication science student. Her columns focus on Venezuela.
The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.