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Elections in Venezuela: will the US intervene?

TIM YOUNG writes on how elections are taking place in Venezuela amid interference and sabotage

VENEZUELA goes to the polls in less than two weeks’ time amid concerns about both possible sabotage of the process and efforts by the US and its allies to delegitimise the outcome.

The elections for the National Assembly on December 6 are for 277 parliamentary seats for a five-year term that begins on January 5 2021. More than 20 million citizens will be able to cast their vote.

A number of US-backed right-wing opposition parties, urged on by self-proclaimed “interim president’’ Juan Guaido, have decided not to take part in the elections and have called for a boycott.

However, a host of other opposition parties have broken ranks and urged Venezuelans to take part in the elections. Of the 107 organisations putting up candidates, 98 are opposition political parties.

This reflects the results of a lengthy process of dialogue between the government and the more centrist opposition political parties.

A key outcome has been that a number of changes have been made for the elections to the assembly.

Accepting the request made by those opposition parties for more seats elected by proportional representation, the number of National Assembly deputies to be elected is being increased from 167 to 277, with more seats being elected by the party list system.

Improvements have also been made to strengthen the electoral process’s transparency and integrity, under a reconstituted National Electoral Council.

Although you would not know it from the US’s demand for “free and fair elections” — echoed by the EU in its call for the elections to be delayed — Venezuela has an automated system that is the most audited in the region and the world.

In all, 16 audits of the process are being conducted from beginning to end, in the presence of representatives from participating political parties.

The Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America (CEELA) has already been monitoring the preparations and has noted that participating political parties have expressed their “extreme confidence” in the arrangements.

Venezuela has invited and will be hosting a number of international teams of observers for the election, but not from the EU which turned down its invitation, claiming three months’ notice was insufficient time to organise the mission.

The US under Donald Trump has stepped up its campaign to interfere with Venezuela’s right to both hold the elections and decide how to govern itself by applying sanctions against those opposition politicians who have freely chosen to participate in these elections.

These sanctions are part and parcel of a strategy initiated by president Barack Obama, with Joe Biden as vice-president, but applied with increasing reach and severity by the Trump administration as a blockade to strangle Venezuela’s economy and force the country to its knees.

The effects of sanctions have been devastating. The blockade has not only damaged the Venezuelan economy but also obstructed the import of food and essential medical supplies, causing hardship to ordinary people, especially those on low incomes.

It is severely hampering Venezuela’s efforts to tackle the coronavirus outbreak and putting lives at risk.

Sanctions have also been accompanied by a campaign of disinformation designed to turn countries against Venezuela and support Trump’s objective of “regime change.”

Despite Trump’s frequent threats to use military force against Venezuela, the US has stopped short of doing so to achieve its objective.

Nevertheless, its Southern Command force, aided by its ally, Colombia, is more than prepared.

Instead, in January 2019 the US tried another tactic in its playbook by supporting an internal coup.

Trump quickly recognised the minor politician Guaido when he challenged the democratically elected President Nicolas Maduro and styled himself “interim president.”

Although major allies of the US such as Canada, Britain and the EU also supported Trump’s recognition of Guaido, a much larger number of countries did not.

Guaido’s subsequent involvement in corruption and the abject failure of attempted military coups against the elected government in 2019 and 2020 has made him a virtual irrelevance as a vehicle for the US’s goals.

His refusal to participate in the upcoming elections has also revealed a gaping split in Venezuela’s opposition forces.

Furthermore, even though his original claim in 2019 to be “interim president” had no constitutional basis, by surrendering his elected position in the National Assembly he will have no grounds whatsoever to continue promoting himself as such.

What can we expect in the coming weeks before the National Assembly elections and afterwards?

Clearly, Trump is preoccupied with challenging the outcome of the US’s own elections, but his hawkish officials may have ideas of their own for a last throw of the dice.

This might include covert support for acts of sabotage — Venezuela has already suffered an arson attack on the country’s voting machines in March and a recent missile attack on its largest refinery.

Guaido himself has called for “street action” over the electoral weekend, a potential repeat of the violence used by right-wing extremists in 2014 and 2017 to destabilise the government.
 
Recent revelations have uncovered how a Washington DC-based PR firm, CLS Strategies, used a network of fake social media accounts and pages to push propaganda on behalf of Guaido and Venezuela’s right-wing opposition.

The recent experience of the Bolivian presidential election in 2019, when a baseless report by the US-backed Organisation of American States sparked right-wing violence and a military coup against president Evo Morales, also shows what reactionary forces are capable of.

We therefore need to pledge to stand in solidarity with the people of Venezuela in opposition to any new threats of coups or external intervention, and in opposition to US sanctions and the EU and British government’s support for them.

The Venezuela Solidarity Campaign is supporting three petitions, against sanctions and the Bank of England’s withholding of Venezuela’s gold, and for the EU to respect the Venezuelan election outcome — more info at www.venezuelasolidarity.co.uk and join at www.venezuelasolidarity.co.uk/join.

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