The socialist ruling party of Venezuela is under attack once again as an international slander campaign begins to intensify calling for the overthrow of the democratically elected president Nicholas Maduro.
Leaders of the opposition have ratcheted up their rhetoric inciting violence in the streets resulting in at least one police officer being fatally shot and others sustaining serious injuries during opposition lead protests.
The latest round of protests began when state-level courts in four states of Venezuela issued injunctions halting the opposition’s second round of signature collection for a national recall referendum that would oust the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) from governance. The court orders come in response to revelations of widespread fraud in the opposition’s first round of signature collections earlier this year.
The opposition, which has on multiple occasions been implicated in coup attempts, ironically but not surprisingly spun the announcement by the regional courts to proclaim a “break of the constitutional order and the existence of a coup d’etat committed by the Nicolas Maduro regime.”
The U.S.-backed opposition also ominously called on their “international allies” to “activate the mechanism” to reinstate “democracy” in Venezuela a not so thinly veiled call for political, economic or even military intervention by the U.S.
The voter fraud that caused the regional courts to halt the recall process in four out of the 24 Venezuelan states is well documented and is a long standing tactic of the opposition which has historically had trouble obtaining signatures for their political maneuvers.
An astonishing 307,747 signatures submitted in the latest contested recall referendum lacked “essential identifying information” according to the courts. More than 53 thousand signatures were found to have “irregularities” including the discovery of 10,995 deceased persons having signed the submitted petitions along with “9,333 nonexistent persons, 3,003 minors, and 1,335 felons.”
Venezuela’s electoral system highly monitored
Venezuela’s electoral system has become one of the most watched, modernized and regulated electoral systems on earth due to a government effort to counter the claims of authoritarianism and anti-democratic practices.
Since the revolutionary government of Hugo Chavez came into power 17 years ago Venezuela has had 20 national elections or referendums. For each election opposition parties, international watchdog organizations and other groups were invited to monitor the process for any irregularities. By law every election undergoes 14 separate audits, seven before the vote and seven after to ensure that every voter is accounted for.
Every election has been declared free and fair by everyone involved except for the opposition parties who now regularly openly state they will not recognize the legitimacy of the electoral process no matter what international observers says. Even former U.S. president Jimmy Carter was admitted the excellence of Venezuela’s national election system when he reported that “of the 92 elections that [the Carter Center] monitored [around the world], I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”
What may be the most damning evidence against any claims of a “Maduro dictatorship” is the huge loss the socialist government suffered last year during parliamentary elections. The opposition won over 60 percent of parliamentary seats which it immediately claimed as a victory for the people of Venezuela even though opposition leaders had been deriding the elections as undemocratic and illegitimate in the lead up to the vote.
Venezuelans have gripes with what some say is the government’s inability to deal with shortages of basic goods and services as well as out of control inflation rates. Over the last three years Venezuelans have seen the appearance of long lines at supermarkets, as they wait for hours just for basic items like sugar and personal hygiene products.
Earlier this year the Maduro government issued an emergency decree to form “Local Committees of Supply and Production,” known as CLAP teams, in order to deliver basic goods directly to residents’ homes. The Maduro government aims to cut hoarding and black market sales of goods by bypassing the unregulated distribution networks still controlled by the large capitalists of Venezuela. These networks are widely blamed by the government as one of the main culprits behind the shortages in what Maduro calls the “economic war” against the government.
The lines outside of supermarkets are widely seen by experts to be the cause of such a large and surprising defeat of the PSUV in last year’s parliamentary elections. The loss was the first and only time in 17 years that the Socialist party did not count with a majority of votes.
However, despite the electoral defeat and the on going protests seeking to oust Maduro, the country is still seen as standing behind their president while the opposition is seen as fractured and ineffectual.
Poverty rate reduced
No matter how hard the opposition tries to re-write history the fact is that the socialist government has successfully cut Venezuela’s poverty rate by 50 percent and reduced extreme poverty by an astounding 2/3 since Chavez came into power in 1999. Older retirees have seen their public pensions tripled and younger Venezuelans now enjoy subsidizes and accessible college education as well as quality healthcare services.
The socialist government’s commitment to the poorest Venezuelans is on full display in the 2017 budget that was unveiled last week. Despite falling oil prices, an international smear campaign and violent coup
attempts the Maduro government announced a massive increase to public services in the 2017 budget.
The federal government’s expenditures for the year 2017 will increase by more than 500 percent from 2016.
Over 73 percent of the 2017 annual budget will go towards the state’s social programs, and specifically to areas such as housing, health, education, and public works, as well as to the citizens’ neighborhood organizations known as communal councils. By contrast in 2016, 42 percent of the federal budget went towards social spending.
A recent poll by private polling company Hinterlaces showed that 51 percent of Venezuelans do not support the attempts by the opposition to remove the Maduro government from power.
The pollster attributes Maduro’s popularity levels to the recent reappearance of scarce staple goods and hygiene products on shop shelves, the increasing efficacy of the CLAP neighborhood food distribution initiative and recent salary hikes.
Venezuela’s opposition groups, while mobilizing, still have trouble agreeing on one coherent plan of action.
The MUD, which is the umbrella organization for all the different opposition groups, has splintered in two recently with one side calling for dialogue with the Maduro government while another side denounces any attempt at dialogue, calling instead for continued street protests. There are calls for a demonstration next week’s in front of the Miraflores presidential palace. The call is widely seen within Venezuela as highly provocative as it evokes memories of the 2002 failed coup attempt.