US Efforts to Sabotage Venezuelan Elections Intensify

It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro registered
his candidacy for the April 22nd presidential election on Tuesday. He was accompanied by tens of thousands of
supporters as he made his way to the National Electoral Council. The election, though, is taking place under
a very heavy cloud. Last week the opposition coalition known as
the Democratic Unity Roundtable announced that it will boycott the election. However, one strong opposition candidate,
Henri Falcon, registered as a candidate anyway. To complicate matters further, Bloomberg is
reporting that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is considering an oil embargo against Venezuela,
which would take effect before the election. If so, this could wreak havoc on Venezuela’s
already debilitated economy. So joining me now to analyze the upcoming
elections are two guests: Lucas Koerner and Gregory Wilpert. Lucas is staff writer for the website
and is a masters student at Venezuela’s Institute for Advanced Studies. Lucas joins us from Caracas. Thanks for joining us, Lucas. Great to be here, Sharmini. And Greg is a senior producer and host here
at the Real News. He is also the author of the book “Changing
Venezuela by Taking Power.” He joins us from Quito, Ecuador. Thanks for joining us, Greg. My pleasure. And for full disclosure, I must say that Greg’s
wife is the Ambassador from Venezuela to Ecuador. Lucas, let’s start with you. You were at the manifestation and the crowd
that was gathered that accompanied Maduro to register as a candidate. What were your impressions, and why did people
come out to accompany the president to go and register? Yes, there was definitely a large turnout
in the streets of downtown Caracas today with a decent amount of enthusiasm. It really is a measure of the fact that Maduro
does enjoy significant support among his hardcore Chavista base, something that is completely
ignored by the international media. This has to do not with the fact, as usually
stated, they receive government food bags or bonuses which actually amount to very small
amounts. But it’s something more fundamentally that
has to do with the … Maduro is seen as the continuation of the legacy of Chavez in a
certain way, and the possibility of continuing and deepening the gains of the Bolivarian
Revolution and also, he’s the only option for staving off the really catastrophic threat
represented by the opposition … and were they to come to power, the real possibility
that they would dismantle all the social gains of these past 19 years. So definitely there is support, and actually,
Maduro’s approval rating has reached a 23-month high according to the conservative data analysis
pollster of 26% just recently. So definitely a significant gain. This four-point increase in popularity, while
it may seem insignificant, actually is important and notable given the extremely severe nature
of Venezuela’s economic downturn, the worst in several decades. And also given the fact that Maduro’s popularity,
though very low, is still higher than Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos and Brazil’s Michel Temer’s
popularity combined, in fact. And this obviously is something that is not
reported in the mainstream media and there’s no calls for these extremely unpopular leaders
… in Michel Temer’s case, who wasn’t even elected … to be ousted, given their low
popularities. Now Greg, the opposition is planning to boycott
the election. Someone in the opposition really has a good
chance of winning, given the economic conditions, the approval ratings that Lucas just mentioned. Why are they boycotting and what will a boycott
mean for the vote’s legitimacy, the results of this election? Yes, that’s actually a kind of tricky question
to answer, partly because there’s the stated reasons and then there’s reasons that I think
are not so well known for behind the scenes, what their internal calculations are. The stated reasons … They actually just
came out with a letter, I think it was today, on Tuesday, stating why or what the conditions
would be under which they would agree to participate. And one of the conditions are, for example,
that they would want to have two new members of the National Electoral Council where they’d
have a voice in naming them; that two of the parties that had been disqualified because
they boycotted previous elections would be reinstated; and also that a full kind of international
observer team would be recognized and would be able to participate in all of the audits. So those are a number of … and then a couple
minor issues, minor points, but those were the main ones. And they’re saying until … The other main
one I forgot to mention is that they also want to postpone the election date. Actually, there is a rumor going around that
I just saw that the government is actually in closed-door negotiations about postponing
the election date until May 20th. Now this was reported by the Venezuelan newspaper
Panorama. I haven’t seen it anywhere else, so it’s not
really clear if that’s really true, but it sounds like there’s still negotiations going
on. But then I think there’s also the kind of
hidden reasons for not participating, and this is really more speculative, but I think
one of the reasons that the opposition doesn’t want to participate is that they really want
a radical break from Chavismo and they think that getting a candidate elected, whether
it’s any one of their candidates, really, would mean a gradual transition, which would
not allow them to purge all of the government as institutions of Chavismo from their positions
currently. And so, in other words, they want a radical
break, and you can only achieve that if you really have a complete breakdown of the current
government, and boycotting the elections would be the best way to do that. Do you think they want erosion to the point
that there is what the U.S. has been articulating, which is a sort of … at least a policy that
would end in this result, which is a complete breakdown of the political system there, making
the way for another coup in Venezuela? Yes, actually, Tillerson mentioned that possibility
before he went on a tour of Latin America and that possibility has been mentioned many
times by different factors, both in the opposition and in the U.S. government. So they seem to be definitely angling for
that option, which I think would be extremely dangerous for Venezuela, Venezuelans, and
for Latin America as a whole. All right, getting back to the elections,
Lucas, there are two prominent opposition politicians who are barred from running: Leopoldo
Lopez and Henrique Capriles. What are the reasons for their disqualification,
and doesn’t this undermine the vote’s legitimacy if they don’t have a viable opposition candidate
running against Maduro? Well in the case of Leopoldo Lopez, he was
sentenced to a 13-year prison sentence in September 2015 for his role in leading the
previous year’s violent anti-government protest known as The Exit or The Exit of Nicolas Maduro
that left 43 people dead, the majority of whom government supporters, security forces,
and passerby. This was an incredible … it was very explicit,
insurrectionary kind of campaign on a much smaller scale than what we saw this past year
in 2017, which left over 100 people dead. And he was convicted and he was sentenced
to prison, which has later been commuted to house arrest. So that’s a very clear reason why he cannot
stand. In the case of Henrique Capriles, in April
of 2017, the Comptroller General found that he was banned for 15 years on the grounds
of receiving international financing for electoral campaigns as well as certain allegations concerning
corruption, irregularities in government contracts. Now, none of that has really been made clear
and I think that it definitely … it remains to be seen whether that is a legitimate justification. Nonetheless, Henrique Capriles is not, by
any means, the opposition front-runner that he was in 2013 when he nearly beat Nicolas
Maduro in what was effectively a tie. In fact, his popularity has sunk, given that
his support for violent opposition protest … So I don’t think that he can even be considered
such a decisive player at this point. I think Henri Falcon in many ways is a much
more dangerous threat, given his ability to court moderate, middle-of-the-road opposition
supporters as well as, perhaps, some angered Chavistas, though definitely not in significant
numbers, that makes him definitely a threat to Nicolas Maduro. Greg, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
here in the U.S. has suggested that there would be an oil embargo if Venezuela proceeds
with this election. What would that mean to the economy, particularly
given that it is current suffering a great deal economically and people are suffering
the consequences of it at a very pivotal time during an election? Yes, an oil embargo would be very devastating
for Venezuela, because Venezuela continues to export something like close to a third
of its oil to the United States, and the thing that one needs to know is that most of that
oil goes to very specific refineries that are equipped to handle with the extra-heavy
crude or heavy crude that Venezuela tends to export to the U.S. And so it won’t be that easy to find new markets
for it because you’d have to find new refineries that have additional capacity to refine this
particular type of crude. In other words, the refineries that Venezuela
has in the U.S. are specifically made for Venezuelan oil. So it would be very big blow, but of course
a blow to the U.S. economy to some extent as well, because Citgo, which belongs to Venezuela,
is one of the largest oil companies in the United States with something like 14,000 gas
stations … but would be a much bigger blow to Venezuela. And I think the calculus is, again, to cripple
the Venezuelan economy precisely to bring a radical break with the Chavista or Maduro
government because that would lead to basically a complete inability of Venezuela to import
any products, and it depends, still, to a large extent on imports in order to feed the
population. Now, Tillerson has said that they want to
take that into account and want to try to soften the blow, but I think that’s just rhetoric. If they really go through it, it would be
basically trying to repeat the Nicaragua example of what happened in 1990 where people’d say
even if we support the government, we’re going to have to vote against it because we’ve got
a gun against our head on this. Now what are the chances, Greg, of the Maduro
government coming to some reconciliation with the opposition and that these negotiations
would succeed and the election is postponed? Yeah, I think the government is willing to
do almost anything that is short of just resigning in order to make sure that the elections are
seen as being legitimate and that there are no additional sanctions that would devastate
the economy. Of course, it has to make that calculus against
the background of possibly losing the vote, which it wants to avoid as well, of course. So it’s a very tricky calculus, but given
the unpopularity of the opposition, and you mentioned earlier that 26% support for Maduro’s
not much, well, as you compare it to any other opposition candidate, none of them really
has any more. The only one who, according to that latest
data analysis poll, who has more right now is Henri Falcon, and that’s something like
36 or 35% of support, and that’s still not very significant and could also change by
the time the election comes around. So they’re calculating that they’re going
to be able to win the vote, but the main point is that it’s recognized as being legitimate
and for that they want to do everything possible to make sure … and would probably concede
on major issues, for example, reforming the CNE; I could imagine them doing that or even
postponing the elections. All right, Lucas, let me give you the last
word. One of the most frequent concerns that have
been talked about a lot is the whole process and the practically omnipotent power of the
National Constituent Assembly. It was elected last July, also under the opposition’s
boycott. The idea was to rewrite the constitution,
but now it is passing a decree that no one, not even the supreme court or the president,
can change or challenge this. How is such power justified, and doesn’t the
very existence of this assembly make a presidential election questionable? Well, in terms of the National Constituent
Assembly, we have to understand that under Venezuela’s constitution it has an article
which allows the convening of what is supposedly is the original power, the direct power of
the people to dissolve the existing constitution and write a new one. Basically, something that no other country,
at least in the West, allows, given that most constitutions are written by elites and imposed. So in principle, this is a extremely democratic
mechanism that allows the renegotiation of the magna carta in a democratic fashion, and
opening spaces for participation among citizens, et cetera, and you do see in the composition
of the National Constituent Assembly a large number of representatives of different social
movements, et cetera. However, what is very vague within the constitution
is to what extent the National Constituent Assembly has powers with relation to other
sectors, other existing branches, that basically the constitution says that all existing constituted
powers are subject to the National Constituent Assembly. It doesn’t go into greater detail regarding
the intricacies of those relationships. So in principle, yes, all other powers have
to submit themselves to the National Constituent Assembly, though we should note that with
regard to the president’s proposal that was also proposed from the National Constituent
Assembly to convene a mega-election, that is to have on the same day, April 22nd, elections
for president, for the National Assembly, for local, state, and municipal legislatures. That was actually vetoed by the National Electoral
Council on the grounds that technically, there was no technical capacity to do that, and
that might have to be held later this year or next year. So those details have to be ironed out. Though I don’t think that there’s anything
inherently illegal or unconstitutional about the activity of the National Constituent Assembly. There definitely are critiques from within
the left wing of Chavismo that, for example, the National Constituent Assembly has served
more as a rubber stamp for the existing decisions of the Maduro administration, instead of serving
as kind of a lightning rod to project popular demands into the upper echelons of the state
and really take the decisive economic measures that could protect the working people from
the brunt of this economic crisis that, as Greg explains, has been deeply intensified
by U.S. sanctions and will further be exacerbated by the impact of a U.S. oil embargo. So there’s a lot of critiques here that have
to be discussed, though I think that it’s simplistic to simply say that this is an unconstitutional
super-parliament, as the mainstream media projects. Right, then let me also you, Greg, in terms
of this Constituent Assembly, how is it rationalized in the constitution, the existence of it,
the power it has, and when is it brought about? Under what conditions? Well the conditions are basically that the
president can convoke a Constituent Assembly election at any time. Also, the general population can do so by
collecting signatures or the National Assembly by a two-thirds vote, I think it was. So there’s a number of different conditions
that were met in this case. The bigger question is though, how is it justified
in terms of the power, and as Lucas says, there’s supposed to be the direct kind of
… that’s why it’s called Constituent Assembly … it’s the Venezuelan people, so to speak,
that are directly governing themselves through as little representation as possible, essentially. And the very fact that they’re able to rewrite
the constitution is supposed to mean that they can also govern all other aspects of
the Venezuelan political system. And it’s supposed to be of limited duration,
in this case it was convoked for two years, so it will have to disband a year and a half
from now, roughly. But as Lucas says, there’s a lot of questions
about it having really not fulfilling quite the role that it was originally intended for,
which was to be the direct voice of the people, and is actually doing the bidding over and
over again, with this one exception about the mega-elections. But most of the time, it’s doing the bidding
of what President Maduro would like to see. All right, that was Gregory Wilpert, senior
producer here at the Real News Network, and Lucas Koerner joining us from Caracas, Venezuela,
staff writer for Gentlemen, I thank you both for joining us. Thank you. Thanks for having me. And thank you for joining us here on the Real
News Network.

About the author


  1. The Trump administration is pushing Venezuela into China's hands. The US depends on Venezuelan oil (1/5 of US petroleum comes from Venezuela), and while the US continues pressure on Iran, the price of oil could triple within a month after the unlawful embargo. All the while the US is walking blindly into a debt tsunami. We are literally watching the prequel to Idiocracy in real time.

  2. Want to see hunger? see the children of Yemen. the US shamefully is arming the Saudis who are destroying everything in Yemen.

  3. "oh what a web we weave when those we deceive" suddenly realize they are being deceived..Look out for those pitch-forks and hangman nooses.😉

  4. The US has been trying to destroy and control Venezuela for decades. Still, it does not excuse Maduro. He has been a disaster and has tarnished the legacy of Chavez's achievements. He is no Chavez. No matter how much the US is meddling, we should not be championing Maduro.

  5. Oh it is so bad if someone tries to interfere in US elections, but it is perfectly OK when the US interferes in everybody else’s elections, what sickening hypocrites.

  6. We will be standing alone in the "America's|. The big bully America just wants its way. The Chinese are on the South American shores, offering infrastructure to lift the life of the people from poverty. Here we are next door neighbors and all we did was pilfer the raw materials for our benefit, instead of raising the living standards of the people. What fools we are, so much lost effort, just to benefit a few.

  7. The confusion with Venezuela is becoming really apparent. The US government wanted to control Venezuela's oil, now that renewables an nuclear are taking precedence over oil, especially with electric cars, they just want Venezuela's oil off the market, so they can inflate the price of US oil. First the US wanted it, now they don't but a lot of the rhetoric is stuck in the old language, especially with vested interests, interests profiting from the US treasury as they plot and scheme to take over Venezuela up to and including a US military invasion, even though they no longer want the oil but campaign cash, lobbyists and vested interests of contractors and selected US corporations keep the mess going.
    Still there is the background of the US fearing a united South America, which would hugely impact the US, diminishing it's power and that keeps the insane scheme of invading Venezuela and forcing greater control of the entirety of South America dragging along, slowly, slowly but surely dying away, unless chaotic events in the rest of the world bring it to the fore, prior to reformation taking place in the US government.

  8. The causes have very little to do with 'socialism' or 'chavezism'.
    73% of Venezuela's exports are crude petroleum, about 43% goes to USA, 18%to China, 17% to India. Instead of floating exchange rate its pegged to the USD. The oil industry operates 55% in USD on their balance sheets.
    This is typical under both Trump and Obama the USA continues to weaponise its currency to attack Latin-American economies.
    This can be used to create a balance of payments crisis, insolvency, capital flight etc.
    With a militant opposition there will soon be another a coup or less likely election where opposition takes over it will be hard-line 'Washington consensus' style austerity for the populace and the looting of the country will take place by multinationals.

    The standard line ever since way back when Chavez was elected was the country was authoritarian but it was not (eg: elections, media) heading that way until 2016 when the supreme court blocked legislation from the national assembly which was majority opposition. This is self fulfilling while Maduro is democratically elected he is now authoritarian which is exactly where the US would like the situation to be, he can legitimise American think tanks pouring money into 'activists' with RPG's and guns, violent opposition marches, large government forces clashing. Not looking good for the majority of Venezuelan's.
    Eample: Yon Goicoechea
    Backed by none other than the Cato institute:
    Flow of funding from: US government –> CATO Institute –> Fake opposition.

  9. The US position with Venezuela is just one more risky blunder in a long list of blunders. Syria is getting rid of the UK, Saudi and Israeli rebels in East Ghouta and after that they're going after the US-Kurd alliance. This will influence the oil supply from that region. The shell oil bonanza isn't quite what it seems, it's a very light sweet oil and can only be used for gasoline. So all this surplus oil we're supposed to have doesn't have the US or World market we're suppose to believe it has. A large portion of our East Coast refineries have been retro-fitted to process Venezuela's oil so if that disappears oil prices will surely go up. Maybe the US doesn't care but other oil importing nations do. Add to this all the Economic blunders we're making and we have the potential for collapse. And I didn't include what surprises Climate Chaos has for us.

  10. ©™ ALX 💥 Armed 🔫 Liberation 🕶 Xecutive 🕴 Observation:

    Transnational Corporations who finance congressmen and White House campaigns and inturn use the military and CIA FBI to leverage access to resources and markets for the benefit of stockholders equity and dividends and capital gains are dictating foreign policy for Uncle Sam who's dictating policy for NATO.

  11. I expect US meddling in Venezuela to escalate due to them launching the petro in order to maneuver around sanctions.

  12. Wonder if Comey ,Democrats & US msm will call for an investigation into election meddling by the USA? So hypocritical 🖕🏻

  13. Good morning, everything that is said in TheRealNews is a lie, these are PAID CHAVISTAS, who want to send messages as if MADURO were loved by the people, ALL THESE NEWS ARE LIE, LYING.

  14. in venezuela there are no guarantees for transparent elections, the CNE is a fraud and all Venezuelans know it, the Carnet de la Patria is not for voting, only the Identity Card is valid to vote, please, do not believe these Chavistas paid liars.

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