Foreign Policy

Fallout From Venezuela's Sham Elections

Maduro has been running the tyrant's playbook step by step, complete with bogus elections to solidify his power.

Lewis Morris · Aug. 2, 2017

Recent events in that train wreck of a nation known as Venezuela prove indisputably that we’re headed back to the bad old days of Latin American dictatorship. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has been running the tyrant’s playbook step by step, complete with bogus elections to solidify his power and midnight arrests of opposition leaders. All this against the backdrop of widespread unrest in a country that is rapidly joining the ranks of the world’s most economically devastated nations.

The sad, slow unraveling of this socialist state has been taking place for years. Venezuela modeled itself as a socialist paradise during the days of self-anointed revolutionary hero Hugo Chavez. Aligning his nation with Cuba, China and the other tyrannical regimes of the world, the ace that Chavez held was that the nation he ruled sat on top of a sea of oil.

By the time Chavez died in 2013, his country was already starting to come apart. Widespread corruption, tumbling oil prices and a mismanaged economy sent the nation into a tailspin. Chavez’s appointed successor, Maduro, has presided over a nation in chaos. Rising through the ranks of the thug class, Maduro hasn’t proved to possess the intelligence or charisma to save his country.

As the opposition grew, Maduro tightened his grip. He brutally squelched protests, jailed opposition leaders and seized control of the Supreme Court. Last Sunday, he pulled the ultimate power move by holding elections to nullify the National Assembly and replace it with a new body that would answer directly to him.

The elections held on Sunday were by all accounts, except those of the Venezuelan government, a complete sham. In fact, “sham” is the word UN Ambassador Nikki Haley used.

The government claimed there were eight million voters, a 41.5% turnout. But independent and opposition monitors reported throughout the country that polling stations remained quiet much of the day. Independent estimates by a variety of sources claim that turnout was somewhere between 9-18%, and the high number is a generous one.

The true vote count stands at closer to three million. This is considered a realistic estimate because the government’s two million-plus workers were threatened with losing their jobs if they didn’t go to the polls. Many of the country’s poor were also compelled to vote or risk losing their government aid.

Maduro’s claiming victory in his bogus election didn’t quiet the opposition. They took to the streets Monday, in some cases supported by the old guard Chavezistas, supporters of the late Chavez. If these people are lamenting the days of Chavez, that’s as sure a sign as any that darkness has settled upon this land.

On Tuesday, two leaders of the opposition were snatched up by masked gunman in the middle of the night. Leopoldo Lopez was Venezuela’s most prominent political prisoner before being released just a month ago after serving three and a half years of a 13-year sentence for inciting riots. His declining health drew international pressure for his release, and until Tuesday he was living under house arrest. Now he and Antonio Ledezma are likely headed back to prison.

American condemnation of Maduro’s actions and the election has been swift. Backed by Mexico, Canada, Argentina, Colombia, Panama, Paraguay, Spain and Great Britain, the U.S. is calling for heavy sanctions on the regime. The Trump administration plans to go one step further by placing sanctions directly on Maduro and top members of his government.

Strongmen like Maduro don’t generally leave all their stolen treasure out there to be swept up by the law. He is likely to have some help from Cuba, China and Russia in his efforts to stymy American attempts to bring him to justice. However, swift U.S. action is a good start in finding a way to contain the unrest and bring an end to the carnage.

History offers many examples indicating things will likely get worse in Venezuela before they get better. The real lessons of what has happened there should not be lost on the American people. Venezuela is an oil-rich country with some of the most fertile land in South America, and yet people are starving to death and the economy is a complete shambles. Why? Because the state controls everything. It promised to give the people everything they needed and wanted. Instead, it took everything they had. Yet one more example of the “virtues” of socialism.

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