EspañolThe Venezuelan legislative elections are around the corner, and it’s not looking good for the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
President Nicolás Maduro’s approval rating is at an all-time low, and allegations of human-rights abuses have harmed his image internationally. This is the diagnosis of Pedro Urruchurtu, a Venezuelan political analyst and international youth outreach coordinator with the opposition party Vente Venezuela.
Urruchurtu sat down with the PanAm Post at the International Federation of Liberal Youth (IFLRY) 2015 Summit in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. He explained why the December election is so important for Venezuela, and the tricks the government may have up its sleeve.
“Maduro has become an inconvenience for the region’s governments,” he said, noting that the president has lost political support both in and out Venezuela.
Do you believe Venezuela is a dictatorship?
It’s a modern dictatorship: a regime that, on the one hand, uses elections to portray a respectable image before the international community, and that, on the other, has some profound authoritarian practices that border on totalitarianism in many respects.
The regime is totalitarian, because it interferes with the Venezuelans’ daily lives. The government engages in profound censorship, holds political prisoners, and tortures. It shares many features with dictatorships; the only difference is we have all this technology these days that prevents the regime from becoming a ruthless dictatorship like the ones from the past century.
Nevertheless, it is an absolutely authoritarian regime, a modern dictatorship.
If the regime controls the election, why take part?
Elections are just another battle in the struggle that we must put up every day.
We have learned in the past that participating in elections is necessary, and we understand that giving up the fight grants them an automatic victory. The electoral struggle is important if you have strong candidates who embody the right values and who understand the nature of the regime we are facing.
But we also believe that this is not just about elections. Beyond votes, we believe in other methods to demand change that are within the Constitution and democracy, such as peaceful protests.
What is the opposition standing up against in this election?
The government has an undue advantage, because it has public funds, and campaigns ahead of time. Ruling-party opportunism is one problem.
But also there is also what we call “electoral engineering,” when the government intervenes at polling stations to manipulate the final tally in the ruling party’s favor.
One method is to use those who traditionally abstain from voting in elections. The government changes those voters’ electoral district to a different place, likely far away from their home state. Then there are polling stations which are hard for the opposition to get to, because they are in ruling-party strongholds. Our observers are afraid to go there, because they have no assurance for their safety.
Further strategies arise when the polls close. It has been proven that when the opposition is winning an election, the government orders that the voting time be extended. Then somehow the ruling party starts reversing those trends during those hours.
The government has also banned opposition politicians from running.
That’s why the Organization of American States (OAS) General Secretary [Luis Almagro] said that the current conditions, without qualified observers, do not guarantee a fair and transparent election in Venezuela.
Why don’t foreign governments understand or address the problems in Venezuela?
I believe that the Venezuelan government has been very effective with the argument that it has won 19 out of 20 elections. This allows them to claim that they are legitimate, because people voted for them, regardless of how the elections were carried out.
It has been useful to sell the idea of legitimacy abroad. These people might say, “if the Venezuelan government has been democratically elected, why would I say it is a dictatorship?”
I do believe, however, that countries in the region have changed their perception of Venezuela. OAS Secretary General Almagro has changed his mind; we see it in the UNASUR electoral mission; we see how Brazil officials complained about the irregularities, and then Uruguay joined them.
It seems that with Maduro’s low approval rating, and his violation of human rights, foreign-government leaders are starting to think: “how convenient is it to take a photo with a human-rights abuser, to travel to Venezuela to legitimize an election from which the government has banned international observers?”
In other words, the same international community that supported the Maduro administration two years ago is now keeping their distance.
I think that if Argentinean [opposition candidate Mauricio] Macri wins the elections, it will also have an impact on how the region perceives the Venezuelan government.
Maduro is quite weak right now. That explains his Caribbean tours in an attempt to recover his allies, and his future visit to Saudi Arabia to try to push oil prices up and become influential again.
What will the opposition do now that the government has banned international observers?
The Venezuelan government hasn’t authorized missions from the OAS and the European Union, and as the opposition we must take action.
The opposition will bring an important number of international observers, who will be stationed at strategic points across the country, where we need their support.
Even though it will not be an official mission authorized by the government, the observers will accompany, assess, and even verify eventual irregularities, so they will be able to tell the world what they see.
On the other hand, the UNASUR mission is a limited one, with many restrictions; the observers don’t even know if the report will be published because the election authority has to approve it first.
Fergus Hodgson contributed to this article.