CARACAS, Venezuela — The Maduro regime has its eyes set on holding a presidential election in 2024 and is inching towards a plan — one that would in all likelihood result in a sham vote “reelecting” the dictator.
Once again, the Venezuelan establishment “opposition” appears ready to play ball with the socialist regime, preparing to partake despite Nicolás Maduro’s extensive record of holding fraudulent, unfree votes. The few elections in which Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro appeared to face a genuine challenge were followed by post-electoral actions such as last-minute laws and court rulings to effectively nullify and override the people’s will.
The upcoming elections pose only two major questions for myself as an average Venezuelan: Why bother? Why should I care?
The indifference towards the “opposition” and the election has been brewing for 24 years. The “opposition” is largely to blame for this apathy, as it has repeatedly failed to take any actions to end socialism in Venezuela. You can only place your trust in a group of politicians so many times before you just stop trusting them.
Since February, the “opposition” has been working on a “primary” process to choose a candidate against Maduro. That process has been complicated by Maduro claiming that the election may not even happen in 2024, but in 2023 — in August even, if you are to believe the words of the vice president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and alleged drug lord Diosdado Cabello.
That alone should be enough of a tell that this is not going to be a transparent process. Moving the date of the election at their own convenience was one of the things socialist regime officials did during the 2018 sham presidential election — the one that Maduro used to cling to power these past four years.
The sort of “hope” that the “opposition” leaders and some analysts have begun to sell — to give the idea that the 2024 election is going to be different, such as that this time, for sure, they will “knock out” Maduro during the next election and that Maduro is “worried about the primary” — is the same repackaged rodeo we have heard time and time again.
Last time, the “opposition” failed so thoroughly to convince people to care that only four out of every ten Venezuelans participated in the 2021 regional elections. The 2020 sham legislative elections saw a record-low 30 percent turnout even though the Maduro regime threatened to starve people who did not vote.
The list of “opposition” candidates in this primary so far includes the same familiar perennial failed candidates of the past two decades. Andrés Velásquez, one of the candidates, has been a presidential candidate since before I was born.
The primary process, offering no fresh faces and no significant anti-socialist voices, is not necessarily the worst thing about this election. A primary is something that normally takes place in a democracy — or so I’m assuming, I clearly wouldn’t know anymore — and does not necessarily offer ideological diversity. The candidates themselves aren’t the problem either — or at least, their right to participate, or the number of them, or what they offer.
The problem is that the primary doesn’t matter.
Whoever wins will face Nicolás Maduro in an “election” orchestrated by Maduro himself and his army of cronies. The socialist regime controls all five branches of Venezuela’s government (executive, legislative, judicial, electoral, and citizens) and oversees every aspect of voting: manning voting stations, printing ballots, and most importantly, tallying.
The game is rigged, and the “opposition” has no one to appeal to when it inevitably loses.
The last time I voted in a Venezuelan election was on April 14, 2013. That was the day Maduro got elected. He was already the president of Venezuela by that time, as he was the nation’s vice president at the time of Hugo Chávez’s death a month prior.
Maduro won that election by 223,599 votes, a 1.49-percent lead hilariously presented by regime state media as a landslide:
La abismal diferencia de votos de #Maduro y #Capriles, según el gráfico de la TV venezolana http://t.co/ltR5XcHUzy pic.twitter.com/7OjtZmwEgv
— Ecoteuve (@Ecoteuve) April 15, 2013
My vote didn’t actually count in that election because I was working abroad at the time. Absentee votes from abroad were only tallied after Maduro allegedly obtained an “irreversible” lead.
The “opposition” candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, did initially contest the results, demanding a recount while identifying over 3,000 irregularities that could have easily translated into his victory if taken seriously, potentially saving Venezuela from the past ten years of misery.
The nation’s electoral authority, led by a pro-regime majority, did only the bare minimum to appear to comply with protocol on electoral challenges. Capriles accused Maduro of stealing the election and appealed to the Venezuelan Supreme Court — also captured by regime justices who rejected his appeal.
At that time, an intense but brief period of protests against the socialist regime was unfolding. Maduro threatened criminal action against Capriles, accusing him of instigating the protests. Capriles responded by immediately caving, urging his followers to cease the protests. He instead suggested that his followers play salsa music during Maduro’s inauguration and bang empty pots to make noise (a very common form of peaceful protest colloquially known as cacerolazo).
Capriles simply stopped contesting the election in the most crucial of times. Nine years later, he would go on to call for the end of sanctions on Maduro’s regime.
Now, he is one of the “opposition’s” top primary candidates, despite being legally banned from holding any public office. You tell me if you’d place your trust in him after all that.
In addition to running unpalatable candidates, the opposition has in recent years developed a policy of alienating anti-socialist Venezuelans who dare express criticism or distrust of what has become, with Capriles at the helm, an “establishment” opposition. Opposition supporters condemn critics as pro-Maduro stooges, launching online hashtag campaigns against them with cliche slogans such as Suma y no Restes (“Add and Don’t Subtract”) and ¿Aja, y tu que propones? (“Ok, So What Do You Propose?”). Anti-Maduro Venezuelans have reason to expect similar disparagement this time around.
Perhaps a proper, new opposition may one day emerge, but the recent history of the country suggests that neither the socialist regime nor the “opposition” will realistically allow a third contender in their locked game — let alone something that’s not left, center left, or another shade of left.
Even if a functional anti-Maduro opposition existed, Maduro’s PSUV has a stranglehold over every relevant branch of government and, its history shows, no incentive to hold a free and fair election.
There are already two precedents of both the judiciary and legislative branches “overriding” electoral results. In 2007, Hugo Chávez sought to further implement socialism in Venezuela at a constitutional level through a controversial reform. He lost by a one-percent difference. That did not stop the regime from implementing much of what they sought to reform the constitution with through laws instead.
In 2015, Maduro saw his biggest defeat yet when he lost control of two-thirds of the National Assembly to the opposition. The Supreme Court threw a wrench in that by allowing an injunction on the results of Amazonas state, where three opposition lawmakers and one socialist party lawmaker had been elected. The injunction stripped the opposition from the two-thirds majority and eventually rendered that legislative body null and void through several actions. The opposition majority formally lost control in 2020 in another sham election.
Maduro’s regime has openly admitted it would never cede power. This week, Diosdado Cabello reiterated once more that the Bolivarian Revolution is “here to stay” and that their socialism “is the model.” Cabello gave his assertions mere hours after Colombia’s far-left President Gustavo Petro held a conference with international representatives to discuss Venezuela’s current situation.
At the end of the day, I am no politician — I am simply only one man, trying his best to pursue my own dreams while taking care of his younger brother — but I just don’t see how, presently, we can vote socialism out of Venezuela.
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Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.