Frederick Reese In the aftermath of Sunday’s Venezuelan presidential election — which saw Nicolas Maduro, the former foreign minister and hand-picked successor to the late president Hugo Chavez, win the presidency over challenger Henrique Capriles by a razor-thin margin — Venezuelans have taken to the street in protests that have left at least seven dead […]
In the aftermath of Sunday’s Venezuelan presidential election — which saw Nicolas Maduro, the former foreign minister and hand-picked successor to the late president Hugo Chavez, win the presidency over challenger Henrique Capriles by a razor-thin margin — Venezuelans have taken to the street in protests that have left at least seven dead and more than 60 injured.
Maduro was elected by a margin of 1.6 percentage points, or 235,000 votes, and with a total of 50.8 percent of the vote. Capriles, who finished with 49 percent of the vote, has accused the Maduro camp of fraud and has requested a recount. Washington and the Organization of American States (OAS) have echoed this request. “The United States notes the acceptance by both candidates for an audit of the ballots and supports calls for a credible and transparent process to reassure the Venezuelan people regarding the results,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “Such a process would contribute to political dialogue and help advance the country’s democracy.”
Elections officials have indicated that they would consider a recount.
Adding to the confusion are rumors that arrest warrants have been issued against Capriles and opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez for inciting violence. “¡No es un rumor! Mis fuentes me confirman que están emitidas órdenes contra mí y @hcapriles. ¡Denuncio ante el país y el mundo esta persecución!” was posted on Lopez’ Twitter account. (Translation: “This is not a rumor! My sources tell me that they confirm there are orders issued against me and @hcapriles. They wish to denounce and persecute me before the country and the world!”)
On Monday, hundreds of Capriles-supporting protesters gathered in Caracas’ Plaza Altamira, banging pans and angrily chanting in protest of Maduro’s election. Motorcycle-riding security guards regularly emerged from the police line and fired tear gas and rubber bullets in the crowd, causing a retreat into the plaza.
“We have to protest,” said 24-year-old economics student Alejandro Blanco, as he walked toward the police line. “There’s an unelected president office. Maduro has been elected by a tiny margin. This is within the error margin in any other normal country.”
The atmosphere in Venezuela is reminiscent of the 2002 putsch against the election of Chavez, which lasted only 48 hours. The putsch led to the discrediting of Venezuela’s opposition and the radicalization of the government.
About 135 people were arrested Monday. Among the injured was a woman that the mob attempted to burn alive. Tuesday’s protests, following a call for calm from Capriles and Maduro, were quieter, focusing on small protests outside Election Council offices throughout the country. Capriles claims that his team has evidence of 3,200 voting irregularities — from fake IDs to voter intimidation. In addition, the opposition claims that 300,000 to 400,000 Capriles votes were not added to the official tally. Maduro initially asked for a recount, but changed position, instead calling for the transition period to start.