Venezuela uncertainty and unrest worsened by fixed election

Elections with a certain outcome this weekend set to increase Venezuela unrest and uncertainty.

Venezuela unrest and uncertainty are on the rise.
  • Venezuela uncertainty and unrest have been on the rise for years. Since the beginning of 2017, there have been 6,729 protests and 163 deaths related to those protests.
  • One-sided elections this weekend could cement Nicolas Maduro’s hold on power and further sideline Juan Guaido, who is recognized as the interim president by much of the international community.
  • Six U.S. citizens or residents have been held in Venezuela for years and are now facing more than a decade in jail. The U.S. has put up rewards of $15 million for Maduro’s arrest.

Venezuela uncertainty and unrest continue grow, as the country remains in an ever-worsening economic and political crisis. Venezuela is heading to the polls this weekend to vote for members of the National Assembly. The election has already attracted critics that say it is botched. Opposition members are boycotting it.

There is little stability in Venezuela. The Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict (OVCS), an NGO, says there have been 8,448 protests this year. Most had to do with broken basic services. That was a 15 percent drop from 2019, the VOSC said.

Venezuela uncertainty and unrest have been on the rise for years. Since the beginning of 2017, there have been 6,729 protests and 163 deaths related to those protests.

In vast swaths of the country, there is limited running water, spotty electricity supply, food and fuel shortages and often little currency to pay salaries. The COVID-19 has only exacerbated the precarious situation. (Read more.)

Opposition members say the elections this weekend are rigged and are boycotting them. Instead, Guaido and other opposition lawmakers have held a referendum this week calling on people in Venezuela to reject Maduro by staying away from the elections.

“On December 6 there will be no elections and so it is recognized by the world,” Juan Guaido tweeted on Friday. Most of the world recognizes Guaido as the country’s interim president but he wields little actual power. Rather, most of the actual power is held by Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuela uncertainty and unrest

Guaido was the leader of the country’s National Assembly when the legislative body technically ousted Maduro on January 11, 2019. The National Assembly also named Guaido as president. Maduro, who controls the army, never recognized the change.

Dozens of countries recognize Guaido, including the U.S., neighboring Colombia, Brazil and the members of the European Union.

“In a phone conversation I assured the acting president Juan Guaido  the continuity of our support to achieve a free and democratic Venezuela,” tweeted Miguel Berger, state secretary at Germany’s Federal Foreign Office.

Regardless, Maduro remains the de facto leader of the country’s ruling regime. Maduro served as vice-president to Hugo Chavez, who holds almost legendary status in Venezuela. He won a second term to office in 2018 in an election many nations say Maduro fixed by banning the most popular opponents from running.

Guaido’s party Voluntad Popular and other members of the opposition have decided to boycott the election and that is likely to all but guarantee Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela regains control of the National Assembly, the last major government institution he does not control. And that could all but do away with democracy in Venezuela.

They say the election are rigged.

Election threats and certain outcome

Venezuela uncertainty and unrest are likely to continue. If he does not regain his seat at the National Assembly, Guaido will lose his position in the National Assembly but it is widely expected to retain most of his international support and, with it, expectations that he will eventually facilitate a peaceful and democratic transition of power.

Leopoldo Lopez, Guaido’s political godfather who fled Venezuela after years under arrest and months living in Spain’s embassy in Caracas, called on the Spanish government to continue recognizing Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president. Lopez now lives in Madrid.

Guaido remains a symbol of the divided opposition in Venezuela. He has little in the way of practical power or options to enact policies, despite his position as interim president. With little support at home, his biggest victories have been in the international front.

One of those victories was snatching some important funds and assets that Maduro’s regime controlled abroad. Among those assets are Citgo Petroleum Corporation, from Houston, Texas, which belonged to the Venezuelan public but is now being controlled by Guaido’s faction.

This might not be worth very much. Before losing control of Citgo, Maduro’s regime issued bonds worth billions of dollars backed by Citgo shares.

U.S. citizens held for years

PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-controlled oil company, defaulted on the payments. Multiple lawsuits were launched in U.S. federal courts and the litigation is ongoing. The State Department has prevented creditors from gaining control of the company with a takeover.

The major PDVSA creditor is Russia’s Rosneft. Washington has no plans to allow Moscow to control the operation of a company with the capacity to refine up to 750,000 barrels of oil per day oil on U.S. soil and distribute it to a network of some 5,000 gas stations.

The U.S. State Department said on Oct. 6 that “…transactions related to the sale or transfer of CITGO shares in connection with the PdVSA 2020 8.5 percent bond are prohibited” unless specific authorization is granted.

Meanwhile, in Caracas, Maduro’s regime arrested six Citgo executives, all citizens or residents of the U.S. three years ago. They were accused of corruption and sentenced in late November to over 10 years in prison each. The State Department condemned the sentencing of the former Citgo employees.

“The United States unequivocally condemns the wrongful convictions of the Citgo 6, in a proceeding that should be described as a kangaroo court,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a press statement. “After canceling their initial appearance before a judge dozens of times over the last three years, the illegitimate Venezuelan legal system suddenly convicted and sentenced these oil executives without any evidence.”

It is still unclear what position President-elect Joe Biden will take once he takes over power in January. Biden has called Maduro a dictator. He last mentioned Venezuela publicly on Sept. 24, when he tweeted that “I stand in solidarity with all defenders of human rights from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela — and pray for the freedom of all political prisoners”.

Countries across Latin America are closely following the one-sided elections this weekend, even though opposition parties are not participating. Whatever the results, the election is not likely to end the political chaos in the country. Quite the contrary.

Withholding food

Still, Maduro’s allies like Diosdado Cabello, who controls Venezuela’s military, continue with the charade of running for office. He has issued threats from his election platform: “He who does not vote, does not eat. For those who do not vote, there is no food. Whoever does not vote, does not eat, a quarantine is applied there without eating,” he said on Nov. 30.

The U.S. State Department has offered a reward of up to US$10 million for information leading to Cabello’s arrest. Cabello is sought by a federal court in the Southern District of New York, where he was indicted in March 2020 with conspiracy to commit narco-terrorism, conspiracy to import cocaine and firearms charges.

There is also a US$15 million reward for Maduro’s arrest.

“We assess that Nicolas Maduro, the illegitimate Venezuelan dictator and drug kingpin, represents a danger for the stability of the whole region, not just Venezuela,” says a joint communique by officials from the U.S. and Venezuela’s interim government issued on Dec. 2.

“To promote security for the Venezuelan people and our hemisphere, Maduro’s illegitimate narco-regime should be held accountable and face justice for its crimes.”

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