On 21 November, Venezuelans headed to the polls. Though only local and regional offices were up for grabs, these so-called “mega-elections” were significant because they marked the return of the US-backed right wing; having boycotted the 2018 presidential and 2020 congressional elections, opposition parties decided to participate in the ballot. Their gamble didn’t pay off.
A victory for Chavismo.
The right’s last-minute course change bore little fruit, as Nicolás Maduro’s ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) secured at least 212 of 335 mayoralties, and 19 of 23 governorships [Editor’s note: On 29 November the Venezuelan Supreme Court ordered the Barinas gubernatorial election be repeated on 9 January 2022].
Though its share of the vote was just 47%, PSUV, the main force of Chavismo, the political movement founded by former president Hugo Chávez, has much to celebrate. For one thing, the party can point to an increased turnout of 42%, significantly higher than the 30% registered in December 2020. The party can also be confident that its victory was a clean one. Having rejected previous invitations, the European Union sent a mission to observe the recent election. While the EU’s report has been used selectively by both sides, its conclusions – such as the alleged use of state resources by pro-government candidates – do not sustain the fraud narratives pushed by the opposition and its foreign backers for years.
Opposition in disarray.
To maintain its political hegemony, the PSUV leveraged two main assets: its solid base and splintered opposition.
It seems an eternity ago that the Venezuelan opposition had all the initiative after winning a majority in the 2015 legislative elections. Chávez was no longer on the scene and the old elites seemed poised to take back power. But years of miscalculations and poor judgement leave it searching for answers, and for credible challengers to Chavismo.
Its decisions to abandon elections and place its bets on coup attempts and US sanctions overthrowing the Maduro government were a resounding failure. With the regional contests fast approaching, these sectors had to admit defeat and field candidates once again.
However, other factions had since moved to fill the empty space and challenge the government at the ballot box. As a result, voters were in most cases presented with two, three or even more candidates running against the pro-government figures. And more than efforts to join forces, the campaign saw ugly and petty episodes of opposition infighting which ended up making life easier for PSUV candidates.
With this defeat, it’s back to the drawing board for the Venezuelan opposition. But the way forward is not as dependent on on-the-ground calculations as on the course that US backers choose.
Any strategy begins by settling the question of what to do with self-proclaimed “interim president” Juan Guaidó. Much hyped by the corporate media when he burst on the scene, the opposition leader has become both an embarrassment and a liability. In the recent elections, despite parties that backed his very dubious position fielding candidates, he never endorsed them or called on people to vote. With other anti-government leaders calling on him to step aside, Guaidó understood that a strong opposition showing would put his status in even bigger jeopardy.
US policies will also condition the Venezuelan government moving forward. Though Maduro and allies are looking at a window of stability until the 2024 presidential elections, any efforts to get the economy back on track will be an uphill battle as long as cruel and wide-reaching US sanctions remain in place. These measures, which have especially targeted the oil industry, have seriously aggravated a years-long crisis and blocked any and all solutions. Causing food and fuel shortages, strained services and mass migration, it’s no wonder that economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs have described the sanctions as “collective punishment”.
Washington has likewise become an obstacle in the political playing field. The Maduro government and the Guaidó-led opposition were conducting talks in Mexico, mediated by Norway and other countries, with a view towards reaching agreements for electoral participation, vaccine purchases and other matters. But the dialogue came to a halt on Maduro’s instructions, after the US secured the extradition of the Venezuelan government envoy to face money laundering charges, in a case that has been widely exposed as politically motivated. At the moment it is an open question whether the two sides will return to the table.
Tough decisions in Washington.
For regardless of other parties and leaders openly questioning Guaidó and calling for an end to the “interim government,” as well as wider and louder calls for sanctions relief, these decisions will ultimately be taken in the White House. This means that other considerations, such as the Florida midterm elections, come into play. A weakened Biden will not be eager to be seen as soft on a key swing-state battleground, even if it realises that the current strategy has floundered spectacularly.
The coming months will likely see a continuation of the status quo, a foreign policy that has not moved one inch since the White House change of tenant earlier this year. Guaidó will continue in his comical role that wields no power but does handle billions of dollars worth of Venezuelan assets abroad. More significantly for the Venezuelan people, unilateral sanctions that have killed over 40,000 people since they were imposed in 2017 will remain in place. That does not mean the fight is over.
Much like their Venezuelan surrogates, US officials grossly underestimated the strength of the Bolivarian Process and the Venezuelan people’s will to resist, even at great cost. If these heroic efforts are met by growing international solidarity, and with the left gaining ground in the continent, imperialist regime-change endeavours can hopefully become a thing of the past.