In the context of another presidential election set for this Sunday, members of the Venezuelan opposition have again used confusing campaign tactics in their bid to retake the government.
While affirming, for example, that President Nicolas Maduro is “destroying everything President Chavez did” for Venezuela, the opposition also claims the election of Chavez’s former Foreign Minister and Vice President “will represent a triumph for Fidel Castro and the FARC (Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia)”. Clearly aimed at dividing the country’s pro-Chavez majority, the strategy seems to have had no impact on Maduro’s poll numbers.
The Chavez in Capriles?
Though the same strategy failed during the 2012 presidential election campaign, members of Venezuela’s US-backed opposition spent the entirety of this year’s brief campaign praising the widely-popular social policies of former President Hugo Chavez while at the same time attacking the very same Bolivarian Revolution he helped lead to power. As part of largely contradictory messaging, members of the anti-Chavez coalition known as MUD attacked the Chavez legacy while claiming Maduro is “destroying everything Chavez did” during his years in office (1998-2013).
In one recent example, MUD candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski held a rushed speaking event with an unknown grouping titled “Bolivarians and Revolutionaries of the Homeland with Capriles”. The event, which began with the forced removal of journalists representing the public media, included statements by so-called “former Chavistas” who claim Capriles “brought light into the darkness”, “provided solutions to our problems”, and “brought us together instead of pitting people against people”. The vague statements, issued by unnamed participants, resembled declarations made last year by another opposition grouping titled “Chavistas for Capriles”. Aimed at dividing Venezuela’s pro-Chavez majority, this strategy failed to reduce the double-digit lead Chavez held throughout the 2012 campaign.
In perhaps the most outlandish of Capriles’ rhetoric, the opposition hopeful went as far as to guarantee citizenship to the thousands of Cuban medical professionals currently serving Venezuela’s working-class majority thanks to an agreement between President Chavez and Cuba’s Fidel and Raul Castro. Speaking to a group of supporters late last week, Capriles affirmed that “a lot of attention is given to the fact that Venezuela has medical facilities staffed by Cuban doctors”.
“It is thanks to these doctors”, he said, “that our people now have health...[a]s such, I offer all of these Cuban doctors citizenship in our Venezuela”.
The candidate’s praise for, and promise to, the Cuban medical mission comes in direct conflict with his conduct during the 2002 coup against President Chavez in which Capriles joined protestors outside of the Cuban embassy before forcing his way over its perimeter walls. The US-backed candidate is also one of the most outspoken politicians who repeatedly question the social and economic integration efforts underway between Venezuela and Cuba. Capriles has also pledged that “no more oil” will be sent to Cuba if he is elected.
While Capriles and the MUD issued public statements recognizing the “things Chavez did for Venezuela”, their campaign also included attacks on his successful foreign policy. The obvious target: Nicolas Maduro, who served as Chavez’s Foreign Minister for the last six years (2006-2013).
In an article published by conservative daily El Universal, right-wing lawmaker Maria Corina Machado described this Sunday’s presidential election as an end to “a regime” that tried dominating “all of Latin America”.
Machado, who currently serves as International Coordinator of the Capriles campaign, said, “April 14th means a lot more than just the electoral defeat of Nicolas Maduro”. Capriles and the MUD are “taking on the necessary defeat, both politically and culturally, of a regime that hoped to use Venezuela in order to control all of Latin America”, she said.
Her comments contradict a recent video message recorded by former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio “Lula” de Silva in which he affirmed “Maduro, as Foreign Minister, stood out brilliantly in the struggle to define Venezuela to the world and in the construction of a more democratic and solidarity-based Latin America”.
“I don’t want to interfere in Venezuela’s internal affairs”, Lula explained, “but I can’t help making this declaration for the future of a country that is so dear to the Brazilian people”.
Machado was infuriated by Lula’s statements, which contradict Capriles’ repeated claims that he somehow resembles the popular Brazilian leader. In comments to the press, she stated that it was “unheard of that someone who presents himself as a defender of human rights, of the workers, supports such a regime – it represents inadmissible meddling”.
Lula issued a similar statement before the October 7, 2012 presidential election, voicing his support for President Chavez who later won the election by 1.5 million votes. In contrast, when asked about demands by US State Department spokesperson Roberto Jackson that Venezuela hold “open, transparent and fair elections”, Machado said, “these declarations are more than welcome”.
In a similar story, Machado described pro-Maduro declarations issued by the Foro de Sao Paulo – an organization made up of numerous leftist movements and political parties from across the Americas – as a “lack of respect and flagrant act of interventionism”.
According to Machado, “the FARC (Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia) are part of the Foro de Sao Paulo. As such, when the Foro de Sao Paulo says the triumph of Nicolas Maduro is their triumph, it means that a triumph of Nicolas Maduro is the triumph of Fidel Castro and the FARC”. Neither the FARC nor Fidel Castro appear on the Foro de Sao Paulo’s list of members, nor did they participate in the Foro de Sao Paulo meeting in Caracas late last month.
While opposition campaigning attempted apparently to divide the country’s pro-Chavez majority, six different polling firms report Maduro is a sure win. GIS XXI, Datin Corp, International Consulting Services (ICS), Hinterlaces, IVAD, and Consultores 30:11 all found that a majority of voters intend to follow through on Chavez’s platform and elect Interim President Nicolas Maduro president for the 2013-2019 period.