Maduro Faces Election with Relative Prosperity and Pending Tasks

Healthcare, salaries, electricity, justice, land, and corruption issues are threats to the continuity of the Bolivarian Revolution.
Clodovaldo Maduro reelection
Columnist Clodovaldo Hernández lays down the priorities the Maduro government should address in its reelection bid. (Venezuelanalysis)

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro faces an electoral campaign under better conditions than in 2018 when the country was grappling with an extremely dire economic situation and the government was enduring a fierce international onslaught led by the highly hostile Donald Trump administration.

Although the country’s economic recovery has not yet reached large segments of the population, the overall climate is much less bleak than between 2014 and 2020, a period marked by shortages of basic goods, hyperinflation, massive migration, and other adverse effects caused by the [US-led economic] blockade when it was at its maximum intensity.

There is something paradoxical about what is happening. The country has tremendous weaknesses and is far from having the auspicious indicators it achieved in the first decade of the century. Still, having hit rock bottom (largely thanks to the enemies of the Bolivarian Revolution), Venezuela now seems to be experiencing a moment of relative prosperity.

Maduro, now in his eleventh year in office, should in theory have a very low chance of being reelected, according to classical parameters of management analysis. Certainly, leaders with much less time in office often show severe degrees of wear and tear, even when some of them have been able to govern in situations of calm and stability. Maduro, who has governed amidst a ferocious succession of storms, seems to have managed to reverse this trend. When compared to his own government five or seven years ago, the current moment is positive. 

According to some analysts, the president has managed to earn recognition from at least a portion of the electorate for his enormous capacity to resist the enemy onslaughts, his tenacity, and stubbornness to stand tall despite being the target of attacks that not even his mentor, Commander Chávez, had to face.

It is possible that this plays role for part of the hardline Chavista vote, but there is a factor that may encompass a broader spectrum: Maduro has managed to stabilize the economy, pulling it back from a real precipice. And when the economy is functioning well and people have the sense that things will improve for themselves and their families, governments tend to benefit.

Another great strength of Maduro lies in the political organization that supports him, which has stayed united and nominated him as the sole candidate, marking a substantial difference with the opposition, which has put forward twelve candidates, with none thus far capable of rallying support.

The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has managed to develop a national, regional, and local structure comparable only to that of Acción Democrática (social-democratic) and Copei (Christian democratic), the two major parties that governed between 1958 and 1998, the alternating regime prior to Chávez.

In addition to the grassroots organizations of the PSUV, the government also has a network of social organizations that have been responsible for fundamental issues such as the distribution of subsidized food (Local Supply and Production Committees, CLAP); water and public services technical groups; communal councils, communes, Bolívar Chávez Battle Units (UBCH), Missions, and Great Missions. This has allowed government and party experts to have an updated and global view of their membership, in terms of big data.

But it would be suicidal for Maduro, his government, and the PSUV, facing a fragmented opposition, to fall into the trap of triumphalism as there is a set of threats looming over the reelection effort.

Urgent Matters: Healthcare

One of the pending issues is public healthcare. There is a popular demand that authorities forcefully tackle the tangled web of problems that turn hospitals into true nightmares for patients and their families.

The issues surrounding surgeries and complex treatments are especially dramatic. Patients and their relatives are required to pay for a battery of prior tests, which must be carried out in private institutions at high costs.

They are also asked for a list of materials and supplies to be purchased at “free market” prices. All of this completely undermines the proclaimed free nature of state healthcare services.

If this thorny and widespread problem were to at least begin to be addressed, it would satisfy our constitutional precepts and, moreover, would be a real and concrete incentive for people from the most precarious sectors to regain faith in the socialist healthcare model.

It is evident that the deterioration of healthcare services has been, among other reasons, a consequence of the economic blockade and unilateral coercive measures. Only the most denialists among the opposition would deny this. But corruption, which remains entrenched in hospitals, also plays a fundamental role in exacerbating the problem, stripping patients of materials, supplies, and medicines provided, at great sacrifice, by the state. 

Corrupt individuals steal these goods to re-circulate them in the speculative markets typical of dehumanized, exploitative mafias, exploiting the pain and illness of others.

Salaries and incomes

Another issue that troubles a broad sector of supporters of the Bolivarian government is that of salaries, pensions, and retirement plans. The most affected sectors are those in which the state is the employer, such as education, health, and security sectors.

Government spokespersons have presented arguments for continuing the policy of not increasing the minimum wage but granting indexed bonuses instead. The positive results in the effort to reduce the hyperinflation that devastated the entire country seem to support their stance. However, the fact is that a fairly large segment of the population has an income below the price of the basic basket of goods.

What can a government seeking reelection do about such a structural issue? It seems difficult to do anything different from what it has done in recent years. But it should be aware that those affected sectors can be swayed by demagogic offers from their opponents. An empty wallet is a vote killer, in Venezuela and everywhere else.

The electricity supply problem

The issue of power outages (especially the unplanned ones) and their variant, power fluctuations and surges (abrupt drops in power flow), have grown prominent on the list of threats against President Nicolás Maduro’s reelection.

With scavenging relish, some opposition analysts compare these failures to the long queues generated by shortages and “bachaqueo” (speculative resale of scarce goods) between 2013 and 2015, which were key to the opposition’s victory in the parliamentary elections.

Regardless of whether these assessments are mostly just commentators’ wishful thinking, it is clear that the shortcomings in the electrical system bear a striking resemblance to those efforts to push people to maximum annoyance and obstinacy.

On the government side, we are assured that the current electrical crisis is the work of saboteurs, opposition elements operating within the state-owned company Corpoelec. However, experts on the matter say that the severe drought affecting the entire continent and the nearly 20-year lack of investment in the electrical sector also have a significant influence.

The police and judicial system

A third issue that generates much discontent is the poor functioning of the police and judicial systems. Venezuela still has, after 25 years of Revolution, a crippled, classist, and even racist justice system.

Citizens often fear the police officer, the soldier, the pyblic prosecutor, or the judge more than the common criminal, due to a network of mafias that operate as administrators of a lucrative business and also as a mechanism for personal vendettas. Obviously, this is not a problem that will be solved before July, but a gesture of political will in that direction would be at least an encouragement for the party members and supporters of President Maduro.

Deep in the countryside, land ownership

When attempting to assess the current state of the Chavista hardcore vote, each sector has its own drama. And in the countryside, there are severe signs that the struggle between landless campesinos (obviously a revolutionary sector) and old and new landowners (naturally right-wing) has intensified.

One of the great achievements of the early years of the Revolution seems to be rapidly regressing. Many plots of land that had been assigned to organized campesino groups have returned to their former owners or to the hands of third parties, linked to political and military forces.

Even the pretense of caring seems to be fading. Prominent activists attempting to resist these maneuvers are openly repressed, judicialized, or intimidated. In the name of the supposed productivity of agribusiness, a “revolutionary bourgeoisie” with aspirations of holding large amounts of land is being protected.

Follow through with “whoever may fall”

A fifth pending issue had a tremendous shake-up this month. The operation named “Caiga quien caiga” (“Whoever May Fall”) in March 2023 caused a stir when the Anti-Corruption Police detained high-ranking officials from the oil and cryptocurrency sectors. The generalized expectation that this would be the beginning of a major crusade against corruption had dwindled because there was no clarity about whether the top leader of the dismantled group, former Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami, had been detained or not, as he simply disappeared from the public scene.

On April 9th, his arrest and indictment for several serious crimes, including treason, were announced. El Aissami, who in his career served as president of the gigantic state-owned company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), Minister of Finance, Minister of Interior and Justice, and governor of the central state of Aragua, was shown to the public in prisoner’s uniform, handcuffed, emaciated, and aged.

Very pragmatic people say that many votes will be at stake due to this matter. If the state completes the task and demonstrates that, indeed, all those who should fall will fall, it will score many points in the race for reelection. However, government leaders and spokespersons have assured that the arrest was carried out “without a political calculation.”

Clodovaldo Hernández is a journalist and political analyst with experience in higher education. He won the National Journalism Prize (Opinion category) in 2002. He is the author of the books Reinventario (poetry and short stories) De genios y de figuras (journalistic profiles) and Esa larga, infinita distancia (novel).

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.

Translated by Venezuelanalysis.com.