Venezuela Accuses U.S. of Plotting Coup After Deadly Post-Election Protests

Venezuelan President-elect Nicolás Maduro has accused the United States and opposition of planning a coup against him after seven government supporters were killed and 60 people were injured in clashes after the election. 

Venezuela’s National Electoral Council has certified Maduro’s victory, but opposition candidate Henrique Capriles is refusing to accept the results. The Venezuelan opposition says it has collected more than 3,200 reports of problems and campaign violations that could have swayed the vote, but the Union of South American Nations said Sunday’s election was free and fair. Several Latin American nations have already congratulated Maduro on his victory, including ArgentinaBolivia, Brazil, Cuba and Nicaragua. We go to Caracas to speak to Alex Main of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He served as an election monitor in Venezuela.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tensions are rising in Venezuela three days after voters elected Nicolás Maduro, the chosen successor of late President Hugo Chávez, to serve out the remainder of Chávez’s term. Venezuela’s National Electoral Council has certified Maduro’s victory after he won by about 275,000 votes. Maduro received 51 percent of the vote, while opposition leader Henrique Capriles got 49 percent. On Tuesday, President-elect Maduro accused the opposition of planning a coup against him after seven government supporters were killed and 60 people were injured in clashes after the election.

PRESIDENTELECT NICOLÁS MADURO: [translated] It’s an orchestrated plan that we have denounced. This is the chronology of an announced coup. I can announce here: We have defeated a coup. But they are going to continue to destabilize. Today I declare the coup defeated.

AMY GOODMAN: Venezuela’s President-elect Maduro also accused the United States of backing efforts by the opposition to destabilize Venezuela. On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department said it will not recognize the new government unless a full vote-by-vote recount is held as demanded by Capriles. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell responded to questions from the Associated Press’s Matthew Lee.

PATRICK VENTRELL: I mean, that’s been our position.


PATRICK VENTRELL: That hasn’t happened.

MATTHEW LEE: Even though after—after—after the vote has been certified—after the election has been certified, you still think that there should be a recount?

PATRICK VENTRELL: Well, under the Venezuelan constitution, it’s ultimately up to theCNE to certify—

MATTHEW LEE: Well, I understand that—

PATRICK VENTRELL: —the election results, which they’ve done.

MATTHEW LEE: —but what’s the U.S. position? Is the U.S. position that there still should be a recount?

PATRICK VENTRELL: Well, our position is that—

MATTHEW LEE: —or the Venezuelan people to have confidence?

PATRICK VENTRELL: Our position is that—let me finish, Matt. Our position is that resolving these irregularities would have engendered more confidence in the Venezuelan people in the quality of this vote. And so, that is the concern we’ve expressed. But in terms of where we go forward, I just don’t have anything more for you today.

MATTHEW LEE: Well, OK. So are you prepared to congratulate Mr. Maduro on his victory?

MATTHEW LEE: So you still think that they should recount the votes.

PATRICK VENTRELL: We’re not there.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The Venezuelan opposition says it has collected more than 3,200 reports of problems and campaign violations that could have swayed the vote, but the Union of South American Nations said Sunday’s election was free and fair. Several Latin American nations have already congratulated Maduro on his victory, including ArgentinaBolivia, Brazil, Cuba and Nicaragua. Russia and China have also congratulated him.

Supporters of opposition leader Henrique Capriles had planned to hold large protests today, but Capriles called them off, claiming the government wants violence on the streets.

HENRIQUE CAPRILES: [translated] Our path is a democratic one. I’ve taken the decision that tomorrow we are not going to mobilize ourselves, and I call upon all of my supporters to pick themselves up. Tomorrow, nobody goes out. Whoever goes out to march is on the side of violence and is doing the bidding of the government. The government wants there to be deaths in this country. The government does things itself, because it is not a secret to anyone that the person who is fronting the government is not a leader.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the situation in Venezuela, we’re joined by Democracy Now!video stream by Alex Main in Caracas. Alex is senior associate for international policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, served as an election monitor in Venezuela.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Alex Main. Talk about what has happened so far in these post-election days, with a number of people killed, and the U.S. position on the election.

ALEX MAIN: Yeah, thanks, Amy.

So, yeah, as we’ve heard in your news summary just now, it’s been a rocky couple of days, very noisy, as well. The last couple of nights, the Capriles campaign has called on the population to carry out a cacerolazo, which, as you may know, is a banging of pots and pans that comes from some of the protests that harken back to the 1970s in some of the dictatorships in South America. So, they’ve been trying to revive this form of protest here in Venezuela, and they’ve been doing this really for the last 12 years. But the last time we had serious cacerolazos here were—was in the 2002-to-2004 period, where there were constant street demonstrations, there were constant rumors of a coup. There was, of course, a coup in 2002 and so on.

And so there’s been a real atmosphere of tension here, and I think a lot of the country breathed a huge sigh of relief when Capriles called off the march on the CNE tomorrow. Many people saw it as something very similar to the call for a march that occurred back in April 2002, on April 11th, a march that of course turned violent and created a pretext for a military coup.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Alex Main, how have people in Venezuela responded to the U.S. support for the opposition’s call for a recount?

ALEX MAIN: Well, I think, you know, there’s no real surprise. I mean, the U.S. State Department has been pretty consistent in its treatment of Venezuela really nearly since Chávez was elected, certainly since 2001, 2002. There’s, I think, been kind of a constant campaign that the U.S. has quite deliberately fed into to try to undermine the government, to destabilize it. Of course, they did openly support the coup in 2002.

I think one of the big differences we’re seeing with 2002 now in the U.S.’s position is that [inaudible] very, very isolated. It’s only the U.S. and the very right-wing government of Spain that have backed the opposition position to call for a full recount and to not recognize Maduro as president until that recount occurs. We’re not seeing that anywhere else in the world at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: Alex, I just want to ask—I mean, this interaction between Matthew Lee of AP and Mr. Ventrell of the State Department was quite astounding. It was Mr. Ventrell of the State Department who said, “It’s ultimately up to the CNE to certify [the] election results, which they’ve done.” And so, the reporter said, “So are you going to congratulate Mr. Maduro?” And he said, “We’re not there yet. Our position is that it would engender more confidence in the Venezuelan people if they would do this recount.” I think back to 2000 in the United States, a very close race between Bush and Gore. They never had a full recount, that the United States is demanding of Venezuela right now.

ALEX MAIN: No, that’s absolutely correct. And, of course, it was a much slimmer margin back in 2000, and actually, of course, a margin that turned out to be in favor of Gore in terms of the popular vote. It’s even more absurd in this [inaudible] that you have really one of the most heavily audited electoral systems in the world. I think this has been recognized by international observers, certainlyformer President Jimmy Carter, [inaudible] as the best system in the world.

And the terms of this electoral process were agreed to beforehand by the Venezuelan opposition. You have an extraordinary audit of 54 percent of the ballot boxes. Each electronic voting machine produces a paper receipt. These paper receipts go into sealed ballot boxes at the end of the voting day. Fifty-four percent of these ballot boxes are audited in a random sample. This is way beyond what’s necessary from a statistical point of view: You really only need 2 to 3 percent. But this is a concession that was made to the opposition. But now they’re calling for a full recount. And so, you know, they’re constantly trying to push things a little bit further in their attempt to sort of delegitimize the process here.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, as the political turmoil in Venezuela has continued in the days after the election, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on Tuesday said the country’s elections had been legitimate, and she called on the U.S. to recognize the new government.

PRESIDENT CRISTINA FERNÁNDEZ DE KIRCHNER: [translated] Fortunately, Governor Capriles suspended a march he had prepared for tomorrow. This seems to me a sensible and patriotic act, and we thank him here from Argentina. And I dare ask, with much humility, the government of the United States to recognize the Venezuelan government after transparent and fair elections.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Bolivian President Evo Morales also accuse the U.S. of interfering in Venezuelan affairs after the White House said it backed an audit of Venezuela’s tight election results.

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] This is an open interference from the United States towards Venezuelan democracy. We condemn, reject and repudiate this open meddling, which looks to create unrest, leading to further interference with a coup d’état. We won’t allow that. The people will rise up. I feel sorry for their president,President Barack Obama.

AMY GOODMAN: And Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, outlined some of the violence seen in the country since the election.

LUISA ORTEGA: [translated] Seven Venezuelans have been killed. Among them was a police worker with the Táchira state police. And so far we have confirmed 61 injured people. And I ask that you hear this, that among the injured, there was one person that they burned alive. They intended to kill her by burning her. They set her ablaze. Take note of the level of violent aggression that this particular group of people have at this moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Venezuela’s chief prosecutor. Alex Main, can you talk about where the country goes from here? We also mustn’t forget that it was the U.S. that endorsed the coup in 2002—what was that, 11 years ago—that threw out Hugo Chávez for a few days before he made it back in, unlike other leaders, like President Aristide in Haiti, who didn’t make it back to the country, or Zelaya in Honduras. But what happens now? That just shows the significance of U.S.’s position in these countries.

ALEX MAIN: Well, I mean, it is absolutely critical, this point about the U.S.’s position on the internal affairs of Venezuela, because what the U.S. is doing is really essentially emboldening the opposition. Having this sort of support, to them, really means the world. And I think until the U.S. sort of backs off and, you know, follows the rest of the world, really, in recognizing the results of these elections, the opposition is going to continue with its current tactics.

So, yeah, certainly on Monday night, there were scenes of chaos. What was particularly ironic, given that the Capriles campaign has said that it is all about defending Venezuela’s social programs under Chávez, is that there were many of the government health clinics that were attacked, also many of the subsidized food stores that were attacked by opposition supporters. And along with those, alsoPSUV headquarters, various government officials’ residences were attacked. So, we’re really seeing scenes reminiscent of, again, the time between 2002, 2004. In 2004, you had what was called theguarimbas, supposedly peaceful protests, and Capriles keeps insisting that he’s been calling on peaceful protests when he tells people to take to the streets. In fact, that was the case also back in 2004, and those peaceful protests grew very violent. They really paralyzed most of Caracas for a few days and led to a few deaths, as well. Capriles is perfectly aware that there are violent elements within the opposition and that when he tells everyone to take to the streets to, quote-unquote, “defend their votes,” this is the likely outcome.

So, really, I think, you know, the U.S. is being quite irresponsible. They’re promoting a civil conflict in the country. Fortunately, the opposition seems to be backing down at the moment. Last night was much calmer. But until the State Department has a clear position on the situation, we’re likely to see this continue.

AMY GOODMAN: Alex Main, we want to thank you for being with us, senior associate for international policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, served as an election monitor in Venezuela. He is speaking to us from Caracas.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, The Constitution Project comes out with a landmark report. It’s headed by the Bush undersecretary of homeland security, Asa Hutchinson, and it accuses the Bush administration, indisputably, of torture. Stay with us.