Venezuelan President Accuses US of Masterminding Opposition Election Boycott

President Chavez accused the U.S. of being behind the opposition's pull-out fromt he upcoming elections on Sunday and said he is aware of a CIA plot against him.

Caracas, Venezuela, December 2, 2005—Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías, in a televised address last night, accused the United States of being behind several opposition parties’ pullout from this Sunday’s National Assembly election and called on the Venezuelan people to turn out to vote.

“Another conspiracy is being acted out against Venezuela, and I am not going to blame the dogs but the masters, the government of the United States,” said Chávez.

The announcements of the election boycott came Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, with party leaders citing concerns about voter fraud and ballot secrecy as their reasons for withdrawal. Two days earlier, according to an Organization of American States press release, three of the four opposition parties leading the boycott had committed to participate in the elections after the Venezuelan electoral council had conceded to many of the parties’ demands.

“The Mission was present today at the meeting at which the CNE [the Venezuelan electoral council]…where [opposition] parties committed themselves to participating in the elections and encouraging citizens to vote, noting that ‘the secrecy of the vote in this process will not be violated,’” said the statement, which was released before the opposition parties decision to boycott was announced.

Among other concessions, the CNE had agreed to remove fingerprint scanners to protect voter anonymity and to open 45% of the country’s ballot boxes to guard against voter fraud.

In yesterday’s televised address, which was broadcast on all channels, Chávez went on to say the CIA was plotting against his government. “I even have proof of how the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States is now moving in Venezuela, the Caribbean, and other Latin American countries, encouraging this new conspiracy, which might include assassination,” he said, but did not make this evidence public.

The CIA, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, had had learned that there was to be a coup attempt against the South American President in 2002, but had not informed Venezuelan authorities. Despite this knowledge, during the April coup, US officials initially blamed Chávez for provoking the crisis.

Chávez’s televised comments echoed those of Vice-President Jose Vincent Rangel who, earlier this week, said that the US Embassy had been actively involved in the “electoral strike.” Like Chávez, he did not provide evidence for his assertion. However, the International Republican Institute, which receives Congressional Funding through the National Endowment for Democracy, says that it has been actively training opposition party members, including those belonging to the four main groups involved in the election boycott.

Yesterday, the US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack softened earlier comments about the legitimacy of the election. He had previously denied US involvement but commented that the State Department was concerned that the right to free and fair elections in Venezuela “is increasingly in jeopardy.” When asked the next day to clarify whether this meant the US had evidence about the election that the OAS did not, or if the State Department had lost confidence in international observes, McCormack responded, “That particular part of my response yesterday referred to our longstanding concerns about democracy in Venezuela and the way in which the current government has governed. Let’s just move on.”

Chávez also called for high voter turnout. Saying that there would be attempts to sabotage democracy in Venezuela until the presidential elections next December, he declared, “Every time they hit us, like they’re doing with this new electoral ambush, the Bolivarian government and the people will respond with a counterpunch.”

In addition to voting, the president encouraged people to permanently mobilize to fight North American imperialism. “Let’s all move, all deploy ourselves, like we did on the 12 and 13 of April…We want to be left in peace, but if any violent incident should be launched, it will find us here, firm like soldiers, ready to defend…our national independence,” he said.

The opposition withdrawal means that Movimiento Quinta Republica, Chávez’s party, which currently controls 52 percent of the National Assembly, will almost certainly win the two-thirds majority necessary to make constitutional changes. Polls indicated that this was the likely result, even before the opposition pull out.

As of yet, it is still unclear how widespread the election boycott will be. A CNE announcement from 1pm on Thursday, said that 72 of the 4,053 total candidates had withdrawn themselves from the race. The vast majority of the total candidates belong to minor parties, but only 5 out of the 41 members of the four main boycotting parties who currently hold seats in the National Assembly have withdrawn themselves from the race. Acción Democrática, one of the boycotting groups, said that it will sanction candidates who decide to run. Opposition members have until Saturday at midnight to renounce their candidacy.