by Margaret Flowers, published on Popular Resistance, December 6, 2020
A member of UNAC AC, Margaret traveled to Venezuela to participate as an election observer. She was a member of the Embassy Protection Collective last summer. [jb]
On December 2, the Embassy Protection Collective (EPC) members, who were arrested in May 2019 when the United States illegally invaded the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC, completed their probation, ending the risk of the 30 days in prison that was being held over their heads. I am one of the four who were arrested. Sadly, Kevin Zeese, another member and the co-director of Popular Resistance, died unexpectedly in September.
For the past 18 months, those who were arrested on May 16 had to check in regularly with the federal government and required permission from the judge, who had a clear disdain for the defendants, to travel. The three who remain marked their freedom this week by traveling on December 3 to Venezuela to serve as official international election observers invited by the National Electoral Council. Travel to Venezuela is challenging at the moment due to the United States’ illegal economic blockade.
The election, which will be held on December 6, is for a new National Assembly. To prepare for observation, the EPC members and others from the United States and Canada who are also official observers received training to understand the election process. They also met with members of the right wing opposition and left wing critics to better understand the political context. An official report will be filed after the election and my interviews with several people who are knowledgeable about the historical and current politics will be available this Tuesday on Clearing the FOG.
The current situation in Venezuela is dire for many people. The United States has been interfering in Venezuelan affairs for decades. Prior to the Bolivarian Revolution, which was solidified with the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998, Venezuela was the greatest ally of the US in Latin America. This alliance served US corporate interests well. There was a small class of Venezuelans who were extremely wealthy because of it while the vast majority of the people lived in poverty.
Since Chavez took office, and then continuing during the Maduro administration, there has been an effort, called the Bolivarian process, to put the people’s interests over those of corporations by using the nation’s resources for social good.
The first step was the creation of a people’s Constitution through a participatory process that codified rights to health care, housing, education and more, including the right to vote. The socialist Venezuelan government worked to end poverty and has nearly eradicated illiteracy. The government built hospitals, schools and free or low-cost housing. They built electrical, water and transportation infrastructure to serve poor people whose existence was not acknowledged in the past. The people have been working to build participatory democracy from the ground up through local community assemblies and regional communes composed of these local assemblies.
For this, the United States and its allies in Latin America and the European Union have been waging a hybrid war against Venezuela, which intensified under the Trump administration. Venezuela is viewed as a threat to US corporate interests and the long term Monroe Doctrine because it has been a leader of the Pink Tide, a movement in Latin America towards socialism and rejection of US imperialism.
The hybrid war against Venezuela includes a misinformation campaign, interference in its internal processes such as elections, the imposition of illegal unilateral coercive measures (referred to as ‘sanctions’), covert sabotage campaigns and coup attempts conducted with paramilitary mercenaries based in Columbia and threats of overt military invasion. Almost everything people hear or read in the US corporate media about Venezuela is false.
This hybrid war, which violates international law, has brought great suffering to the Venezuelan people and has stifled progress on the Bolivarian process. The sanctions have caused food and medicine shortages and hyperinflation and have damaged industrial capacity and public services. The economic blockade has caused a severe fuel crisis that exacerbates all of the above.
The Venezuelan government is pursuing legal avenues to stop the deadly economic war through a lawsuit filed in the International Criminal Court that charges the United States of crimes against humanity because the sanctions are a form of collective punishment. Venezuela is fighting the British courts for access to its $1.2 billion in gold being held in the Bank of London. The government plans to use that to buy food and medicine, which are crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic. And recently, the Venezuelan United Nations ambassador Samuel Moncada called on the UN General Assembly to take action to stop the economic war being waged against Venezuela and many countries around the world.
Across the political spectrum in Venezuela, except for the extreme right, which is financed and given legitimacy by the United States, there is rejection of US interference, especially the economic blockade. The extreme right, led by Juan Guaido, who illegally declared himself president of Venezuela in January 2019, supports US intervention, including an outright military invasion, to overthrow the elected government. Guaido is calling on the Right to boycott the upcoming election in an effort to undermine it. Already, the United States is claiming the election is rigged, a common regime change tactic. Leo Flores speaks about this on Clearing the FOG.
Most of the Right did boycott the presidential election in 2018, but this time around they chose to participate. They joined together as the Democratic Alliance and have been in negotiations with the Maduro government over the past year. In a meeting with election observers on December 5, candidates and representatives of the five parties in the alliance clearly stated that they believe the best path to solving the crises in Venezuela is peaceful, using elections and diplomacy. They hope the United States will lift the economic blockade and restore diplomatic relations in a way that respects the sovereignty of Venezuela and the people’s right to determine their own path.
The Left in Venezuela has also formed a new alliance, the Popular Revolutionary Alternative (APR), composed of thirteen parties, to push the ruling party, the United Socialist Party or PSUV, to do more to continue building the Bolivarian Process and meet the people’s needs. They agree with the PSUV on foreign policy but oppose the increasing privatization of industries, state institutions and public services. They are running candidates for all of the 277 National Assembly seats.
In this election, there are 107 political parties and 14,ooo candidates. The election is run by an independent government body, the National Electoral Council (CNE). One of the major challenges in this election is the loss of all of their voting machines in a suspicious fire early in the year. However, the CNE succeeded in replacing the machines, despite the blockade, and improving the process as it did so.
Venezuela’s electoral process is very secure and transparent. The election observers, myself included, were trained in how to use the machines and visited the warehouse to learn about the safeguards and quality-control processes. When they vote, Venezuelans are required to show their national id, which everyone has. The machine is activated through a digital scan of the voter’s fingerprint, which verifies the voter is in the correct polling center. In this election, Venezuelans will cast two votes, one for their delegate to the National Assembly and one for a political party. Venezuela uses both direct election of representatives and proportional representation of parties in the National Assembly.
Once the voter makes their selections, they submit their vote and the machine creates a paper receipt the voter can use to verify their vote is accurate. This is placed in a box that corresponds to that machine. Finally, the voter signs a log book and again provides a fingerprint to verify they completed the process.
At the end of the day, a public audit of at least 54% of the machines in each polling center is conducted. The paper ballots are counted in front of party representatives and anyone who wants to be present and are compared to the machine count. If it matches up, the votes are sent to the information center for tallying. If they don’t, a hand count of all of the paper ballots at that center is done.
This year, extra precaution are being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. There is a strict protocol of distancing, mask-wearing, use of hand sanitizer and disinfecting the machines. In fact, Venezuela has a strong public health approach to controlling the pandemic, which is why they have a low number of cases per million population compared to most Latin American countries.
Venezuelan voters and the party alliances on the Right and the Left have high confidence in the voting process. Despite this, the US government claims there is rigging and refuses to respect the will of the people in choosing their government. One member of the opposition alliance, who worked at the CNE for ten years, said the greatest fraud was convincing the public there was fraud.
The current election is widely viewed as one of the most important elections in Venezuela’s history because it is a referendum against US imperialism. As Vijay Prashad and Carlos Ron write, the simple fact that Venezuela is holding this election is a victory because of the US’ actions to prevent and undermine Venezuelan democracy.
The previous election for National Assembly was five years ago. In that election, the US claimed it was illegitimate until the Right won the majority of seats and suddenly the US changed its tune. Shortly after that, it was discovered that there was a scheme to buy votes in a remote region of the country. The Supreme Court ordered the National Assembly to redo the races that were involved but the right-wing parties refused to comply. This put them in contempt of court and invalidated the National Assembly. The Right and the US claimed the NA delegates were victims of the current government, even though it was the Right’s decision not to comply and regain their power.
In 2018, the United States urged the Right to boycott the Presidential election, even threatening those who decided to participate with sanctions, and then it claimed the election was illegitimate. The US refused to recognize President Maduro, who won, and even tried to assassinate him a few months later.
Failing at that, the US backed Juan Guaido, a little known National Assembly delegate from a small state, as the president and pressured its allies to recognize him too. With the help of the US, this fake ‘president’ also has a fake Supreme Court that operates out of Miami, Florida, and a fake National Assembly that operates out of a right wing television station.
Members of the Democratic Alliance called this absurd fake government crazy and said it has made diplomacy with other countries very difficult. Most countries recognize the Constitutional government under President Maduro, some recognize Guaido as the President but maintain their relationship with the Maduro government and a minority of countries only recognize Guaido. The Democratic Alliance reiterated that Guaido only has a base of support among the wealthy Venezuelans who moved to the United States. They want people in the US to know that there is a right-wing opposition with support in Venezuela who respects the rule of law and wants to work to solve Venezuela’s crises without US intervention and within the legitimate institutions.
This is why protecting the Venezuelan embassy from being handed over to Guaido’s people last year was critical. It would have further solidified the ability of the US to claim that Guaido was legitimate and it would have provided a base for the extreme right to continue organizing its coup efforts. Since the arrest of the final four Embassy Protectors who were inside the embassy, the embassy has remained empty.
This election will cement the end of the fake Guaido presidency. There will be zero basis to make that claim, although Mike Pompeo is already saying the US will continue to recognize him. We in the US must demand the Biden administration recognize the elected government of Venezuela and stop supporting Guaido.
Carlos Ron, the vice foreign minister for North America writes:
“The new National Assembly will no longer be a platform for politicians to plead for US intervention, rather it can push legislation to overcome the blockade and it can turn into a new space for political dialogue between government and opposition. Challenges will continue, but the US will need to reassess its Monroe Doctrine once again. For Venezuela, and the Latin American progressive movement, however, these elections will be another victory of resistance and resilience.”
We, in the US, must demand the United States respect Venezuela’s sovereignty, end the brutal economic blockade and re-establish diplomatic relations instead of military aggression. Learn more about the Venezuelan election and what we must do in this webinar “Venezuelans Want to Vote” featuring Carlos Ron, Gabriel Aguirre, Ajamu Baraka, Vijay Prashad and more.
Dr. Margaret Flowers is a social justice organizer in Baltimore Maryland. She maintains the Popular Resistance website and has a weekly radio show and podcast called Clearing the Fog. She leads the national movement for Single Payer Healthcare in the US, supports numerous antiwar initiatives including The Sanctions Kill Coalition and the The Close US Foreign Bases Coalition, and is a member of the Venezuelan Embassy Protectors.