Democracy in Venezuela, already in its death throes for the past two years, was dealt its final coup de grâce on Sunday when the Nicolás Maduro dictatorship perpetrated a brazen electoral fraud of a magnitude rarely seen anywhere in the world.
Once again, a sad maxim has been proven: Dictatorships will never give up power through democratic elections.
Early, credible reports of Sunday’s vote tallies and exit polls had the results completely reversed, many of which showed the opposition winning at least 16 of Venezuela's 23 states, soundly defeating Maduro's PSUV.
But suddenly, as the enormous majority of the Venezuelan people were beginning to celebrate (polls show that about 80 percent oppose the dictatorship), the Consejo Nacional Electoral, the electoral council, publicly announced a crushing victory by the socialist candidates, claiming it had won in at least 17 states.
Just as quickly, all Venezuelan TV stations were forced to go “en cadena,” to cover the Maduro victory speech. The dictator, for whom lying is second nature, proceeded to ridicule the opposition, saying it always claims fraud when it loses.
If you haven’t been following Venezuela closely, here’s an explanation as to why those claims of fraud are true and why the electoral fraud is certain and outrageous:
In December 2005, Venezuela held parliamentary elections, where government candidates were roundly defeated, only receiving 5.6 million votes. Since then, Venezuela has entered an economic and social death spiral.
A country that was Latin America’s richest a generation ago and among the 20 richest in the world in 1970 has plunged into desperate poverty.
Malnutrition is rampant; people are dying of easily treatable diseases because many of the drugs listed as essential by the World Health Organization are not available in Venezuela. Long eradicated deadly diseases, such as malaria, measles, tuberculosis and diphtheria have reappeared.
Inflation is by far the world’s worst, and the national currency is about as valuable as “Monopoly” money. Murderous violence has made it one of the most dangerous places on earth. The U.S. has named Venezuela’s vice president as a drug kingpin.
A U.S. federal court indicted the minister of the interior for drug trafficking, while another federal court convicted two nephews of the first lady for attempting to transport 800 kilograms of cocaine to the U.S. Ample evidence has come to light of mind-boggling corruption by other top government officials, including Maduro.
The country has turned into a police state where the rule of law has ceased to exist, with arbitrary arrests, torture of political prisoners and violent repression against peaceful protestors.
As you can see, the list of Venezuela’s suffering is almost endless. Making it worse is that the government refuses to admit there is a humanitarian crisis, preventing desperately needed aid from flowing into the country, aggravating the crisis.
Despite the chaos of the past two years and the governing party’s horrible approval ratings, Maduro and his henchmen would have you believe that not only did they triumph in Sunday’s election, they did so overwhelmingly.
The nonsensical scenario they’re peddling is that while the country fell apart under their watch, they somehow gained popularity to the tune of hundreds of thousands of votes, a dramatic improvement over its electoral performance in the December 2015 parliamentary balloting. Their absurd claim would also mean the opposition lost more than one-third of its support.
Have I convinced you yet? If not, how about this? On July 30, the dictatorship held an unconstitutional election for a Constituent Assembly. The opposition boycotted the voting and even longtime leaders of the governing socialist party opposed the power grab by Maduro.
Turnout, by all objective accounts, was minimal. But the electoral council claimed 8 million people voted to support the dictatorship’s proposal. That total was ludicrous on its face. Even the software company that set up the voting systems, Smartmatic, claimed the vote totals were fraudulent.
So, if you still believe the Venezuelan electoral council’s results, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.
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Joseph Stalin famously said, “It’s not the people who vote that count, it’s the people who count the votes.” This electoral fraud is further proof that the Venezuelan dictatorship is an organized crime syndicate posing as a government. It is high time the world treats it as such.
A Reuters news agency report quotes an opposition supporter saying, “We’ve lost the country. Rest in peace, Venezuela,” as she sobbed from her bed.
But Pedro Mario Burelli, a former director of the Venezuelan national oil company who lives in exile in the U.S. and is a powerful opposition voice, hopes the stolen election will be a catalyst for international action. He told me: “This is the best scenario possible. I was fearing a balanced fraud, one that would have been sold as ‘democratic’ by the regime.”
He may have a point. The Trump administration, which has gradually been turning the screws on the Maduro regime, was already expected to further sanction the dictatorship. The U.S., however, should not be forced to unilaterally shoulder the burden.
The European Union must now back up its rhetoric with action, and pressure must be exerted on Cuba, China and Russia, the main supporters of the dictatorship, to cease and desist. The Vatican, the Organization of American States and the United Nations must also get on board, fully condemn the Venezuelan government’s actions and treat it as a pariah state.
The Venezuelan people are living in fear and suffering, tyrannized by the criminal dictatorship. They are begging the world for help. How much longer must they wait?
Antonio Mora is a former news anchor for “Good Morning America,” former host of Al Jazeera America’s primetime international news hour. He is both a Venezuelan and American lawyer who appears regularly on television as a Venezuelan-affairs analyst.