Joyous celebrations have taken place across Venezuela as the opposition resoundingly defeated the ruling Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) founded by Hugo Chavez and now led by Nicolas Maduro.
The victory was overwhelming as the opposition won 112 seats in the Venezuelan parliament while the ruling party retained 55 seats. It is the first time since the year 2000 that the PSUV is not in power.
While there are many reasons to celebrate this unprecedented victory, this is only the beginning of a liberation process that will face serious resistance by a ruthless government that still controls the executive power and is even trying to expand its power in the few remaining weeks before the National Assembly is handed over to the opposition.
The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), a regional organization that has supported the Chavista government in Venezuela, commended President Maduro for having quickly recognized his defeat. But the reality is different.
It was the Venezuelan Defense Minister, General Vladimir Padrino Lopez, who resisted attempts by Maduro and the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, to resort to fraud and refuse to recognize the electoral results.
General Padrino Lopez, a supporter of the regime who has strongly believed in the role of the army in strengthening the Bolivarian Revolution, refused to cooperate with Maduro and Cabello. His argument was that this would have generated extreme violence.
In other words, the military, which the Chavista government cultivated for more than a decade purging opponents and rewarding key officers, withdrew its unconditional support from the government. Furthermore, polls among the military showed a trend similar to the one shown by the civilians that there was overwhelming support for the opposition.
The idea of committing fraud was raised a few days before the election in a meeting that took place in the largest military base in Caracas between the top political leaders (including Maduro and Cabello), the top military leadership, the intelligence and security apparatus, and at least one representative from the Cuban government. Cuba has been the architect of the Venezuelan repressive apparatus and the staunchest supporter of the Maduro regime.
A few days after the election, Maduro announced a change in his cabinet in order to carry out “re-structuration”. However, this is most likely a plot to expel the Defense Minister. Yet, it could well be that discontent in the army is such that the removal of General Padrino Lopez may not be enough to restore the support of the army. If this is the case we will soon know.
Maduro will do whatever he can to use the executive power to undermine the opposition. The government has already proceeded to appoint 12 judges to the Supreme Court with a clear Chavista identity. In addition, it decided to transfer the official radio and TV station of the National Assembly to the workers (mostly Chavistas) in order to prevent the new National Assembly from firing these government employees or use these official media to spread different political ideas.
On their part, the newly elected leaders of the National Assembly already declared they will give an amnesty to political prisoners and promised new laws to revive the decimated private sector. But these steps are likely to be undermined by the government who already pledged to continue the revolution. In addition, what Maduro is really counting on is that the opposition will undermine itself by infighting and internal squabbles. IT IS, THEREFORE CRITICAL FOR THE OPPOSITION TO REMAIN UNITED IF THEY ARE TO SUCCEED.
It is likely that blood will be spilled. The Maduro government’s paramilitary and gangs of lumpen and common criminals will be mobilized and chaos might increase.
With regard to the international contest, support for Maduro is fading. As we pointed out in our last article the regional block that has supported the Chavez/Maduro regime seems to be undergoing a crisis
The Secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, contrary to his predecessor, Jose Miguel Insulza, stressed the importance of respecting the democratic process and the obligation of the government of Venezuela to guarantee all the necessary liberties to the population and the press. He denounced the suppression of opposition candidates and the incarceration of political opponents. The Chilean Government, by order of the Chilean Supreme Court, is expected to request that the OAS be allowed to visit political prisoners in Venezuela. This is a significant step.
By the same token, the government of President Cristina Kirchner, a strong supporter of the Venezuelan regime will leave power on December 10th. The Brazilian workers party, another supporter of Venezuela is under serious public scrutiny as well as questions about its legitimacy due to numerous government scandals and government corruption.
The U.S. government must now monitor the situation in Venezuela and adhere to a strict human rights policy.
Neither normalization nor accommodation with Maduro should be sought. However, the Obama Administration should strengthen relations with the new leaders of the National Assembly by giving them the recognition they deserve since they represent the true will of the majority. Likewise, the Administration should seriously address with the new legislative leaders other important issues such as the Government’s connections with drug trafficking and terror.
By the same token, the Obama Administration should take advantage of the new shift in the OAS and actively encourage a human rights agenda and the implementation of the organization’s democratic charter.
Finally, the Obama Administration must also reinforce relations with the governments of Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile to support a change in all the issues mentioned above.