The Venezuelan presidential elections on May 20 are being held in the context of external pressure and interference. The United States has said it won’t recognize the results of the elections even before they take place. Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, has called them “illegitimate" elections that "entrench a dictatorial regime." Canada has taken it a step further by denying the installation of voting centers at the Embassy and Consulates in Canada, denying the right to vote to the more than 5,000 Venezuelans living in Canada.
These positions contradict what the U.S. state department and Canada’s Foreign Affairs Office had called for last year, when they demanded the Government of Venezuela hold prompt elections.
The head of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena, called the attacks against the CNE political, because they are not based on fact but rather follow the narrative of the extreme right-wing opposition. "The vote can’t be underestimated, least of all by anti-democratic media that try to impede the electoral process," she warned, and gave assurances that "the conditions are in order" to hold the elections on Sunday.
The elections are a by-product of intense government and opposition negotiation, which lead to an agreement in principle in early 2018. The deal brokered by regional leaders and Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the former Prime Minister of Spain, included many of the demands of the opposition, such as electoral guarantees to strengthen electoral partipcation and transparency. Minutes before the agreement was to be signed, the opposition walked out of the room. This coincided with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s tour of the region. Many feel the U.S, pressured the opposition to walk away from the deal.
A survey carried out by Datanalisis earlier this year found that over 75% of Venezuelans planned to partake in the elections. The opposition is divided, with Democratic Action boycotting the elections. Others, like Henry Falcon, have decided to run, causing a major split within the opposition. This resulted in him being expelled from the right-wing Democratic Unity Round table coalition.
Who are the candidates?
Nicolás Maduro Moros is seeking re-election after being elected in 2013 when he defeated his rival opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. He leads the United Socialist Party (PSUV).
He has the support of Venezuela’s Communist Party (PCV) and the leftist Homeland for All party (PPT), who have joined in an alliance to back Maduro candidacy.
Maduro has promised to continue with the Bolivarian revolution by expanding access to public education, healthcare and housing through the social missions created by former President Hugo Chavez. He emphasizes strengthening the international market for Venezuela's new cryptocurrency, the Petro. His "economic revolution" will seek to combat the financial speculation and sanctions imposed on Venezuela by foreign countries.
Henry Falcon is a lawyer and former governor of Lara State who was defeated in the 2017 governor elections by PSUV rival Carmen Melendez. He is a founding member the patriotic MBR-200 movement, who then joined the PSUV, the party founded by former President Hugo Chavez.
Falcon broke with the PSUV after being investigated for corruption while forming his own party, Progressive Advance in 2012. He was part of the Democratic Unity table coalition until recently, when he was expelled for breaking ranks and partaking in the presidential elections. He is supported by his own regional party, Progressive Advance, the social-democratic Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), and the Venezuelan Ecological Movement (MOVEV) party. Factions of the Christian Democrats (COPEI) are also supporting is candidacy.
Falcon advocates the dollarization of the economy to help resolve issue of inflation. He wants to prioritize closer ties with Washington and international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
He has been critical of possible U.S. oil sanctions against Venezuela, and also the program PetroCaribe, a program that provides oil at preferential rates to neighbouring countries facing economic challenges.
Javier Bertucci is backed by his party, Hope for Change. He is a Christian pastor and businessman from a rural banana-growing family and founded the evangelical movement "The Gospel Changes." Javier wants to modernize Venezuela through international aid and turn the country into an international tourist destination. He opposed currency controls and wants to grow the economy via increased foreign investments.
Bertucci was convicted for smuggling Venezuelan diesel to the Dominican back in 2010 and was also named in the Panama Papers corruption scandal of 2016.
He supports international calls for a “humanitarian channel” to Venezuela to ease the economic challenges and to eliminate all price controls. If elected, he promises to work toward the "reconciliation of all Venezuelans."
Bertucci has focused a lot of his campaign on bringing back Christian values to Venezuela and opposes abortion and adoption for LGBT+ couples.
Two lesser-known candidates are Reinaldo Quijada of the Popular Political Unity (UPP89), an electronic engineer and former supporter of Chavez. His platform, "The Way to Exit the Crisis," proposes to decentralize the government, giving the business sector more of a role in the economy in solving the crisis. Luis Alejandro Ratti is an independent candidate who would call a new National Constituent Assembly to transform the country and institutions of power. Like Quijada, he believes the private sector can solve many of the challenges facing Venezuela.
Venezuelans heading to the polls have a plurality of candidates to choose from, all with very different visions and solutions. Many Venezuelans are less interested in what is being said abroad about their country. Rather they are focused on heading to the polls on Sunday to chose a leader, and project that will address the challenges facing the country and deepen the process of transformation.
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