The international media was quick to report on potential fraud in Venezuela’s regional elections, in which the ruling socialist party won a majority of governorships. But there isn’t any evidence of massive fraud, says Alex Main from the Center for Economic and Policy Research
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. It’s been almost a week since Venezuela’s governing party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela won 18 out of the 23 governorships in regional elections. They were held last Sunday, October 15th. International corporate media coverage of the election results at large is still struggling to make sense of the unexpected results since all of the polls prior to the election suggested a clear victory for the opposition aligned governors. A common theme in the corporate media coverage of last Sunday’s election seems to question the results, suggesting that President Maduro’s party obtained the victories by way of election fraud. However, a key opposition candidates in the governor’s races in Venezuela are gradually accepting the results as legitimate, except for one controversial close race that is being challenged in the State of Bolivar where opposition has some serious allegations due to the discrepancy in the results that the CNE announced, that’s the election commission in Venezuela, the results that they announce and the printout of the report that was given to each party by the voting machines. Joining me now to discuss the media coverage of Venezuela is Alex Main. He is a Senior Associate for International Policy at The Center for Economic and Policy Research where he focuses on foreign policy in Latin America and the Caribbean. Good to have you back, Alex. ALEXANDER MAIN: Great to be on your show, Sharmini. SHARMINI PERIES: Alex, let’s first, we will get to the controversial issue of what’s happening in the state of Bolivar, but let’s first take a look at the general trust of the international media coverage of Venezuela and the way in which they keep repeating the fact that Venezuela is a dictatorship and Maduro is a rising dictator as far as the Venezuelan democracy is concerned. Let’s have a look. SPEAKER: Venezuela’s high court has dissolved the country’s national assembly, effectively removing any government opposition. Critics are calling it a coup d’etat. SPEAKER: The opposition argues that this is just a power grab by Maduro to stay in power. SPEAKER: A disputed election could grant the ruling party almost unlimited power. Critics say the country appears headed for a dictatorship. SPEAKER: There are people who think this is a step towards dictatorship. What do you think? SPEAKER: No… SPEAKER: “No, not a step,” said this man, “We are in a dictatorship.” SPEAKER: Protests turning deadly as the country reels from its controversial election, one being called by some a sham that gives the country’s president sweeping powers. Critics say democracy is now eroding there, moving closer to a dictatorship there. SPEAKER: Maduro has consolidated his power, bringing the country closer to authoritarian rule. SHARMINI PERIES: Alex now, a lot of those clips were in relation to the constituent assembly that was elected but this is generally the trust when mainstream media, corporate media talks about Venezuela. We want to tackle that head on. As a long time observer of Venezuela, I consider you are an expert who lived there for almost a decade. What is your evaluation of this type of claim by the corporate media? ALEXANDER MAIN: First of all, it’s really nothing new. As you were mentioning, I was in Venezuela for quite a long time. I was there from 2002 until 2008. Already in 2002, much of the corporate media internationally was suggesting that the presidency of Chávez had become something of a dictatorship and completely ignoring some of the anti-democratic activities of the opposition parties in Venezuela, and namely a coup d’etat was supported by most of Venezuela’s opposition parties in April of 2002. This was initially represented as some sort of a popular uprising against the dictatorship, and it was really, I think, thanks to the reaction of other governments in the region that clearly saw that there was a coup d’etat that the narrative began to change around that. Soon afterwards, we got back into this tradition of suggesting that there was creeping authoritarianism going on in Venezuela. Very little was said about the fact that nearly every year, sometimes twice a year in Venezuela, you had elections being held at different institutional levels. These elections would typically have very big turnouts, they’d be very transparent, very free and fair. Really no one had any legitimate complaints to make, and that’s largely been true for the last 15 years or so. In fact, it can be argued that the electoral system in Venezuela has gotten more and more refined in terms of the degree of transparency, to the extent that in fact, it stinks in part to that transparency and the internal checks and balances that today you do have this controversy in the state of Bolivar where the opposition is presenting some evidence that there’s been a manipulation of results. They can do this, in fact, because they have records from electronic voting machines, which everyone believes, and that they can present and show are not aligned with results that are appearing on the official results that are appearing on the website of the CNE. Now, this is still a matter that’s being resolved, still being settled. We don’t actually know for certain whether the claims of the opposition are legitimate, but the fact is that you have a system that’s in place that can very easily allow for verification and where you can easily see whether there are discrepancies that have taken place. As I said, this system has really been very effective and you’ve had a massive turnout. It really is sort of a direct contradiction of this constant claim that the country is slipping into dictatorship. You don’t have that when you have constant elections in which people, the majority of voters participate and where you can have confidence in the results. SHARMINI PERIES: This is this process that everyone keeps referring to. It’s a pretty onerous process where even the Carter Election Observing Center has declared unusual in the world, in terms of the way in which the people vote, and the way in which it is verified, and the way in which each individual voter actually gets their own results verified through a receipt and so forth. This perhaps cumbersome way to endorse the democratic process is legitimate. This is the very reason that the opposition is now able to challenge in the case of the state of Bolivar, which is a question that is still unresolved, that the CNE has not responded to. ALEXANDER MAIN: No, that’s right. We’ll have to see what happens in Bolivar. I think the opposition is filing an official complaint with what they believe is to be this evidence of manipulation of the numbers, and there’s a process underway now and we’ll have to see the outcome of that process. It’s very, very important in terms of the integrity of this electoral system going forward, but we can’t really draw any conclusions at this point. What we do see, is that the overall results of this election run counter to this narrative that the government of Venezuela and Chavismo as a movement, this sort of political movement, created by Hugo Chavez, is on the verge of extinction. In these elections where you have 61% participation, the PSUV won fair and square. The results are not being contested. There is no evidence of any kind of discrepancies between the official results and tally sheets in various voting centers in the other 22 states of Venezuela. We see that the governing party has won in at least 17 of these 23 states. Overall, they have a margin of victory of around six points nationally, ahead of the opposition. This suggests that there is a Chavista base that remains strong, even if the government, according to polls is rather unpopular at the moment. They’ve had an increase in popularity recently, and we can discuss the reasons around that, but overall it’s not very popular. I think one thing people need to keep in mind is that the government is one thing, Nicolás Maduro, their president is one thing, Chavismo is another. It was interesting that I think back in June, a opposition aligned surveyor, that analysis said that they had results showing that over 50% of Venezuelans basically still support Chávez, Chávez, the late Hugo Chávez,. They still regard him positively. This really suggests that there is a very strong movement that’s still there, and that it needs to be kept in mind that these are not national elections; these are regional elections. Local issues play an important part in voter’s decisions. In many cases, I think the governors who are running, the incumbents that were running, as well as new candidates running on the PSUV, the pro government party ticket, were actually doing their best to sort of put some distance between themselves and the government of President Maduro, and really sort of running as their own candidates associated with Chavismo but not so much with the government. I think that is some of the explanation for these results, rather than some sort of massive fraud. Again, there isn’t any evidence of any massive fraud. There are problems in the state of Bolivar that need to be checked out, but overall these elections went pretty smoothly. The results are not really contested. SHARMINI PERIES: Alright, Alex, now one thing we should note is following the end of the violent protests from last April to July, when you saw the international media just zeroing in on these demonstrations that were very, very violent and gas canisters being thrown, and creating a hype that Venezuela and its democracy was in serious trouble. But, Venezuela seems to since then calm down, but the international media has also stopped covering their country, and the legitimate elections that just took place, there’s hardly any coverage of these processes that are going on and continuing to reinforce the democratic will of the people that is constantly and regularly underway, as you say. Why do you think this particular elections of the governorships were not covered? Is it because they were regional elections, or the international media has no interest in covering the legitimate process, democratic processes of the Venezuelan people? ALEXANDER MAIN: Well, of course yeah. The mistakes in these elections are not the same as in other elections, certainly not the same as presidential elections. Those are normally scheduled for the end of next year. I expect that we’ll see a lot of media coverage around that time. But, these elections were quite important for the country, given that were the first broadly accepted elections to take place. You’ve been mentioning earlier the elections for the constituent assembly, which was more controversial and which the opposition boycotted. These elections were more normal elections, and the first normal elections to take place, that is with the participation of the opposition and the pro-government party, PSUV. The first elections of this type to take place since the legislative elections of December 2015, where the pro-government part was absolutely trounced, where they lost by nearly 10 points, and where you had a vast majority of the newly elected members of Venezuela’s national assembly that belonged to the opposition. This created something of an institutional crisis for a variety of reasons. We don’t need to go into all of them, but I think it’s sufficient to say that you had a major problem of the national assembly not recognizing the legitimacy of the elected president and his government, Nicolás Maduro, and vice versa. Non-recognition between two vital institutions for the country, that really paralyzed things. It was important in that context to see what would happen with these new elections, whether in fact Chavismo and the PSUV would be further undermined in the vote, and show that it is heading for an inevitable decline, or not. Of course, the dominant narrative in the media was that that’s what should’ve happened. Again, for some of the reasons that I’ve already outlined, it’s not what’s happened. In fact, it shows that Chavismo in Venezuela remains strong. SHARMINI PERIES: Alright now, in spite of the controversies we’ve already talked about, there’s been quite a few candidates that were running for governorship who lost, who has now come out and admitted that they have actually been defeated. This adds to the credibility of the process. Give us some sense of how, for example, Henri Falcón of Lara State, and Alejandro Feo La Cruz of Carabobo, and even other opposition leaders such as Henry Ramos Allup, all came out and conceded, and what legitimacy this gives the process. ALEXANDER MAIN: Well, yeah, I think it’s very important. I think what you’re seeing is that you have a sector of the opposition, which believes that the only way to achieve power in the future, national power, is to abide by the constitution and by the electoral game. Whereas, you have other parts of the opposition led by individuals like Maria Corina Machado, that are advocating essentially for a coup, or for some sort of extra constitutional transition that would basically undermine the democratic institutions of Venezuela. This more hard line sector believes that everything is rigged and nothing can be accomplished, or whether they believe that or not is not clear. They certainly believe that in order to get to power, they need to topple the government, and of course have looked to the United States for support and have gotten support, I would say, from the Trump administration and from Marco Rubio, who’s become the main advisor on Latin America, certainly on Venezuela and Cuba to President Trump. SHARMINI PERIES: Alright, Alex, I would have a question for you about the OAS. I know we could do a whole segment on the OAS but opposition leader, Henry Ramos Allup took the OAS secretary general, Luis Almagro to task the other day by saying that Almagro should mind his own business when it comes to the elections in Venezuela. Here’s a clip. SPEAKER: What Almagro says literally, “Any political force that participates in elections, without guarantee, transforms themselves into accomplices of fraud.” SPEAKER: I think he’s completely wrong. Don’t give us so many lessons from outside because we are the ones who are here. We are giving the fight, not from the OAS, we are liberating incito from the battlefield. SHARMINI PERIES: Alex, what is this with the OAS interfering in the election processes in Venezuela, and feeling the liberty to comment on it, every development that takes place? ALEXANDER MAIN: I think the first thing to note is that this isn’t the OAS. This is the organization of American States secretary general, Luis Almagro, who without any sort of mandate from the member countries of the OAS has sort of taken it on himself to be what he thinks is the savior of Venezuela. He’s been very much aligned with the hard line opposition sectors in Venezuela, that refuse to play by the institutional rule book in the country. He has really I think sought to play into the efforts to destabilize Venezuela, and to try to undermine any legitimacy of the institution, certainly the executive branch of the country, since late 2015. In late 2015, he insisted that OAS international observers needed to be present in the electoral process, which gave a huge victory to the opposition at the time in December of 2015, in order for that process to be legitimate. Without that, it couldn’t be legitimate. He literally got into a war of words with the head of the CNE, Tibisay Lucena, and with Venezuelan government officials, insisting and insisting. He’s been on a sort of vicious campaign ever since. He really has it in for Nicolás Maduro’s government. It’s become very, very personal for him. He’s been using the OAS as a sort of a platform to try to advance his efforts to get rid of Venezuelan government. In doing this, he’s become very much an ally of the hard line opposition sectors, along with hard line right-wing sectors in the US, such as in the south of Florida, Marco Rubio, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and others, the sort of traditional actors that have really been supportive of regime change in Cuba and Venezuela. SHARMINI PERIES: Alright Alex, I’ll leave you with that but we have a lot more to talk about in the future. Thank you so much for joining us today. ALEXANDER MAIN: Thanks, Sharmini. SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.