According to the Venezuelan government, seven people are dead and 61 injured as a result of attacks by supporters of right-wing candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski of the MUD (Roundtable of Democratic Unity) [update: see here for English-language version; thanks to One Pissed Off Liberal]. Unfortunately, the United States may bear some responsibility for instability in Venezuela, with State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell refusing to refer to the victorious PSUV (Socialist Party) candidate, Nicolas Maduro, as president-elect, repeatedly referring to him as " the governing party candidate." The State Department is also inserting itself into the process by actively calling for a recount. Fortunately, Maduro has responded favorably to the MUD's demand for a recount. But there could be a problem. According to legal experts interviewed by La Jornada, the law does not provide for a 100% recount, only an extensive (54.5%) audit of the votes.
The election was not all that close, with Maduro's margin now up to 1.8%. The margin in the 1960 election of John Kennedy was 0.1%, the 1968 margin of Richard Nixon was 0.7%, the 1976 margin of Jimmy Carter was 2.1%, and most famously the 2000 margin of George W. Bush was 5 votes (-0.5% in the popular vote). In none of those elections did we find it necessary to have a recount, even though Venezuela's voting system is far more accurate and secure than that of the U.S. (A full report on the 2012 presidential election is here). Yet U.S. media acts as though a recount is the expected thing-- a position 180 degrees around from the one they adopted in the 2000 U.S. presidential election.
The Venezuelan government is blaming Capriles for the violence. Indeed, his rhetoric has been reckless. He has indicated that the election is fraudulent and claimed to have defeated Maduro (see here for a printed summary). He said he would regard the result as illegitimate until a 100% recount is done, and has called for the election not to be certified. As mentioned above, this might be impossible even if Maduro wants it. The president of the electoral commission, Tubisay Lucero, has rejected a 100% recount.
The US had advance knowledge and applauded, or perhaps directed, the 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez. It has poured money in to influence the elections since then, and may have played a direct role in manipulating public opinion in this election. Therefore, the motives of the U.S. in refusing to call Maduro "president-elect" and insisting on a recount when it may not be legally possible to do one are suspect.
This story is in its early days, and it's still unclear exactly who killed who and why. We may hope that Henrique Capriles will be shocked by the violence that has been unleashed and will tone down his rhetoric. We may hope that the PSUV does not also use force. But there is a clear lesson. If the U.S. wants to regain its historical position of leadership in the hemisphere, it will have to do so from the moral high ground. It cannot take sides, it cannot funnel money into democracy-promotion efforts that benefit one political party, and--above all--it must not condone or participate in coups, as it has done in at least three countries in the hemisphere in the last 15 years or so. If the U.S. presses ahead in a manner that destabilizes president-elect Maduro, it will be remembered by generations to come. We do not prove our commitment to democracy by supporting the election of leaders who we like. We prove it by supporting the election of leaders we do not like.
Update 1: Here are some of the specific allegations of violence by chavista Tamara Pearson:
Last night seven people were killed as a result of opposition violence; two in Caracas, three in Ojeda, Zulia, one in Cumana, and one person in San Cristobal.
The opposition set fire to 18 Central Diagnostic Centres (CDIs – part of the Barrio Adentro health mission), and 3 subsidised food markets (Mercals). They also attacked the director of the CNE, Tibisay Lucena’s house, and the Telesur and VTV offices.
There are also unconfirmed reports of four attacks on housing mission buildings in Miranda, with seven people killed and ten injured.
The governor of Carabobo state, Francisco Ameliach, reported that 8 CDIs were “besieged” and Cuban doctors were attacked in his state. He said 64 people were detained inside the CDI, and “should go to jail, because we’re not going to tolerate a coup d’état here”.
In Merida, around 700 mostly young opposition students protested outside the CNE, as well as in four other places in the city. Venezuelanalysis.com observed that police presence was light, and most police unarmed. Many of the students armed themselves with rocks and glass bottles however, as though hoping something would happen. There were similar such protests outside most of the country’s main CNE headquarters.
Anti-chavista blogger Francisco Toro
makes a very good point about Capriles's comments:
What worries me is that Capriles isn’t really alleging numerical fraud. Just the opposite, Capriles is being quite careful not to say “I am the rightful winner because I can prove, through my actas, that I got more votes.”
He’s calling for a recount of all paper ballots, but if there was reason to believe that a 100% recount would show he had won more votes on the day, he would have the evidence for that. So far that evidence has been forthcoming only in tiny fragments, fragments that seem tangential to his central case. I cannot believe that if the comando had systematic evidence of audit tallies that failed to match the machine tallies they would have “forgotten” to show it by now.
The father of one of the dead claims
that his son was actually marching in opposition to Maduro.