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Latin America Report

Venezuela's Holding Elections Sunday — Most Of The World's Dismissing Them

Ariana Cubillos
A Venezuelan voter casts his ballot beneath a mural of the late President Hugo Chavez in the 2018 presidential election, which Chavez successor Nicolas Maduro won but which much of the world rejected as fraudulent.

Venezuelan exile journalist Francisco Poleo explains why his country's political opposition — and most of the world — refuse to legitimize this Sunday's vote.

This Sunday, Venezuela will hold parliamentary elections. Most opposition leaders say the vote has been rigged by authoritarian socialist President Nicolás Maduro.

So they're boycotting it — including Juan Guaidó, whom the U.S. and almost 60 other countries recognize as Venezuela's legitimate president, as does Florida's large Venezuelan diaspora.

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Still, the election is a sign of Maduro's entrenched power in Venezuela — especially since he's all but certain to regain control of the National Assembly, which the opposition has run the past five years — even as the U.S. tries to pressure him out of power with tough economic sanctions against his government.

To better understand what Sunday's vote means for Venezuela, WLRN’s Tim Padgett spoke with veteran Venezuelan journalist Francisco Poleo, who now lives in Miami.

Here are excerpts from their conversation:

WLRN: Francisco, we know the Maduro regime is widely blamed for the catastrophic collapse of Venezuela's economy and its democracy. You’re part of a family of journalists who are in exile here because you ran afoul of that regime. Tell us about that.

POLEO: Each one of my family — my sister in 2006, my father in 2009, myself and my mother in 2016 — had to flee Venezuela because of the persecution first from the Hugo Chávez government and now from the Nicolás Maduro government. They bombed [in 2008] the headquarters of our publications, the newspaper El Nuevo País and the newsmagazine Zeta

Because your father, Rafael Poleo, had compared Hugo Chávez to Benito Mussolini...

Yes. They bombed the home of our managing editor. They jailed our employees.

What are the main reasons Juan Guaidó and almost all the opposition are boycotting this Sunday's elections?

Well, precisely because there are no conditions for a democratic election to be held — no neutral count of the votes, no neutral access to the media and no neutral international observers. The opposition was calling for the European Union to participate and the OAS — the Organization of American States — and the United Nations. And the regime just denied that possibility, you know, so the opposition decided they cannot legitimize a process like that.

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And incredibly, the Venezuelan Supreme Court recently replaced the leaders of the main opposition parties with politicians friendly to the regime, right?

Yes! They basically kidnapped the opposition parties. You know, Venezuela’s courts are controlled by the Maduro regime, so they just decided to name [new opposition party] leadership that is basically following the orders of the government.

Right now the Maduro regime needs the recognition of the international community — and the control it's lost of Venezuela assets in the international arena — and the opposition is saying it won't take part in that. That's why these elections won't work for Maduro.
Francisco Poleo

Election boycotts have usually backfired on the Venezuelan opposition in the past. They've just ended up making the regime stronger – which is why one prominent opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, who almost defeated Maduro in the 2013 presidential election, thinks the opposition should take part on Sunday. But you think this time a boycott will work out differently for them. Why?

Because right now the Maduro regime needs the recognition of the international community — because Maduro needs to control Venezuelan assets in the international arena.

Right, like the billion dollars’ worth of Venezuelan gold that's stored in the Bank of England. Maduro can't access it because he's not clearly recognized there as Venezuela's legitimate president.

Yes, that's what really worries Maduro. And it worries top Chavistas [regime loyalists] who want to be able to put their personal assets in Europe, in France and Spain, because they want to be able to live there if Maduro is overthrown — and not in Asia, like Dubai or Singapore or Hong Kong, which is where they’ve had to put a lot of their assets in recent years.


That’s interesting. I think because of all the recent U.S. indictments against Chavistas for crimes like corruption and money laundering, people here tend to think they parked a lot of those assets in Florida.

Oh, no. What they have in Florida is peanuts in comparison. So they need the legitimate Venezuela opposition to engage with the regime in these elections — to help the elections and the regime be recognized by the international community, especially the European Union where, as I said, they’d prefer to live if they have to leave Venezuela. But the opposition is saying they’re not going to participate. So that's why I think this election is not going to work for the Maduro regime.

A lot of Venezuelan exiles here in South Florida believed President Trump was somehow going to invade Venezuela to overthrow Maduro. But Trump just lost to Joe Biden. So what should they expect from Biden when it comes to Venezuela?

I don’t think the strategy will change too much. But invading Venezuela — that was like a fantasy, you know? Trump always said that he was going to force a negotiation with Maduro and they tried to do that. They tried to talk with top military officials in Venezuela — they've even proposed, like, a coalition government, to make a [democratic] transition in Venezuela. And that was a pretty good proposal, if you ask me.

But I think that failed because the U.S. was acting very much alone in all of this. There was no international coordination with the European Union or with our regional allies like the Lima Group — with Colombia, Brazil, among others. And that go-it-alone strategy backfired. I think that's what's going to work better in the case of a Biden administration.

Francisco Poleo (center) and his sister Helena Poleo (left) meet with Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary-General Luis Almagro in Washington D.C. in 2016 to discuss the situation in Venezuela shortly after Francisco was exiled.
Courtesy Francisco Poleo
Francisco Poleo (center) and his sister Helena Poleo (left) meet with Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary-General Luis Almagro in Washington D.C. in 2016 to discuss the situation in Venezuela shortly after Francisco was exiled.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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