Maduro re-elected president of Venezuela as critics condemn vote
US threatens oil sanctions after Pompeo dismisses ‘sham election’
Venezuelan president: Nicolás Maduro holds his country’s political constitution after his re-election was announced in Caracas. Photograph: Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty
Venezuela faces increasing international isolation after Nicolás Maduro was re-elected president on Sunday, in a ballot that was denounced as illegitimate both domestically and abroad.
Official results from the Venezuelan electoral authority, which is dominated by members of Mr Maduro’s Chavist movement, said the 55-year-old former bus driver won 68 per cent of the votes cast on a turnout of 46 per cent, little more than half that of the last presidential poll, in 2013. The Reuters news agency said sources in the electoral authority put the actual turnout at just over 32 per cent.
The country’s main opposition alliance boycotted the poll, and Henri Falcón, the former chavista – or proponent of the policies of the late president Hugo Chávez – who emerged as Mr Maduro’s main opponent on Sunday, quickly rejected the result and demanded a fresh contest.
Mr Falcón denounced the Maduro regime for erecting tents near polling stations where he said voters could scan state-issued cards in order to receive food handouts in what amounted to vote-buying.
Hunger and disease have become rampant in the oil-rich nation following the implosion of its economy, which in the coming months is on course to be just half of its size five years ago.
Mr Maduro’s disputed victory, which extends his hold on power until 2025, comes despite the exodus of more than a million people from the country in the past 2½ years and an inflation rate estimated at 13,000 per cent, meaning many shops now have to weigh money rather than count it.
On Monday the Lima Group of American nations, which includes Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Canada and Mexico, said that it did not recognise Sunday’s poll, “because it did not conform with international standards for a free, just and transparent democratic process”, and that its members were recalling their ambassadors in Caracas for consultations.
The group, formed in response to the deepening crisis in Venezuela and the growing threat it poses of a broader regional refugee emergency, also said it would take action to prevent the Maduro regime from accessing desperately needed foreign financing.
International banks have been denounced by the Venezuelan opposition for helping the government raise cash on global capital markets. Last year Goldman Sachs was accused of buying Venezuelan “hunger bonds”, so-called because Venezuelans would have to go hungry in order for the regime to be able to pay back its creditors.
Imports of food and medicine have collapsed as the government has desperately sought to avoid defaulting on huge foreign debts it ran up during the last oil boom. The plunge in the oil price exposed corruption and mismanagement of the economy, which has devastated domestic production and led to a precipitous decline in the amount of oil the country produces, the sole source of the hard currency it needs to import food and medicine.
“Sham elections change nothing”
The Trump administration had threatened to ratchet up its own sanctions against Caracas if the regime went ahead with Sunday’s election. After polls closed the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, tweeted: “Sham elections change nothing.” Washington has so far stopped short of moving directly against Venezuela’s energy sector for fear of tipping the country’s humanitarian crisis into a full-blown catastrophe.
Mr Maduro’s dwindling band of regional allies celebrated his victory, with Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, saying the Venezuelan people “had triumphed once again against coup-mongering and North American interventionism”. Official media in Cuba also welcomed the result as a “categorical response to foreign aggression”.