Maduro set for victory in ‘illegitimate’ election in Venezuela
Government accused of cutting access to subsidised food to those who do not vote for president
Venezuelan opposition presidential candidate and evangelical pastor Javier Bertucci speaks to supporters, during his campaign closing rally in Valencia, Venezuela. Photograph: Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images
Nicolás Maduro is set to be re-elected president of Venezuela on Sunday in a contest already denounced as illegitimate by most of the South American country’s neighbours.
The snap poll is being boycotted by the main opposition grouping, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, alliance which has denounced the process as rigged and called on voters to abstain.
Mr Maduro’s only real rival is a former member of his populist chavismo movement Henri Falcón, who broke with the MUD to run. The election was called by the constituent assembly elected last year in a process that was not recognised by most of the region’s governments, who denounced it as manifestly designed to neuter the opposition-controlled national assembly.
With inflation predicted to end the year at 13,800 per cent and hunger widespread in the oil-rich nation, the government is being accused of using the threat of cutting off access to subsidised food to anyone it suspects of not voting for Mr Maduro.
After meeting in Mexico City, the group’s foreign ministers said Sunday’s poll had been called “by an illegitimate authority, without the participation of all Venezuela’s political actors, without independent international observers and without the necessary guarantees for a free, just, transparent and democratic process”.
The main regional body, the Organization of American States, has also denounced the election. The European Union has threatened further sanctions on Venezuela over the poll while Donald Trump’s administration has warned it could ratchet up its own sanctions against what it describes as Mr Maduro’s “dictatorship”.
That threatens to further cripple Venezuela’s collapsing oil industry, the country’s only source of foreign currency necessary to pay for food imports. Despite having the largest proven oil reserves in the world, daily output has dropped by half a million barrels a day in the last year and is set to plunge below the one million barrels a day level, leaving the government even more strapped for cash.
Foreign creditors are already moving against overseas assets owned by state oil giant PDVSA, after a series of defaults and rulings against Venezuela in a number of high-profile international arbitration cases that stem from a series of nationalisations carried out by Mr Maduro’s predecessor Hugh Chávez.
The implosion of the Venezuelan economy and the increase in hunger and disease that has come in its wake has already sparked a mass exodus from the country. The UN estimates that more than a million people have fled Venezuela since 2015 in South America’s biggest refugee crisis in decades.
Despite the deepening social calamity at home, since January last year the Maduro administration spent $440 million (€373 million) on oil purchases abroad so as to maintain subsidised fuel supplies for its principle ally Cuba, according to the Reuters news agency.