Iso­lated Maduro set for empty vic­tory in Venezuela

The Irish Times - - World News - TOM HENNIGAN in São Paulo

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.

Hunger wide­spread

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.

The Lima Group of 11 Amer­i­can na­tions in­clud­ing Brazil, Ar­gentina, Canada and Mex­ico on Mon­day de­scribed the elec­toral process in Venezuela as “il­le­git­i­mate” and “lack­ing in cred­i­bil­ity”.

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 Or­gan­i­sa­tion 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.

Mass ex­o­dus

The im­plo­sion of the Venezue­lan econ­omy and the in­crease in hunger and dis­ease that has come in its wake has al­ready

‘‘ The EU has threat­ened fur­ther sanc­tions on Venezuela over the poll

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 prin­ci­pal ally Cuba, ac­cord­ing to the Reuters news agency.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: CAR­LOS GAR­CIA/REUTERS

Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion can­di­date Henri Fal­con dur­ing a campaign rally in Cara­cas.

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