Among the several news stories roaming the world this weekend was the presidential election in Venezuela. The election was energetic, colorful and full of the idiosyncrasies common in Latin American politics. However, for the first time in 14 years, the results were too close to call.
Why does Venezuela matter?
For starters, the country had been under the ‘democratic’ rule of Hugo Chavez since 1998. Chavez died from cancer on March 5th following a painful and exhausting battle with the disease. After a circus like funeral, which included a parade with Chavez’s body through the capital of Venezuela and a 10 day wake (Chavez’s body has still not been buried), elections were called for April 14th. Chavez’s confidant, the former foreign affair minister and current vice-president Nicolas Maduro, had been elevated to the status of candidate. Now, Maduro is a man that inspires doubt internally and externally, specifically in terms of his capacity to unite Venezuela while following in the footsteps of a charismatic man like Chavez. Like it or not, Chavez forever altered the landscape of the Latin American region. The opposition, a 40 year old lawyer by the name of Henrique Capriles, is a member of the private sector and an avid politician. He was able to survive in a regime that exiled all opposition. On this man’s shoulders rest the hopes and dreams of millions of Venezuelans that wish to see their nation prosper.
March14th: Election Day
After a painstaking 4 hours of counting the votes, Venezuelans finally heard the official results: Nicolas Maduro (appearing on the voting ballot 14 times) beat Henrique Capriles (appearing once on the ballot) with 50.66% of the vote. Immediately following the results, Twitter and Facebook were inundated with allegations of discrepancies in the voting. Capriles screamed what everyone was thinking: FRAUD! Moreover, Capriles called Maduro the biggest loser of the electoral process.
As Maduro failed to retain power he ended up dividing the nation. This was crucial because it was something that had not occurred in Venezuela since Chavez came to power. Acting quickly, Maduro proclaimed himself President of Venezuela amidst the protests occurring around Caracas. After two days of protests, seven people were reported dead and several more arrested.
Venezuela stands on the brink of civil war as its population demands change.
Is this Democracy at its best? Official candidate Nicolas Maduro appears 14 times in the ballot, whereas the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, appears once in the bottom left corner.
Here’s Why You Should Care About Venezuela?
If you live in the US or Canada, then chances are that you’ve met someone from Venezuela. With over half a million Venezuelans living outside their nation, the odds are that there is a Venezuelan in your community. They can recount the painful journey of having to leave family, friends and their entire life behind because they’ve lost all hope in their country. The sad part is that the majority of these displaced Venezuelans are youths. They have had to abandon their parents and siblings because there was only enough money to send one person abroad. Sometimes, the Venezuelan immigrants are parents that have had to leave their family behind to begin building a better future in another country. Leaving behind all that you hold dear is never easy, but it’s even more difficult when escape is a matter of survival.
For those lacking in empathy here is another reason: under Chavez’s rule, the Venezuelan government has been directly tied to drug trafficking. The porous and ill-secured border between Colombia and Venezuela has allowed drug cartels to move operations to the latter. According to the article “Cocaine is Unchecked in Venezuela” by the New York Times, as much as 24% of the cocaine coming from South America goes through Venezuela. In fact, as of 2010 about 200 tons of cocaine was being exported from Venezuela to the United States. Why is that important? Drug trafficking not only devastates the consumer, but it also spreads violence and corruption along the entire drug route.
Drug consumption affects not only Venezuela but the entire Latin America region; increasing violence, poverty and inequality in all these nations.
Far Reaching Consequences
If you still think this doesn’t concern you, then consider that Chavez’s Venezuela had been funding extremist groups in Iran. Venezuela is not culpable in any way for exporting oil to Iran. That’s just business. Instead, Venezuela’s real contribution to the destabilization of the Middle East comes in the form of money laundering for extremist groups through the state owned oil company PDVSA. The most recent incident of this occurred this year in Germany, where the ex-finance minister of Iran, Tahmasb Mazaheri, was arrested for money laundering with a cheque valued at US$73 million from the Venezuelan Central Bank.
Now do you see why you should care about what’s going on in Venezuela? If Chavez’s regime is allowed to subsist through his cronies and nepotism, then the culture of violence and hate will continue to spread through Latin America and other world regions. It already has affected me and my beloved nation of Honduras. I pray that the heightened awareness about these issues in Venezuela bring about much needed change. The buck should stop here before it draws others into its downward spiral towards personal and international calamity.