Over the past year, much of the world has begun talking about Venezuela more as a dictatorship than as a democracy. The socialist regime in that oil-rich South American country hoped to change that Tuesday by announcing it will hold a presidential election by the end of April.
But it didn't exactly hear worldwide applause.
At first glance, the election declaration is good news – since there was widespread doubt Venezuela's authoritarian regime would even allow a presidential vote this year. That's because Venezuela is the world’s worst economic basket case today, and the country is mired in a humanitarian crisis. If an April election is indeed transparent, polls have indicated left-wing President Nicolás Maduro would lose decisively.
But the fact that the ruling socialist party says Maduro will again be its candidate suggests to critics the vote will in fact not be a fair one. They point out that the election announcement itself was made by the new, pro-government national legislature Maduro created last year – which he did by simply outlawing the real, opposition-led legislature. That has since prompted much of the international community to label him a dictator.
But political analysts also say Maduro may not have to resort to fraud because his opposition right now is so fractured and dysfunctional – which may be why he is calling an election now, earlier than it was supposed to be held. His regime has also barred many opposition leaders from running or outright jailed them; it has the federal election tribunal under its thumb; it controls just about all the nation's media; it can rely on a voter base whose loyalty it buys with food and other scarce goods; and it retains the backing of what human rights groups call an increasingly brutal and corrupt military.
As a result, much of the opposition may well boycott an April election. At the same time, it's doubtful the regime will allow much if any international poll observation, since the U.S., the European Union and even many Latin American neighbors have decried Maduro's anti-democratic moves.
In fact, just on Monday the European Union announced economic and travel sanctions against seven senior Venezuelan officials accused of human rights abuses, including Diosdado Cabello, head of Venezuela’s ruling socialist party and considered to be the nation’s second most powerful leader.
Either way, a Maduro victory may well mean even worse economic misery down the road – and more Venezuelans fleeing to South Florida.