Sunday’s result underscores the notion that the Venezuelan people blame the U.S. sanctions for their suffering, rather than purely pointing the finger at the government.
The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is celebrating as, with almost all votes counted, they appear to have won 20 out of the country’s 23 states in Sunday’s regional “mega elections.” More than 70,000 candidates stood for one of 3,082 public positions, including local mayorships, councillors, regional legislators and state governors — the vast majority of candidates affiliated with opposition parties.
The landslide victory was watched over by international observers from 55 countries, including a delegation from the European Union, who praised the organizational capacity of the National Electoral Council, effectively endorsing the proceedings.
This will no doubt anger many in Washington, including those in the White House. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken described the vote as a “grossly skewed” contest controlled by a dictatorship that carries out, “arbitrary arrests and harassment of political and civil society actors, criminalization of opposition parties’ activities, bans on candidates across the political spectrum, manipulation of voter registration rolls, persistent media censorship, and other authoritarian tactics.”
If this is indeed the case — that the Maduro administration is autocratic and repressive — why did so many people still come out to support and vote for Maduro and the PSUV? Joining Lowkey to discuss this is Diego Sequera, a columnist for investigative journalism outlet Mision Verdad. One of the sharpest and most cogent thinkers on radical politics, Sequera is also a member of the Samuel Robinson Institute, a think tank based in Caracas.
While President Nicolás Maduro has undoubtedly presided over a period of serious economic dislocation, it is important to remember it was not always this way. The socialist movement first came to power in 1999 under Hugo Chavez who, in just a few short years, radically transformed the country.
Under Chavez, school enrollment went from 45% to 90% nationwide. The number of people in primary education rose from only 500,000 in 1998 to 2.8 million by the time of his death in 2013 — a 460% rise. Sequera described this as “the biggest literacy campaign in history.” “In a very few years, illiteracy, which was pretty high here, was eradicated completely… Here you had people 80 years old finishing their high school and then starting university,” he told Lowkey. This would have been unthinkable before the Bolivarian revolution.
Chavez also oversaw the creation of a socialized national healthcare system and a massive expansion in the pension program, whereby all elderly people were entitled to financial help. The number of people receiving pensions rose from 370,000 to 3.2 million in only a few years.
“What we are talking about is going from a state that spent about 39% of its national income on social investments to becoming a state that spent 74% of its total income on social investments,” Lowkey noted.
However, the biggest change was undoubtedly psychological. Venezuela, which had been a highly racialized oligarchy where a small white elite ruled over a poor and downtrodden black, mestizo and indigenous population, suddenly became a multiracial democracy where the ideas of poor and working class people were treated with at least as much importance as those of the white elite. To this day, many in the country talk of the era as one in which they were awakened for the first time and encouraged to see themselves as worthy.
“Once you took people out of hell, out of exclusion, out of desperation, you’re now able to discuss the country; what kind of country do you want to be? How do you want to relate yourself to your neighbors? What can you do for your brothers and sisters in neighboring countries?” Sequera said, going on to explain some of how Venezuela began to take the lead in world affairs, setting up regional and continental organizations based on solidarity rather than exploitation.
Thus, there remains a great deal of good will towards the PSUV. Sunday’s result underscores the notion that the Venezuelan people blame the U.S. sanctions for their suffering, rather than purely pointing the finger at the government.
The relatively high turnout of 42%, despite the demands from Washington to boycott the process, can only be interpreted as a rejection of U.S. imperialism and a victory bolstering the legitimacy of the government.