Re-Election Of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro Condemned Widely By World Leaders

May 21, 2018
Originally published on May 22, 2018 9:23 am
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The re-election of Nicolas Maduro as president of Venezuela for a second term is being widely condemned today. The U.S. and Latin America's largest nations - and others too - are refusing to recognize the result, saying the poll was neither free nor fair. Maduro won, after the opposition boycotted the poll, by a landslide. This raises an intriguing question. Why would any Venezuelan vote to keep a president who has presided over an economic catastrophe that's seen hundreds of thousands flee the country, their livelihoods destroyed by hyperinflation and widespread hunger and poverty? We're joined by NPR's Philip Reeves in Caracas. And, Philip, first give us the lay of the land here. What is behind that vote - if you can call it that - of support?

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: It's very complicated. And I can only tell you my impression from talking to people, including Maduro voters, over the last few days. There are people with a stake in the regime. They get privileges. Some have big business interests. They don't want to lose those, so they support the status quo. Also, government employees worry that if they don't vote for Maduro, they'll get found out and lose their jobs - or worse. People are frightened here. And this is about food. The poor get food handouts from the state. And in times of urgent need, they want to keep those. So those factors - and I'm sure others - are all in the mix.

CORNISH: Are there any people who seriously believe that Maduro offers some solutions?

REEVES: Yes, I believe there are people who think that. I spoke at some length with young people who support Maduro. And they appear to be keen members of the Socialist Party who were toddlers at the time Hugo Chavez arrived on the scene. And they've known nothing else all their lives except for the revolution, which they're taught about from first grade. And as far as one can tell, some of these young Venezuelans really believe in it. I mean, I spoke to a guy called Nicolas Barrios (ph), a die-hard Maduro supporter who's 25. He has a girlfriend who is among the multitude of Venezuelans who've left the country. And she now sells ice cream in Argentina and earns as much in a day as Nicolas can in a month. She's urging him to get over there and earn some real money. So I asked him why he doesn't do that and join her.

NICOLAS BARRIOS: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: So he said he won't go because Venezuela is his country. He says he loves her - right enough - but basically he loves his country more and feels he has to fight for it. I use the word fight because, like Maduro and the Socialist Party generally, he's convinced Venezuela is the victim of an economic war waged against it by the U.S.

CORNISH: Philip, how much of this support for Maduro does have to do with popular resentment of the U.S.?

REEVES: Well, you do encounter people who believe that the U.S. is intent on invading Venezuela and is planning to do so with the help, they say, of Venezuela's opposition. One is Kalina Valero (ph), a Socialist Party activist who I met in a town about half an hour outside Caracas where she was working yesterday to get the Maduro vote out.

KALINA VALERO: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: She thinks Donald Trump's long been planning to take Venezuela's oil wealth and likes Maduro because she thinks he's preventing the U.S. from doing that. People also draw a comparison with U.S. interventions in the Middle East, saying they don't want to suffer the same fate as Libya or Syria or Iraq. So I think all these attitudes are in the mix and played a part in the vote that we saw yesterday.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Philip Reeves in Caracas. Philip, thanks so much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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