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Venezuela: Nicolas Maduro Faces a Major Challenge

Never before have Nicolas Maduro and his main collaborators had to make such compromising decisions about maintaining their project

The remnant of Chavismo, embodied by Maduro, faces the greatest challenge of its existence, with the real possibility of being defeated at the polls on July 28th.

Carlos Malamud

25 de junio 2024


With just over a month to go before the Venezuelan elections (theoretically scheduled for July 28, if they actually take place), most polls give victory to the opposition candidate Edmundo Gonzalez Urrutia against the “son of Chavez,” the perennial re-election candidate Nicolas Maduro, who has been in power since 2013. While Gonzalez exceeds 50% in voting intentions, with some room for growth, Maduro is moving between 22% and 25%, although in recent months he has seen a notable recovery.

However, the polls are not unanimous. There are results for every taste, including the satisfaction of the palate of whoever pays for them. A recent study by Hinterlaces, whose work usually favors the government, gives an overwhelming majority to Maduro and assures that more than 57% of Venezuelans believe that the president will retain power.

These statistical calculations about voter preferences could make sense if the elections were normal and equal, where the government and the opposition played with the same cards and rules, but they are not. Hence, we must be very attentive to the reactions of Chavismo and its attempts to stay in power.

This is more worrysome in a context where the government has practically absolute control over the Parliament, the Judiciary, and the electoral authority. Such dominance could block the capacity for action of a future alternative government, emptying the executive office of powers and even leaving it without a budget.

All indications point to a complicated end of the campaign for the opposition, starting with the fact that the European Union’s election observation mission has been suspended. But even more worrying is that followers of Maria Corina Machado, who is carrying out an ongoing campaign for Edmundo Gonzalez, and prominent members of her team continue to be imprisoned, generally accused of “hate crimes.”

Incidentally, the obstacles that the initial opposition candidate faces to move within Venezuela are enormous, such as the prohibition of flying on domestic flights or staying in hotels anywhere in the country. However, none of these inconveniences has prevented Maria Corina’s popular support from continuing to grow, nor has it stopped her from transferring much of this support to Edmundo Gonzalez’s candidacy.

In this complicated and changing situation, Maduro has several options, starting with recognizing defeat and opening a transition process to democracy, with serious negotiations between Chavistas and anti-Chavistas. However, this is the least likely scenario. He could also suspend the election, citing a reason of force majeure, such as the start of hostilities in the Esequibo region of Guyana (hostilities that, obviously, would be initiated by the government itself). Along the same lines, either Parliament or the electoral tribunal could disqualify Gonzalez’s opposition candidacy at the last minute, citing the slightest pretext and distorting the electoral contest.

In the current situation, other ways of bypassing the popular will through fraudulent maneuvers cannot be ruled out. This could range from manipulating the vote count, more feasible if participation is low, and the result is very close, to outright ignoring the electoral result, citing some technicality or legal pretext.


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Only the first scenario, of Maduro accepting his defeat, could set in motion negotiations to start dialogue between the parties and facilitate the transition. But it would be an extremely complicated process for both sides, requiring a large number of varied commitments. At present, the sectors favoring dialogue are in a clear minority, and the more extremist positions are prevailing, which greatly complicates the creation of trust and the search for negotiation channels.

This time, Maduro has it much more difficult than in the past. First, because despite the departure of more than eight million Venezuelans from their country, Maria Corina Machado has managed to consolidate her leadership as an opposition reference and for the first time, in a long time, the chances of electorally defeating Chavismo are real.

Second, because in the current context, amid the deep crisis of all kinds that the country is experiencing, with an increasingly discredited government, ignoring the popular vote can have an enormously high price for the president and his main followers. A price that would have to be paid both within the country and before much of the international community. Even more so if Donald Trump wins the US elections next November.

Never before has the future of Chavismo been so compromised. Never before have Maduro and his main collaborators had to make such compromising decisions about maintaining their project, their interests, and their assets. But the opposition also does not have it easy.

Despite the existence of radicalized positions on both sides, today there is a real possibility of starting a new era, laying the foundations for a democratic Venezuela. But this implies putting aside personal and sectoral agendas to bet on the general interest. And that, in the atmosphere of strong polarization in the air, is the most difficult to achieve.

This article was originally published in el Periódico of Spain.

This article was published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times. To get the most relevant news from our English coverage delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Dispatch.


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Carlos Malamud

Carlos Malamud

Catedrático de Historia de América de la Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia e investigador principal para América Latina del Real Instituto Elcano de Estudios Internacionales y Estratégicos.