During the 14-year reign of Hugo Chávez, Venezuelans became drearily accustomed to hearing so-called cadenas interrupt the regular programming on their radios and television sets. These are “chained” broadcasts (the word cadena means “chain”) that all stations must carry. They originated long before Chávez took power, mainly to help the Venezuelan government disseminate urgent information about a matter of national importance, such as a natural disaster. Under the so-called Bolivarian revolution, they were transformed into shameless propaganda vehicles.
Chávez passed away on March 5, but the cadena is alive and well. His designated successor, 50-year-old Nicolás Maduro, who took over as interim president when Chávez died, used cadenas throughout the month-long election campaign that ended with a day of voting on April 14. Unfortunately for Maduro, his attempts to mimic the successful demagoguery of his mentor failed to secure him a Chávez-sized victory, even after he flagrantly violated Venezuelan election rules. In the end, the official results showed Maduro receiving about 615,000 fewer votes than Chávez did in the October 2012 presidential election, while opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, 40, increased his vote total from roughly 6.6 million in October to 7.3 million in April.
Maduro’s official margin of victory was only 273,000 votes, prompting Capriles and his supporters to demand a recount. At first, Maduro acknowledged the need for a recount. But then, after formally being declared the winner by the pro-Chávez national electoral council, he rejected a recount and told Capriles to accept defeat. At that point, massive protests erupted in the capital city, with angry Venezuelans banging pots and pans to vent their frustration. The sound “was deafening,” said the Economist, “even in the poor barrios of Caracas, traditional chavista strongholds.”
According to a Reuters dispatch, “Opposition sources say their count showed Capriles had an extra 300,000 to 400,000 votes not shown in the official tally.” Since Maduro won by only 273,000 votes, those extra Capriles votes would obviously have changed the outcome. On April 16, Capriles described some of the election irregularities in greater detail, noting that (1) opposition election observers were kicked out of more than 280 different polling places (where approximately 723,000 votes were cast); (2) more than 3,500 voting machines were damaged; (3) there were around 600,000 dead people on the voter rolls; and (4) nearly 1,200 voting machines recorded significantly more votes for Maduro than they did for Chávez back in October, despite the fact that Chávez received a much larger share of the national vote than Maduro did.
Meanwhile, Venezuelan authorities still need to tally up the 100,000 or so votes cast by expatriates. For that matter, writes Wall Street Journal columnist Mary O’Grady, “The opposition claims that more than 500,000 Venezuelans living in exile have also been denied voter registration they are entitled to by law.” In October, Capriles won 91 percent of the expat vote.
On the same day that Venezuela’s youthful and charismatic opposition leader made his case for a recount, Maduro used three separate cadenas to denounce him as a traitorous fascist. As the New York Times reported, Maduro “angrily criticized Mr. Capriles, sometimes working himself into what seemed to be near hysteria, shouting until he was nearly out of breath, often stabbing his finger directly at the camera. He compared the opposition to Nazi Germany, accused them of planning a coup, and said they hoped to bring about a civil war like those in Libya and Syria.”