Attempts to increase voter turnout in Venezuela’s midterm election come with threat, warning

BOGOTA, Col. – During a speech about Sunday’s midterm elections, Nicolas Maduro’s right-hand man, Diosdado Cabello, used the government’s monthly food handout as a threat.

Cabello delivered his speech during a socialist party rally in an effort to raise voter turnout among Venezuelans who are already dealing with worsening scarcity during the coronavirus pandemic.

“He who does not vote does not eat,” Cabello said on Monday.

Juan Guaido, the leader of the opposition, is boycotting Sunday’s midterm elections. There are opposition candidates from other political parties who are running. Guaido’s supporters say their participation is a ploy to increase voter turnout and create the impression that candidates are not running unopposed and the election isn’t rigged.

Carmen Mile, who lives in La Guaira State, formerly known as the Vargas State, said she no longer believes in Venezuelan politicians or in the power of their elections. She is struggling with food shortages, gas shortages, and a lack of access to basic public services.

“We don’t have electricity. We don’t have water, but they are asking for our votes again,” Mile said.

Maduro’s only son, Nicolas “Nicolasito” Maduro, is running to represent La Guaira in the National Assembly. The U.S. sanctioned him accusing him of corruption, which he has denied. He served in the National Constituent Assembly, a legislative body Maduro created to oppose Guaido’s leadership in the National Assembly.

Mile recently ran into Lauren Caballero, while he was campaigning in her neighborhood. He is an opposition candidate vying to represent La Guaira in the National Assembly. Although he was asking Mile to vote for him, he admitted the election wasn’t legitimate.

“This won’t be a democratic vote and no rights in this country are guaranteed, but given that lack of guarantees, our only right is our willpower,” Caballero said. “We must take our rights by force and not stand idly by.”

Amid doubts of a free and fair election, experts predict Sunday’s voter turnout will be about 30%.

FILE - In this July 7, 2020 file photo an old campaign poster featuring Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro that reads in Spanish "Let's go Venezuela" covers the door of a shack home on occupied land in Caracas. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The Venezuelan crisis has forced at least 4.5 million to become refugees around the world, according to the United Nations’ estimate. The diaspora also includes former leaders of the opposition — which is now divided.

In October, Leopoldo López, 49, the founder of the Popular Will party, was forced to flee Venezuela after seven years of persecution. He was convicted of inciting violence during the 2014 protests and sentenced to 14 years in a military prison.

Lopez supported Guaido, 37, a member of the Popular Will party, and his rise as the leader of Venezuela’s opposition. In 2019, Lopez escaped, made a public appearance in Caracas during a failed attempt to show cracks in loyalty in the Venezuelan military, and he found protection at the home of a Spanish diplomat until he was able to flee the country.

The U.S. and the European Union support Guaidó as the country’s interim president. Some of his supporters have already deemed the process as illegitimate as Maduro’s 2018 re-election. Mile said she plans to vote on Sunday, but she said she will do it out of a sense of “obligation.”

Torres contributed to this report from Miami. The reporters in Venezuela are not being identified to protect their safety.

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