The Venezuelan Election Settled Nothing

Nicolas Maduro’s 1.5% win indicated that Venezuela is, at best, a totally divided society. It also suggests that the winner, Maduro, has no legitimacy.

In winning the election, Maduro deployed tens of millions–if not hundreds of millions–of dollars in state assets, and controlled both the entire media and the government bureaucracy to win what the Central Election Commission (CME) called a “narrow victory.”

But, in reality, it’s a hollow victory, if a victory at all.

Put another way, it’s absolutely certain that without the widespread use of state resources, control of the media, and control of the government bureaucracy, Maduro would not have won.

Moreover, it isn’t even clear that Maduro did win, given the fact that the counting took almost an extra hour and a half to complete after the results were supposed to be announced. Having worked in Venezuela in the past, and having seen widespread manipulation of both voting procedure and the count, I have no real confidence that a 1.5 point victory is, in fact, a victory.

But there is a larger issue here than who actually won the election– a hugely important issue.

Venezuelan society remains divided.

Given the narrow nature of Maduro’s win, it is unlikely that large percentages of the Venezuelan electorate will accept the results. There is, indeed, a definite possibility, given the weakness of the economy and the suspicious nature of the vote, that there will be less than full acceptance of President Maduro’s victory. And there is the chance that there could be additional instability in the country as well.

Venezuela is one of our largest trading partners; it is our fourth-largest source of imported oil and we certainly have a vested interest in the stability of the region.

But we have a larger interest in Venezuela beyond oil – promoting democracy and freedom in a country that has systematically undermined our interests in Latin America, and around the world, for the last 10 to 15 years.

The Venezuelan government has been an ally of the Russians, the Chinese, and more controversially, the Iranians for some time now. President Ahmadinejad and the late President Chavez were great friends who made deals on economic issues, and, indeed, on military cooperation.

It follows that it is in American interests, and the interests of the hemisphere, that we be much more assertive in standing up for our values and our interests rather than kowtowing to a President who lacks legitimacy, who was elected without anything other than a synthetic majority, and who is playing out the last messages of the failed social revolution of Hugo Chavez.

Douglas E. Schoen is the author of ”The Threat Closer to Home: Hugo Chávez and the War Against America.”