Misinterpretation at the Center of Washington Post Criticism

[Moderators note: Thanks to Mike McCarthy for pointing out that Maduro’s margin of victory was 220,000 votes, not 120,000. The post has been corrected. -DS]

David Smilde

The Washington Post’s editorial criticizing the US for “extending a lifeline to Maduro” has a serious misinterpretation at its center. 

The editorial is right when it says Maduro is confronting serious economic problems and serious political divisions in his coalition, and that the Venezuelan opposition is not recognizing Maduro’s April 14 election victory. However it is factually wrong when it says :

Other Latin American governments, while avoiding a confrontation with Caracas, have made it clear they regard the new leader’s legitimacy as questionable; the regional group Unasur called for an audit of the election results. One government, however, has chosen to toss Mr. Maduro a lifeline: the United States.”

The truth is exactly the opposite. The only government in the hemisphere that has not recognized Maduro’s election is the United States. All other countries including the US’s close ally and Venezuela’s neighbor Colombia recognized the election result quickly. Furthermore, Unasur did not call for an audit of the results, it endorsed an audit of the result after the National Electoral Council announced it. It also called on Venezuela’s political actors to recognize the electoral result.

The US’s stance makes it look like it only supports democratic elections when it likes their outcome. These optics unfortunately resonate in Latin America and further damage perceptions of the US.

None of this means there is no room for criticism of the National Electoral Council (CNE). The audit they carried out—restricted to checking the correspondence between the paper ballots and electronic tabulation—was a red herring serving only to draw attention away from the opposition’s actual complaints regarding assisted voting and witness intimidation. These complaints can be addressed by auditing the fingerprint verification record, the voting lists and the CNE’s “list of incidents.”

This could well still happen now that the audit of paper ballots is done. And rapprochement with Venezuela will put the US in a better position to encourage it.

Note however, that a complete audit will almost certainly uphold Maduro’s victory and thereby reinforce his legitimacy. The opposition has theories of how fraud could have occurred and a lot of circumstantial evidence. And they have gotten a lot of mileage from these accusations precisely because of the CNE’s decision to only do a partial audit. But there is little chance that a full audit will substantiate these claims to the point that they would overturn Maduro’s 220,000 vote margin of victory.

Thus by engaging Venezuela and encouraging a full audit, the US might ironically be tossing Maduro another “lifeline.” But they would also be reinforcing citizen trust in the electoral system and that is the greater democratic good. Diplomacy should be about mutual interests and democratic values, not partisan politics.