Venezuela’s Maduro defies foreign censure, offers ‘prize’ to voters
Venezuela’s mainstream opposition is boycotting the election on the grounds it is rigged in favor of the 55-year-old socialist incumbent. The United States, European Union and various Latin American neighbors have also slammed it as unfair.
“So they’re not going to recognize Maduro around the world. What the hell do I care?” Maduro said at an election rally in La Guaira, on the coast outside Caracas, late on Wednesday. “What the hell do I care what Europe and Washington say?”
Maduro, who is casting his re-election campaign as a battle against imperialist powers bent on seizing Venezuela’s oil wealth, has only one serious rival: Henri Falcon, 56, a former state governor. Falcon has broken with the opposition coalition’s boycott of the vote, believing anger at a economic crisis will win him votes.
OPEC member Venezuela is in a fifth year of punishing recession, inflation is the highest in the world, oil production is at a three-decade low, shortages of food and medicines are widespread, and millions are skipping meals.
Some polls show Falcon more popular than Maduro, who narrowly won election to replace Hugo Chavez in 2013.
But the opposition abstention campaign, presence of Maduro loyalists in key institutions including the election board, and vote-winning power of state welfare programs like housing and food giveaways makes a Falcon victory look a tall order.
In his speech, Maduro told supporters that all those who vote showing a government-issued “Fatherland Card,” which is needed to access certain welfare programs, probably would receive “a really good prize.”
He did not give details but critics say that, and other pre-election cash and other bonuses via the card, is akin to vote bribery. Voting in Venezuela is secret but state workers say they are constantly pressured to support the government.