The squeak-by election of Nicolas Maduro to succeed Hugo Chavez sits under “a dark cloud’’ of manipulation that doesn’t bode well for U.S. relations with Venezuela, a former U.N. Ambassador to Venezuela says.
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“He presided over alliances between Venezuela and countries like Iran, Russia, Belarus, Syria, and others that are enemies or adversaries of the U.S. or at the very least are criminal enterprises.
“Many of them, brutal killers like Assad in Syria and before Assad, Gadhafi in Libya … So there’s reason to be concerned.’’
Reich — a senior official to Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush — said he doubts Maduro, who was Chavez’s handpicked successor and took just 50.7 percent of the vote, actually “won.’’
“The electoral commission called the election for Maduro, but what a lot of people may not know is that four out of the five members are Chavez appointees, who are not professionals,’’ Reich said.
“They are all ideological supporters of Mr. Madura. So what they have done is to simply announce a result that may or may not be supported by the facts.’’
Henrique Capriles, who lost the election, has demanded a recount — but Reich is skeptical it will go forward.
“Maduro is alleged to have said he will support the recount, but now the very same electoral commission … four of whom are Chavistas, haven’t yet whether they’re going to allow the recount or not,’’ he said.
“So the whole thing is under a very dark cloud … It’s very possible [fraud was committed] because you’re not dealing with a normal democratic and open and transparent government.
“The Maduro forces have manipulated the system … They prevented the opposition from, for example, access to the news media, so it was not a free or fair election.’’
Reich, who also served as Asst. Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, said there are doubts whether other Latin American countries can pull any weight in reforming Venezuela.
“Most Latin American countries, have proven themselves, to put it in the state department double negative, uncourageous. Not exactly brave in standing up to the thugs that run these governments like Cuba’s and Venezuela’s,’’ he said.
“They’re frankly afraid of them because these are violent people, many of whom by the way in the government of Venezuela have been designated as drug kingpins by the U.S. Treasury Department.
“We’re talking here about narcotics traffickers in control of the government of Venezuela. So it’s understandable why the neighboring countries are afraid of them.’’
Reich said the international community should put pressure on Venezuela for a recount and demand it take place under international observation.
“These votes have to be counted in plain sight with observers from all the political parties in Venezuela and ideally with international observers as well,’’ he said.
“I don’t think that the world community can trust the government of Mr. Maduro.’’
He said he is sure Maduro will continue Chavez’s controversial plan of sending oil to Cuba.
“The value of the oil shipments to Cuba from Venezuela is estimated at over $4 billion a year. Compare that with the Soviet subsidies to Cuba of $5 billion and that gives you an idea of how important the Venezuelan gift is to the Castro brothers,’’ Reich said.
“They could probably not survive without Venezuelan charity in the form of oil.’’
He said that if by some miracle, Capriles was declared the winner in a recount, the practice would end immediately.
“Capriles says that he will stop the shipments of oil to Cuba because they represent a drain on the Venezuelan treasury that the Venezuelan people cannot afford,’’ Reich said.
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By Bill Hoffmann and Kathleen Walter