Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles on Wednesday night publicly accused President Nicolás Maduro and his allies of robbing the April 14 elections, which were won by the government’s candidate with a 1.89-percent margin.
Until now, the 40-year-old Capriles and other opposition leaders had limited themselves to demanding that the National Electoral Council (CNE) recount the entire vote after alleging some 3,200 violations and irregularities at polling stations across the country. This marked the first time that Capriles had formally accused Maduro of election fraud.
CNE officials had announced that they would audit 46 percent of the ballot boxes that were not counted on the night of the election, but warned that it would not change the voting results. But the election council has since postponed that audit, citing a list of technical glitches that is preventing it from carrying out the operation.
“They said [the audit] would begin this week. Tomorrow is Thursday. We will not let them make fools of us," he said during his address. "If there is no answer, we will announce to the country the legal and international actions we will soon take."
While Capriles was offering his news conference – which only one television network, the opposition Globovisión station, covered live – the Maduro government ordered all other television and radio stations to connect to an official broadcast.
Because Globovisión can only be seen on cable television, the order imposed on broadcast outlets angered Capriles supporters, who again held noisy protests involving the banging of pots and pans – known as cacerolazos – that evening in many parts of Caracas.
"The truth will see the light. You cannot twist the truth," Capriles said. "The truth is that you stole the election."
He said that he wasn’t afraid of the government’s ongoing threats to hold him criminally responsible for the reported nine deaths and 78 injuries that occurred in post-election violence two days after the race.
“Here I am,” said Capriles, suggesting that he was not going into hiding. He spent four months in prison in 2002 after he was accused of leading an assault on the Cuban Embassy in Caracas during a 48-hour coup when the late President Hugo Chávez was briefly detained.
On Tuesday, Minister of Penitentiary Affairs Iris Varela accused Capriles of organizing the violence and said that the government was preparing a dossier to give to national and international forums that shows the opposition as the instigator.
“I have your jail cell already prepared,” Varela said during a news conference aimed at Capriles, while at the same time guaranteeing his safety. “Let us see if we can take away that fascist thinking of yours and rescue you as a human being. First, by rehabilitating you because you need it urgently to help cure you of your vices, and you know it.”
Despite the threats made by some of his administration officials, Maduro has made conciliatory gestures not only to the opposition but also to countries abroad, such as the United States. He named a commission headed by National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello to open a dialogue with “democratic sectors of the opposition,” which he said were apart from the “fascist cell” that he believes is trying to assassinate him.
At the same time, he named Calixto Ortega, a lawmaker with the official United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), as the new Venezuelan charge d’affaires in Washington. Ortega is a member of the so-called Boston Group, which was set up in 2002 by Venezuelan and US lawmakers to establish a formal relationship between the legislative bodies from both countries. The United States and Venezuela recalled their ambassadors two years ago and have minimal representation in both countries.
US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell on Wednesday welcomed Ortega’s appointment by saying it “could be a step in that direction” to “establish effective channels of communication between governments so we can discuss matters of mutual concern.”
Ventrell also urged Venezuelan election authorities to carry out the recount and review of alleged voting violations because it “is important and essential to ensure that the Venezuelan people feel that their democratic aspirations are being met and that they have greater confidence in the election outcome.”