Maduro Set to Win Vote He Forced. The Likely Loser: Venezuela

Maduro Set to Win Vote He Forced. The Likely Loser: Venezuela

Venezuelan elections used to be a month-long party. In 2013, almost-daily rallies drew raucous crowds that filled city blocks. Campaign anthems boomed across the airwaves while activists blanketed the streets with fliers and graffiti.

Oil was trading at over $100 a barrel and Venezuela’s bonds sold for more than 100 cents on the dollar — a petro-state riding the boom that ensured President Nicolas Maduro’s victory. But three days before this Sunday’s presidential contest, oil is near $67 a barrel, billions of dollars worth of bonds are in default and there is a grim resignation that Maduro is gambling what remains of the economy with a vote widely presumed to be rigged.

Election campaign posters for Maduro hang on a home.

Photographer: Carlos Becerra/Bloomberg

The socialist regime has been punished and isolated, accused of trampling rights and jailing its most potent opponents, and another six-year term for Maduro, 55, could herald sanctions that choke off the oil lifeline. The U.S. has threatened to punish the local oil industry if the vote proceeds. Maduro this week spurned a final call by the regional Lima Group to suspend the election.

Enduring Misery

An opposition boycott — and the daily fight to eat — have left Venezuelans demoralized and uninterested. Maduro and his main challengers, Henri Falcon and Javier Bertucci, draw sparse crowds. Walkabouts have replaced caravans of buses and sound trucks. Instead of auto and appliance giveaways, there’s free soup.

Volunteers serve complimentary soup during a Bertucci rally.

Photographer: Carlos Becerra/Bloomberg

“What there is, is sadness,’’ said Luis Sanchez Nieto, 63, a retired word-processor technician who was waiting for a food kitchen to open in downtown Caracas. With a monthly pension that barely covers a raw chicken, Sanchez Nieto said voters were struggling to see any cause for hope. “One must vote for change, but many have already accepted that the crisis will only continue.’’

Neighbor countries and international aid agencies are already struggling to care for thousands of Venezuelans fleeing hyperinflation that may reach 13,000 percent this year — and Maduro’s consolidation of power. He has handed large swathes of the economy to the military and nullified the national assembly by creating an alternative, all-powerful legislative body that includes only supporters.

Regional Catastrophe

In an interview at Bloomberg News headquarters in New York, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Sunday’s vote won’t meet the conditions for 193-member body’s approval. Guterres said he was “extremely worried” that the outpouring of migrants could escalate into a major regional crisis if conditions don’t improve.

Photographer: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg

“It is obviously a very big concern for all the countries around,” Guterres said.

The nation’s well-being and history are intertwined with its greatest national resource. It became one of the region’s leading democracies in 1958, after the overthrow of a military dictatorship. Surging oil prices in the 1970s fueled an almost decade-long bonanza, with billions poured into public works, infrastructure and cheap imports readily available to the masses. It was for many years the most prosperous nation on the continent.

Chavismo Born

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