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‘I Give and You Give’: Venezuela’s Leader Dangles Food for Votes

Those eligible to run have mostly called for a boycott. The date of the election is even a point of contention: The vote was called six months early, in what Mr. Maduro’s rivals say was an effort to give them little time to prepare for it.

The United States and many countries in the region have said they will not recognize the winner of the election.

“They do whatever they want and put themselves above the law and above the interests of the people,” said Héctor Navarro, who served for years as a minister in the government of Mr. Chávez and is now part of a growing list of former top Chávez officials who have become dissidents while still keeping their distance from the traditional opposition.

‘I Give and You Give’: Venezuela’s Leader Dangles Food for Votes
‘I Give and You Give’: Venezuela’s Leader Dangles Food for Votes

“In the history of Venezuela, every government has had its weaknesses and problems: murderous governments, thieving governments, incompetent governments, lazy governments, those have always been around,” Mr. Navarro said. “But all at the same time? That has never happened before, a government with all of those traits.”

It is the government’s inability to feed its people that has stunned Venezuelans the most, even some of Mr. Maduro’s fiercest supporters.

Isabela Romero, a 50-year-old schoolteacher, stood in the crowd of the president’s supporters in Ciudad Guyana, once a growing industrial city whose wealth was fueled by iron, steel and aluminum. Many factories are idle, and lines outside of grocery stores have been endlessly long for years.

Two decades ago, Ms. Romero voted for Mr. Chávez and saw the benefits of his reforms: She received a master’s degree that his government paid for and a parcel of land that had been expropriated, she said.

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