Venezuela Agrees to Audit Vote Ahead of Maduro Inauguration

Venezuela’s President-elect Nicolas Maduro, who will be sworn in tomorrow, agreed to a full audit of the votes cast in the country’s closest election in 45 years as the opposition contests the results.

Maduro’s campaign chief, Jorge Rodriguez, made the announcement yesterday after opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski called off a march to protest the results of the April 14 presidential election. Capriles, who requested a manual recount of the 15 million votes, acted after Maduro said he would come down with a “firm hand” on opposition supporters and political violence led to eight deaths.

“That there be new technical audits, we agree 100 percent with that,” Rodriguez said, without providing more information.

Tensions escalated in Venezuela after the snap election following the death of President Hugo Chavez March 5. Maduro today said on state television he will join regional leaders in Lima to participate in an emergency meeting called by the 12-member Union of South American Nations, or Unasur, to discuss the contested election.

Capriles is evaluating whether to attend the meeting as well, he wrote on his Twitter account. Foreign Affairs Minister Elias Jaua also wrote on Twitter that he is traveling to Lima.

First Step

Maduro has taken a first step to resolving the impasse even if his offer to audit the votes electronically doesn’t go as far as the manual recount demanded by Capriles, said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.

“At least they’ll begin to have some communication that could help overcome this crisis,” Shifter said in a phone interview. “It has to be interpreted as an encouraging development and I think Capriles will see it that way.”

Maduro, who today confirmed his swearing-in ceremony will be tomorrow, was declared the winner by the national electoral council after taking 50.8 percent of the vote to 49 percent for Capriles. Caracas was flooded with music, fireworks and the sound of pots and pans being banged the two past nights as supporters from both sides showed loyalty to their leaders.

The Carter Center, which sent a delegation to monitor the election, is calling on both sides to discuss ways to resolve their differences, the Atlanta-based nongovernmental organization said in an e-mailed statement today. Losing candidates in Venezuela have the right to expect legal challenges of elections to be given consideration, it said.

Bonds, Inflation

The country’s benchmark dollar bonds due in 2027 rose 2.4 cents on the dollar to 96.02 cents at 3:39 p.m. in Caracas. The yield fell 33 basis points, or 0.33 percentage point, to 9.77 percent.

Venezuela’s dollar-denominated bonds fell the most in almost 15 years on April 16 as after Maduro said he was ready to “radicalize the revolution” and traders anticipated political instability will undermine the economy. The price on the benchmark 2027 bond dropped 6.89 cents to 91.22 cents on the dollar, the biggest decline since August 1998.

Inflation accelerated to 25 percent in March, the fastest official rate in the region. The central bank’s scarcity index, which measures the amount of goods that are out of stock in the market, rose to a record high of 20.4 percent in January.

The opposition insists irregularities affected about 300,000 votes, enough to overturn the result. Capriles said he believed he had won the election and is ready to concede defeat if a recount confirms Maduro’s victory.

‘Get Out’

The U.S. supports a recount and has no plans to send an envoy to the inauguration, Secretary of State John Kerry said in a Congressional hearing yesterday.

“Take your eyes off Venezuela, John Kerry,” Maduro said. “Get out of here. Enough with intervention.”

Nationwide protests also left 61 injured and led to the arrest of 135 people this week, Public Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz said. Opposition protesters have attacked health centers and local offices of the ruling socialist party, Maduro said.

In 2002, Chavez was overthrown for two days after opposition street protests in Caracas turned violent. A decade earlier, Chavez became a national figure by leading military rebels in a failed coup against President Carlos Andres Perez.

Chavez, who tapped the world’s biggest oil reserves to reduce poverty, left the country polarized as he nationalized more than 1,000 companies or their assets and implemented currency and price controls that created food shortages and fueled inflation.

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