April 25 (Bloomberg) -- Venezuela cut off the transmission of a speech by opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski yesterday using a system of national broadcasts known as “cadena” after he said the government “stole” this month’s election.
Capriles said he would give the national electoral council until today to announce news of an expanded vote audit before his speech, broadcast on the Globovision television network, was interrupted to play a recorded government message.
“The cadena shows the fear they have about Venezuelans defending their rights,” Capriles said. “If they are so sure, let them audit the vote.”
Venezuela’s National Assembly yesterday set up a commission to determine whether Capriles is responsible for violence that erupted after the opposition contested the April 14 election. Prisons Minister Iris Varela said on April 23 that she has a cell prepared for the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state.
“I have a clear conscience, and all of their threats show weakness,” Capriles said. “They stole the election, and that’s the reality.”
Capriles said he would announce “legal and international actions” today if the national electoral council does not start the vote audit.
Capriles said that the opposition would not accept a “badly” done audit and that he wanted access to voter registration books. The national electoral council said on April 20 that an expanded vote audit would not change “irreversible” election results.
Violence erupted in the country last week after President Nicolas Maduro, who was sworn in April 19 following the electoral council’s decision to declare him the winner with 50.8 percent of the vote, refused Capriles’s request for a full ballot recount and accused him of inciting a coup. The electoral council agreed to extend an audit of the 15 million votes cast in the wake of street protests that left nine dead and 78 injured, according to the state prosecutor.
“The deaths ordered by the fascist murderer Capriles cannot go unpunished,” National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said yesterday in a message on his Twitter account. “The investigations are going forward.”
The National Assembly commission will determine whether Capriles, who received 49 percent of the vote, is responsible for the violence after he called on his supporters to “unleash your anger” about the electoral results. Capriles said his call was for people to vent their anger through peaceful demonstration involving synchronized banging of pots and pans at home, a traditional form of protest in Latin America known as a “cacerolazo.”
“If they want to bring me to trial, what’s their reason?” Capriles said yesterday. “For asking that the vote boxes be opened? For asking people to bang pots and pans? If that’s the cost, then do it fast. Don’t keep threatening.”
The government has an arrest order out on Capriles, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez said April 17 on his Twitter account without saying where he obtained the information.
State Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz said yesterday that the government is investigating attacks on more than a dozen health centers across the country.
“Why did they go to specific places around the country?” Ortega said in comments broadcast on state television. “There had to be an instruction, a direction, a direct or subliminal message.”
The Venezuelan Program of Education-Action in Human Rights, or Provea, a Caracas-based non-governmental organization, said April 18 that its investigations found no evidence that health centers had been attacked.
“Capriles is the intellectual author of these crimes and will not go unpunished,” Varela said on state television. “The only good news for you is that the prison waiting for you, Capriles Radonski, is not like the ones we inherited from the previous governments. We’ll see if we can get that fascist thinking out of you there.”
The government is unlikely to follow through with its threats to imprison Capriles since it would convert its opponent into a martyr whom the election showed has the support of half the country, said James Lockhart, head of Latin America at risk consultancy Maplecroft.
“These threats are designed to bolster support from their domestic supporters and push Capriles into backing down,” Lockhart said yesterday in a phone interview from London. “The government will be treading very carefully because given the controversy of the electoral results and the continuing opposition of the U.S., throwing Capriles in jail would provoke a much wider range of international criticism.”
Venezuela’s benchmark dollar bond due in 2027 fell 1.08 cents to 96.39 cents on the dollar at 2:30 p.m. in Caracas. The yield rose 14 basis points to 9.72 percent. Venezuelan bonds fell the most in 15 years on April 16 after post-election violence and a Maduro comment that he was willing to “radicalize the revolution.”
The increasingly aggressive stance by the government against the opposition and protracted decision-making over the audit has escalated tensions in Venezuela once again, Eurasia Group analysts Risa Grais-Targow and Daniel Kerner said in a note to clients today.
While the audit is unlikely to remove Maduro from power, it has created difficult conditions for him as he faces economic challenges including accelerating inflation, slowing growth and shortages of products on supermarket shelves, they said.
“Maduro will emerge from this crisis weakened and with dubious legitimacy,” Grais-Targow and Kerner said in the report. “As demonstrated by his aggression towards the opposition, Maduro will likely be forced to radicalize in order to show strength and rally his own base of support.”
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