Maduro Vows to Stop Political Protests in Venezuela as Seven Die
Venezuelan President-elect Nicolas Maduro said he’ll block a march planned by the opposition contesting his April 14 election after the public prosecutor said seven people were killed in protests.
Maduro, who was proclaimed the winner by the electoral council yesterday, said he’ll come down with a “hard hand” to prevent violence. Henrique Capriles Radonski, who lost by 1.8 percentage points, urged supporters to take to the streets with him tomorrow to press the electoral council in Caracas to manually recount all ballots.
“You won’t go to downtown Caracas to fill it with blood and death,” Maduro, 50, said today in comments broadcast on state television. “This is a chronicle of a coup foretold.”
The closest margin of victory in 45 years may lead to an environment of distrust and institutional collapse, said Javier Ciurlizza, director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the International Crisis Group. Dollar bonds tumbled for a second day as traders anticipated instability after 14 years of late president Hugo Chavez’s rule.
Maduro, who had 50.8 percent of the votes, said today that the electoral council has carried out a 54 percent audit of the election results and found no evidence of irregularity. Capriles said yesterday he believed he had won the election and is ready to concede defeat after a recount.
Protests across the country have also left 61 injured and led to the arrest of 135 people, Public Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz said. Opposition protesters have attacked health centers and local offices of the ruling socialist party, Maduro said.
Capriles, who had 49 percent support, said he had evidence of irregularities, including videos of voters being watched by Maduro supporters while they cast their ballots, that affected about 300,000 votes.
“I’m not asking for them to proclaim Capriles as the winner,” the 40-year-old opposition leader told reporters in Caracas yesterday. “I’m asking that they count each vote. If as a candidate you agreed to a vote-by-vote recount you don’t go running to be proclaimed.”
National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said no recount of the 15 million votes cast would occur and that Maduro will be sworn in April 19. The government will call for Capriles to be investigated by the National Assembly for the violence generated in the country, Cabello said today on his Twitter account.
‘Polarized the Country’
“The government’s rejection of a reasonable request to recount the vote has polarized the country even further, driving people into the streets,” Ciurlizza said in a phone interview from Bogota. “If opposition supporters lose faith in formal politics, the outbreaks of violence will become unpredictable.”
Hundreds of Capriles supporters marched through eastern Caracas yesterday to gather outside his campaign headquarters, waving flags and blowing horns. Elsewhere on a motorway in the capital, National Guard troops fired tear gas and plastic bullets to disperse protesting students.
As Maduro gave a press conference yesterday in which he accused his opponents of seeking to incite violence, the opposition in Caracas staged a protest across the city by banging pots and pans for about 40 minutes.
“We’re not afraid of violence, and that’s why we’re here in the middle of the street protesting this fraud,” said Danny Guzman, 32, an accountant who marched to support Capriles. “We refuse to live in fear under this regime, which is trying to put pressure on us all.”
Barclays Plc today cut it recommendation to buy Venezuelan bonds, saying a weak presidency and high uncertainty following the elections could lead the country into a recession.
The yield on Venezuela’s 2027 bonds rose 31 basis points, or 0.31 percentage points, to 9.8 percent at 1:15 p.m. New York time after soaring yesterday the most in two months. The cost of insuring Venezuela’s debt against default for five years rose 11 basis points to 741, after soaring 41 basis points yesterday.
The margin of victory was the narrowest since a 1968 general election in which Rafael Caldera defeated Gonzalo Barrios by 29.1 percent against 28.2 percent.
The former union leader and foreign minister has vowed to follow the steps of his mentor Chavez, who increased state control over the economy by nationalizing more than 1,000 companies or their assets and introduced currency and price controls. Chavez also tapped the world’s biggest oil reserves to help cut poverty to 21.2 percent of the population in the second half of 2012 from 42.8 percent when he first took power in 1999, according to government data.
Chavez won his third six-year term last October when he defeated Capriles by 11 percentage points after raising salaries, building thousands of homes for poor families and increasing cheap imports to slow inflation. The spending binge helped the economy grow 5.5 percent in 2012.
“I am the son of Chavez,” Maduro said yesterday. “I am the first Chavista president after Hugo Chavez and I am going to fulfill in full his legacy to protect the humble, the poor, the fatherland.”
Maduro called the election a choice between capitalism and socialism. He warned Spain and Madrid-based energy company Repsol SA (REP) to “be careful” about their relationship with Venezuela, saying they could face “exemplary actions” from his government. Repsol has stakes in Venezuela’s Carabobo 1 heavy oil project and Perla natural gas field.
As Chavez languished in a hospital bed in Cuba before his death, Maduro oversaw a 32 percent devaluation of the bolivar and expelled two U.S. embassy officials who were accused of plotting against the government. The U.S. denied the charges.
Economic growth will slow to 1.9 percent this year, the slowest in three years, a Bloomberg survey shows. The devaluation and dollar shortages could push the economy into recession, according to HSBC Holdings Plc.
Inflation accelerated to 25 percent in March, the fastest annual pace in 13 months and the highest official rate in the hemisphere, the central bank said yesterday. Rising prices are compounded by shortages of products on supermarket shelves. 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.
While Capriles yesterday called for peaceful protest, the situation could spiral out of his control under heavy-handed police repression, said Andy Webb-Vidal, CEO of Latin-IQ Corp., a Bogota-based business risk consultancy.
“The situation could escalate to levels of political violence not seen in Venezuela since the coup against Chavez in April 2002,” Webb-Vidal said in an e-mailed response to questions. “In 2002, Chavez’s legitimacy as president was never really in doubt, but now it’s quite different: half of the country sees Maduro as the legitimate heir of Chavez, but the other half sees him as the illegitimate son.”
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