Venezuelan Dictator Gets Less Than 18% Voter Turnout, Even With Food Bribes

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro won another rigged election on Sunday with 68% of the reported vote, but the dictator should not take the results as any true sign of popular support.

The country has struggled with widespread economic hardship and starvation for the past several years — once again, it turns out that socialists are lousy at providing economic prosperity to their people — and Maduro had promised to issue “Fatherland Cards” to those who voted. The cards purportedly will be used to access public services and obtain food and other goods. In the weeks leading up to the election, government officials frequently made comments that food rations might be limited or denied to those who refused to show up to rallies or cast a ballot.

The AP also reported that loudspeakers in the capital city of Caracas began blaring military hymns at 5:00 am to encourage Venezuelans to head to the polls.

Despite those efforts, turnout was extremely low. The official figure was 46 percent, a drastic drop from the 80 percent turnout in 2013, when Maduro was first elected following the death of Hugo Chávez.

But the true turnout number is almost certainly far lower. Multiple independent sources within Venezuela reported a turnout around 18 percent, and photographs were posted on social media showing nearly deserted polling stations — but plenty of people still lined up for food.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a fiercely vocal critic of Maduro’s regime, tweeted several news reports and photos from Venezuela over the past few days, including this showing an empty polling station:

[Translation: Today in less than 3.6 million Venezuelans attended polling stations, only 17.5% of the registered electors. Independent press tours showed completely empty polling stations.]

Even the New York Times noted the lack of enthusiasm. Meridith Kohut, a Caracas-based photographer, has covered Venezuelan politics for several years and noted that the mood at Maduro’s election rallies “was strikingly different from the rallies I covered during the 2012 campaign of Hugo Chávez, who drew thousands who genuinely adored him.”

Discontent with Maduro has been growing, and many opposition voters chose to boycott an election they viewed as invalid and corrupt.

The United States and the Lima Group, an alliance of Canada and 14 Latin American nations (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama,Paraguay, Peru, and St. Lucia) were among the nations that officially announced they would not recognize the Venezuelan election results.

Both Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo posted tweets condemning the election as a sham.

Venezuela has the world’s largest known oil reserves and was one of Latin America’s wealthiest nations in the 1970s. Now, after enduring several years of oppression from socialist dictators, they are starving to death. Maduro has proven even more devastating to his own people than his predecessor, Chavez. In 2014, 48 percent of Venezuelans were in poverty. That jumped to 82 percent in 2016 and 87 percent last year.

One widely-reported study found that Venezuelans had lost an average of 24 pounds of body weight last year, and over 60 percent of survey respondents said they had woken up hungry because they lacked money to buy food. Infant mortality is skyrocketing, and with children dying of malnutrition at never-before seen rates, desperate parents have given children up to orphanages in such high numbers that public institutions that serve vulnerable children are at risk of collapsing.

The situation in Venezuela is truly dire. And yet, even the threat of withholding food rations and a promised bribe of additional supplies was not enough to convince the people to show up to vote.

Maduro may not want to hear the opinions of those he calls “Imperialists” in America, but his own people are speaking loud and clear.

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.