Venezuela as a hot-button campaign issue... just not in Venezuela

On May 4th, Panama will go to the polls to elect a new president and all 71 members of its single-chamber National Assembly. While the electoral campaign there has mostly focused on domestic issues such as safety, education, and the expansion of the canal, the case of Venezuela has also become somewhat of an issue.

Last month, Nicolas Maduro announced the diplomatic break-up between both countries, after the government of current Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli asked the OAS to get involved in Venezuela. This included giving Maria Corina Machado a seat in the Permanent Council as part of its delegation. The break-up is also linked to the large debt Venezuela has with Panama, concerning the huge purchase of imports from that country.

At the same time, Maduro praised the former Panamanian strongman General Omar Torrijos, to the point of naming a brand new apartment complex in Caracas after him. In Panama, these gestures have been seen by some as an endorsement of Juan Carlos Navarro, the presidential candidate of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), founded by Torrijos in 1979. Both Mr. Navarro and members of the PRD have distanced themselves from Maduro.

Still, Democratic Change (CD), the party currently in power, has taken advantage of Maduro’s admiration for Torrijos. President Martinelli himself has accused Venezuela of financing the PRD’s campaign, while CD’s candidate (and current frontrunner in the polls) José Domingo Arias has used the current wave of shortages in a TV ad (seen above) where he rejects price controls in general. He also the case of Argentina in a different ad.

But Panama isn’t the only case where Venezuela has been mentioned in an eleciton campaign: During the run-off for El Salvador’s presidency, opposition party ARENA used recent protests as an argument against the FMLN and its candidate, Vice-President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, for his open support of the the Venezuelan model. Sánchez Cerén won by a narrow margin, but ARENA’s Norman Quijano has refused to concede the election.

Venezuela has even made its way onto the U.S. midterm elections. Florida Governor Rick Scott (who’s running for re-election next November) recently spoke about the Venezuelan situation. Next month, our neighbor Colombia will vote for President, and it will be interesting to see if the incumbent Juan Manuel Santos or his rival Óscar Iván Zuluaga (of Democratic Center, Alvaro Uribe’s new party) include our country in their campaign messages. Later, on October 6th, other allies such as Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Brazil’s Dilma Rouseff will try to get re-elected (Uruguay’s Jose Mujica can’t run but former President Tabare Vasquez will do it in his place, for an election slated for October 25th).