Photo: 800noticias.com

Some things are axiomatic truths. The sun rises in the East. Tequeños are not mozzarella sticks. Elections in Venezuela are rigged.

In three days, Venezuela will hold presidential “elections,” and everyone and their mothers knows they will be fraudulent. Nobody —not even those who will go out and vote on Sunday— will remotely question this fact. Come to think of it, it’s probably the only self-evident truth that remains in this carcass of a country, where all semblances of certainty were long-ago exterminated. It’s probably the only thing everyone can still agree on.

But it’s more than that. Our shared trust in electoral fraud is the key to this regime’s survival. It’s our new social contract.

Our shared trust in electoral fraud is the key to this regime’s survival. It’s our new social contract.

In practical terms, fraudulent elections are the reason why Nicolás Maduro will win a second term on Sunday, despite being reviled by a vast majority of Venezuelans. But the collective indisputability of this fact—that elections are a sham— is the ultimate guarantee of his victory. That’s why CNE has made no effort to convince us of the contrary: gone are the days when Tibisay paid lip service to “the best electoral system in the world.”

Our political opposition—MUD, Frente Amplio, whatever you want to call it—has defined itself around rejecting these elections, citing fraudulent conditions as their reason to boycott the voting process. As dignified and legitimate as this stance may be, little to nothing has been done in order mobilize a dwindling resistance around the cause. And this this makes them enablers. Because, if it was always so glaringly obvious that Maduro would cheat, if this fraud was telegraphed from miles away and many months ago, how is it that our leadership did not adequately prepare a response?

The opponent’s manual has been there for everyone to see, if only we took the time to notice. Maduro did us a solid last year by spelling out the fraud, step by step, on live TV and with a nifty chart, to boot.

In this video, aired on Venezuelan State TV last year, Maduro shamelessly walks us through his get-out-the-vote plan for the July 30th, 2017 National Constituent Assembly (ANC) election, a strategy that would become the go-to playbook for every subsequent election since.

It relies on the then-recently created Carnet de la Patria— an ID card with a QR code for data storage that is required in order to benefit from social programs and government subsidies— as a means of social coercion through extortion.

Since its inception in January 2017, the Carnet de la Patria has become a powerful tool for procuring and processing big data related to the behavior patterns of the Venezuelan electorate that can’t afford to forgo Maduro’s handouts—basically, most of the population. Through its vast media hegemony, the Maduro regime has convinced us that they know exactly who votes, and exactly who you voted for. It matters little whether this threat is real or perceived: most people can’t afford to risk their paltry food rations in order to find out. So it pretty much comes down to “vote for me if you want food, starve if you want to make a point.” Hunger, it turns out, is a powerful incentive.

Here’s an even more boldfaced example from a few days ago.

It’s cruel, yes. But also audacious and shameless and effective. Time and again, Chavismo has managed to outmaneuver the Venezuelan opposition, growing stronger and defying logic with every tyrannical clenching of its fist. Unlike the opposition, Chavismo knows how to adapt. It used to be all about ballot-stuffing, state-sponsored violence, or just making up the numbers, period. But why waste the energy when you can just blackmail hungry people for votes?

That Maduro first deployed this strategy during the ANC elections is no coincidence. Since the ANC vote was brazenly illegitimate from the start, opposition actors immediately boycotted, making it the perfect testing ground for a targeted experiment that would be repeated and fine-tuned many times over. Maduro is only concerned with maintaining a voter base large enough to justify his survival; there’s no use in wasting efforts on an opposition whose infighting takes care of itself.    

The evil brilliance of this tactic lies in the positive feedback-loop baked into the worsening humanitarian conditions: the worse hunger and shortages get, the more people desperately depend on CLAPs. So you hold more and more consecutive elections, and exploit more and more voter obedience from hungry people who don’t like you, but will vote if it means another meal. And you make sure to carry out this cruel electoral shakedown in plain sight, so that the opposition has no choice but to reject your tactics as illegal and immoral and exclude itself from the process altogether. Do this over enough, and before you know it, you’ve got yourself a winning formula for staying in power in circumstances that would seem ludicrous in any other context.

The evil brilliance of this tactic lies in the positive feedback-loop baked into the worsening humanitarian conditions: the worse hunger and shortages get, the more people desperately depend on CLAPs. 

Which brings me to these elections.

The opposition decided to boycott presidential elections precisely because electoral conditions were absent. They also ostracized any candidate who runs in opposition to Maduro, since he would be playing into the regime’s need for democratic legitimacy in a balls-out undemocratic process. Fair enough. (fuck, you, Falcón.)

But if your entire reason for boycotting is built around the shoddy illegality of the voting process, then you have to spend every waking moment before the “election” dismantling it for the sham that it is. That’s how you get to justify abstention in the face of naysayers. That’s how you get to keep your credibility. Only then do you get to say you didn’t play right into the government’s trap of learned helplessness. You gotta keep people mobilized, even if it means doing so around rejecting elections.

And that’s precisely what the opposition hasn’t done, despite the fact that it only takes an internet connection and a basic grasp of Excel spreadsheets to come up with something, anything, to make a case.

So here’s my go at doing MUD’s job for them:

The Venezuelan voter registry (REP), currently totaling 20.616.587 registered voters, gets updated every so often through special “enrollment drives” sponsored by the CNE. When Tibisay announced the date for presidential elections on February 7th, 2018, she also declared that a special enrollment drive would take place over ten days, from Feb 10th through Feb 20th, so that new voters could sign up and existing voters could modify their voting locations.

Over the past 5 years, since the last presidential elections were held in 2013, the average yearly variation of registered voters in REP has been around 250 thousand. But during Tibisay’s 10-day enrollment drive in February 2018, which included Carnaval holidays —a long weekend when pretty much any drunken activity trumps waiting in line for registering to vote— REP saw a staggering jump of over 800 thousand new voters.

Similarly, while the yearly average number of voters who change their voting location is around 124 thousand, those mysterious ten days in February, 2018 saw over 870 thousand voters switching addresses.

In total, according to CNE data, a suspicious 1.678.553 voters either signed up to vote for the first time or switched voting locations over a ten-day period in February 2018. Of those almost 1.7 million, 528.653 new voters registered to vote in traditionally chavista centers, and 490.284 registered voters moved to traditionally chavista centers from other polling stations.

The best part yet?

According to CNE data, a suspicious 1.678.553 voters either signed up to vote for the first time or switched voting locations over a ten-day period in February 2018.

A substantial number of said voters have been assigned to one of 130 newly-created voting centers which boast names such as Centro de Educación Inicial Felicia Rondón de Cabello (that’s Diosdado’s mom), Centro de Votación Pura Sangre de Chávez Vinedo, Centro de Votación Nicolás Maduro, Centro de Votación con Chávez y Maduro, and Centro de Votación Rosa Inés 21. Many of these centers are Misión Vivienda facilities.

Basically, chavismo has managed to concentrate its enslaved voter base in government-friendly voting centers where they can optimize their Carnet de la Patria extortion strategy, undeterred.

I won’t be voting on Sunday. There’s an inordinate number of more useful things I could be doing with my time that day. But since our opposition leadership has once again eschewed coherence and opted for inaction, and just in case you’re around on the 20th, I leave you with this list of the top 100 most egregiously chavista voting centers where Maduro will be doing his thing, out in the open, for all to see. As long as fraud is happening in all its splendor, we might as well drop by and actively enjoy the show, witness what we’re boycotting, and get a better sense of what we failed to stop.

Just please don’t get arrested.  

Centros Chavistas 20M by Caracas Chronicles on Scribd

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.