Venezuela Election Protests: There's a Serious Threat Of Dictatorship Under Maduro

Henrique Capriles, Venezuela's opposition leader who lost the April 14 presidential election to the late Hugo Chávez's hand-picked successor, Nicolás Maduro, by a 1.6% margin (270,000 votes), has formally asked the Venezuelan Supreme Court to annul the results of the election.

The Supreme Court, however, which is controlled by the ruling United Socialist Party, is chock-full of loyal Chávez supporters. The Supreme Court now has 72 days to respond to Capriles's appeal. The opposition's complaint alleged "bribery, violence and fraud" throughout the electoral process. One of Capriles's attorneys, Gerardo Fernandez, submitted a 180-page list of election irregularities.

Capriles is not actually expecting his country's highest court to uphold his request, given its strong presence of Chávez supporters. Instead, he hopes to exhaust all domestic legal bodies and bring the case to international bodies, including the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, an independent judicial institution based in San Jose, Costa Rica. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights exists to protect human rights and freedom in the Americas.

The dispute over the election results has led to heavy protests in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. Thousands took to the streets on International Workers' Day, May 1, to demand a recount. Capriles described the protests as "the fight for truth against lies." Maduro's supporters also rallied on Wednesday as he led a May Day march throughout Caracas.

Wednesday's protests followed a literal brawl over the election results in the National Assembly, Venezuela's unicameral legislative body, on Tuesday. Capriles made his formal appeal to the Supreme Court shortly after the May Day protests.

Maduro has not been responding to Capriles's accusations favorably. In a recent speech broadcast on national television he said, "Accept your defeat fascist! Stop with the kicking, the whining. You are a whiny, bourgeois fascist who wants to incite hatred and violence in the country."

The Venezuelan government's reaction to the opposition's voter-fraud claims has sparked many to ask whether or not Venezuela is a democracy, like it says it is, or a dictatorship. The Americas director for Human Rights Watch, José Miguel Vivanco, recently stated that Venezuela is on the verge of losing its claim to democracy. "It’s getting completely out of control, completely out of line," he said.

The concern about an increasingly authoritarian government in Venezuela was partially sparked by comments from Housing Minister Ricardo Molina, who pledged to fire activists from "fascist parties," saying, "let me say with total clarity, I do not care at all about labor rules. In this situation, they don't matter. That’s how to govern!"

No doubt the dispute over the election results will continue as we await the Supreme Court's response.