Nicolás Maduro’s lack of legitimacy lies at the very heart of the Venezuelan crisis. Why isn’t he the rightful president of the country? Well, for starters, the two elections he won (in 2013 and 2018) were fraudulent. On top of that, he has “killed hundreds of young people in the streets,” according to his former intelligence chief, Hugo Carvajal, and has used repression to crush his people and hold on to power. It’s no wonder Venezuelans call him “the usurper.”
Maduro was never a democrat. The strongman Hugo Chávez hand-picked him to take his place. “Vote for Nicolás Maduro as president,” Chávez told his supporters shortly before his death in 2013, a time when few thought “Chavismo” could live on without Chávez.
And yet Maduro managed to claim that power, allegedly winning 50.61% of the vote in a rigged election. There were serious accusations of voting irregularities, and of intimidation at polling centers by armed pro-government groups known as “colectivos.” Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles refused to accept the results, and called for a recount. But the “Chavista” machine prevailed.
In 2018, the fraud continued. Maduro illegally called for early presidential elections to be held on May 20. He then barred the opposition candidates who could have defeated him — Capriles and the political prisoner Leopoldo López — from running for office. He also made sure that no international observers were present, and that a government agency under his control, the National Electoral Council, oversaw the vote count. The 2018 election can be compared to a soccer game in which the other team doesn’t appear, there’s no referee and the final score is completely made up. That’s how Maduro “won” it with 67% of the vote.
Maduro fits the definition of a usurper perfectly: He has a clear record of electoral fraud, kills and tortures people using his security forces and “colectivos” (as per a report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights) and locks up hundreds of political prisoners (989 according to local human rights organization Foro Penal). The sole option left to many Venezuelans is to flee their country. Some 3 million have left in the past three years.
Two decades since its founding, the Bolivarian revolution has failed. Annual inflation reached 1.37 million percent in 2018, the meager monthly minimum wage stands at around $5.50 (according to current exchange rates) and Caracas, the capital, has become one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Because of Maduro, millions of Venezuelans now suffer from disease and extreme poverty.
I said all this to Maduro’s face when I interviewed him on Feb. 25 in Caracas. I also showed him a video of three young men looking for food in a garbage truck, which profoundly contradicted his rhetoric of a prosperous and progressive country. He couldn’t stand to watch it and called the interview off — a reaction I have never witnessed from any other leader.
While it’s true that all around the world — even in the United States — it’s possible to see people eating garbage, this particular video clearly struck a chord with Maduro and has since gone viral. Here’s why:
— No one gave me the video; I recorded it on my cellphone. And it wasn’t “staged for the media” as the regime has said — a fact confirmed by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo a few days later, when it interviewed Jesús, one of the men in the video.
— Two of the three young men directly blamed Maduro for his plight, and demanded that he be ousted.
— The scene in the video took place just minutes away from the Miraflores presidential palace.
— The video debunks the official narrative that Venezuela is better off with Maduro and the Chavistas in power.
Luckily, we sent the video to Univision in Miami before we started the interview. Sadly, we cannot say the same about our four cameras and our other technical equipment, which were confiscated by government officials following my conversation with Maduro. It seems that many members of the regime are eager to follow the president’s lead as agents of violence and repression. To this day, none of our gear has been returned, including the memory cards on which the interview was recorded.
If Maduro hates being called a usurper, there is a quick and easy fix: He just has to give back everything he has stolen from others.