As Venezuela gears up for a key congressional election, sometime it’s hard to know if the campaign is taking place amid chaos — or if chaos is part of the campaign strategy. As polls indicate the embattled opposition could see its strongest showing in decades in the Dec. 6 race, the government has taken measures that have ranged from ruthlessly effective to ham-fisted. Although the campaign hasn’t officially started yet, the government sent a clear signal last month about the nature of the race when it declared five opposition candidates weren’t eligible to run. The move brought howls of protests but also sidelined some of the biggest names in the opposition ranks, including María Corina Machado, who was the nation’s largest vote-getter during the 2010 congressional race.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of State asked Venezuela to reconsider the ban and allow international observation of the race — something the administration has yet to agree to. “We encourage the appropriate institutions to ensure that Venezuelans can exercise their right to participate in the upcoming elections, as candidates and voters, in keeping with Venezuela’s democratic traditions and in accordance with the Inter-American Democratic Charter,” the agency said.
Last week, the Nicolás Maduro administration took its fight to the private sector, ordering troops to occupy a food-distribution warehouse and giving its owners, which include the country’s largest food producers, 60 days to clear the premises and make way for a public-housing project. In a country where food shortages are rampant — and perhaps the greatest threat to the administration — the move seemed illogical at best. But for some the message is clear: the private sector needs to fall in line during the campaign season or face reprisals.