Venezuela’s Potentially Violent Elections

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Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez shakes hands with opposition governor from the state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, during a ceremony at Miraflores Palace in Caracas (Courtesy Reuters).

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez shakes hands with opposition governor from the state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, during a ceremony at Miraflores Palace in Caracas (Courtesy Reuters).

Elections are always times of uneasiness, but the upcoming October 7th presidential elections in Venezuela have more than the normal share of uncertainty. There are concerns over President Chavez’s health and whether he will be able to fulfill a third six-year term. There are serious worries over the fairness of the election given the concentration of pro-Chavez media attention, the use of public resources for influencing voters (and for decorating public buildings), and the closing of the Venezuelan consulate in Miami (the home of a strong opposition voting bloc). Finally, there are worries that even if the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, is successful at the ballot box, the current government may not recognize the results.

CFR’s Center for Preventive Action has just published a new contingency planning memorandum, titled “Political Unrest in Venezuela,” which is part of a series of reports meant to alert U.S. policy makers and experts to potential crises around the world. The latest report, authored by former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela Patrick D. Duddy, suggests possible United States’ policy responses if any of the above worries lead to unrest and violence.

The report’s recommendations reflect the reality that the United States can do little unilaterally. Instead, the best policy options involve working with others to try and calm tensions and to support democracy. The report highlights the beneficial role regional actors could play, but also hints at the difficulties of multilateral participation (at least for U.S. policymakers), as Venezuela’s neighbors will decide for themselves their best course of action.

As one of South America’s largest nations and a top global oil producer, Venezuela’s direction matters for the hemisphere and for many of its trade partners around the world. A peaceful and clean election, no matter the winner, would be the best outcome for all international parties, and especially for Venezuelans. Duddy’s recommendations can help plan an appropriate conflict response, but leaders in capitals across the region are surely hoping to never have to implement such plans.

Published in conjunction with Latin America’s Moment at the Council on Foreign Relations.