Media doubt Essequibo poll as Maduro claims victory, 10 million voter turnout

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

President Nicolas Maduro greets pro-government supporters during a meeting after a referendum regarding Venezuela’s claim to Essequibo in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday. AP PHOTO –

AND GREVIC ALVARADO

VENEZUELAN President Nicolas Maduro claimed a massive victory in a referendum on Sunday in which Venezuelans were asked their views on their country’s claim to the Essequibo region which constitutes two-thirds of Guyana.

However, at least three international newspapers and certain Venezuelans whom TT Newsday spoke to have questioned the size of the voter turnout being claimed by Maduro.

Newsday contacted Venezuelan ambassador to TT Alvaro Sanchez Cordero who did not comment but sent Newsday online links to news sources such as Telesur.

Telesur, a pro-government news agency based in Caracas, said Venezuela’s National Election Council (NCE) president Elvis Amoroso on Sunday night said the preliminary results were that ten million votes were cast by a registered electorate of 20 million. The support given for each of five questions claiming Venezuela’s rights over the Essequibo and rejecting the remit of the International Court of Justice ranged from 95.4-98.11 per cent, Telesur said.

It quoted Maduro: “Long live the victory of all the people in a historic consultative referendum that has put Venezuela on its feet.

“We have taken the first steps of a new historical stage to fight for our Guayana Esequiba and for peace and to recover what the liberators left us.

“The people spoke loud and clear!”

Maduro described the referendum as “a big step in the right direction.”

He declared, “I am committed to deepening the process of uniting all Venezuelans, in diversity, to work for Venezuela and its interests.”

However, three international newspapers said their reporters had not perceived a high turnout.

The UK Guardian said, “Few voters could be seen at voting centres, but the National Electoral Council claimed more than 10.5 million ballots were cast in the country of 20 million eligible voters.”

The Le Monde claimed the electoral offices had appeared to be sparsely populated.

The Miami Herald said international news agencies were reporting that “the numbers provided by the government-controlled electoral council were not credible, amid the empty streets and even emptier polling stations seen throughout the day.”

Venezuelans in their country who Newsday contacted via WhatsApp were surprised at the CNE saying ten million people had participated in the referendum.

Gregorio Vasquez who lives in the state of Trujillo, in western Venezuela, said throughout the day the polling centres in his area had few voters.

“I am surprised the CNE announces such a high participation figure.

“Everyone can verify the reality in the images of the electoral centres recorded by hundreds of people.”

Vasquez added, “It is worrying the numbers increase like this in the face of the presidential elections next year.”

He said now his country was waiting for the actions of the Maduro government regarding Essequibo.

Marta Hernandez in Anzoategui state, eastern Venezuela, likewise alleged a low participation.

“The polling centres were empty. I don’t think the figures announced are real. The government only wants to tell the world that it has the power of the institutions and that it does what it wants.

“This is dangerous for democracy in the future.”

In Caracas, capital of Venezuela, there was a higher turnout according to Carlos Suarez.

He said there were a good number of voters, but mostly workers from government institutions.

“It is no secret to anyone the government forces its workers to vote and look for other voters and especially in Caracas that is the centre of the government.”

The three interviewees all reckoned the referendum was more an internal strategy by the Maduro government rather an initiative to take action on Essequibo in the dispute with Guyana.

V’zuela opposition: Referendum a ‘distraction’

In Trinidad, activist Yesenia Gonzales told Newsday she thought the referendum was bogus, but was an attempt by Maduro to gain an advantage ahead of next year’s presidential election. “All of that is a scheme The turnout was very poor. ”

María Corina Machado, Venezuela’s main opposition candidate in next year’s presidential election, had previously called for the suspension of the referendum, alleging the annexation initiative a “distraction” from Venezuela’s ongoing political and economic crises.

On Sunday night, thousands of Guyanese citizens gathered at the National Stadium, Providence, for a night of reflection and prayer.

President Dr Irfaan Ali told his countrymen, “I have a message for President Maduro and the vice president: nothing you say, no amount of propaganda or lies, will drive any fear in my heart or the heart of any Guyanese.”

Guyana vice president Dr Bharrat Jagdeo reacted to the referendum on Monday in an interview with Guyana Newsroom’s Neil Marks, at the UN climate talks in Dubai.

Regarding the referendum turnout, he said he thought the numbers provided were fake and the result was “disastrous” for Maduro’s campaign of creating a Venezuelan state out of the Essequibo region and issuing citizenship to its inhabitants.

Jagdeo did not think Maduro would invade Guyana following the referendum, but said Guyana would prepare for the worst, via defence co-operation with its allies.

“It means that we are engaging, we are co-ordinating efforts with those who are engaged with us, working to build our capacity, not just planning capability, but to look at protecting our territorial integrity.”

Newsday sought the Prime Minister’s reaction to the referendum result but as of press time on Monday, Dr Rowley had not replied.

However Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs Dr Amery Brown on Monday told reporters TT identifies with Caricom’s position on the dispute.

Speaking at a Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) event at the BRIX Hotel, St Ann’s, he chided Opposition calls for TT to mediate between Guyana and Venezuela, a position espoused by Princes Town MP Barry Padarath in a recent news statement.

Browne said, “Any calls for TT to insert itself into the controversy in the form of mediation or direct negotiation are in direct contradiction, a direct violation, of the policy of Guyana, a sovereign member of Caricom, on this dispute.

“So those are very ill-founded calls and only serve to distract as opposed to contributing to a progressive environment. This matter is before the International Court of Justice and a determination on the border issue is pending at this time.”