MEXICO CITY, Mexico — The most surprising event following Sunday’s parliamentary election in Venezuela was President Nicolás Maduro’s acceptance of his party’s crushing defeat after months of threats. One fan of his capitulation? Fidel Castro.
“Dear Nicolás, I join the unanimous opinion that of those who have congratulated you for your brilliant and courageous speech the night of December 6, shortly after the voting results were announced,” wrote Castro in a letter published by state-owned newspaper Granma on Friday.
Venezuela’s opposition coalition, called the Democratic Unity Roundtable, won 112 seats in congress — a supermajority that allows representatives to remove Supreme Court justices and electoral authorities if they choose. It is the first time the opposition has controlled parliament since former president Hugo Chávez, a close friend of Castro, took office in 1999.
“We have come with our moral, with our ethics, to recognize these adverse results, to accept them, and to tell our Venezuela that the constitution and democracy have triumphed,” Maduro said hours after the results were announced.
But since then, his speech has turned more defiant.
During his weekly show, “In Contact with Maduro,” the president said he was potentially backtracking on building 500,000 government housing units because he didn’t receive the people’s support. He said, while looking defiantly at the camera, that the vote was a mistake: “it was a vote against yourselves, brothers.” And he warned that he is willing to lead a radical socialist revolution.
Support for Maduro has dwindled as the country faces widespread violence, shortages of coffee, sugar and other basic goods and one of the world’s highest inflation rates — his approval rating is meanwhile about 30%.
“Maduro, suck it,” the president read, realizing the offense too late while reading messages sent to him during his weekly TV show Tuesday.
The opposition, too, has hardened its stance in recent days. Henry Ramos, the head of Democratic Action, one of the opposition parties, called the National Assembly's television network an "embarrassment," adding that it is closed off to independent press (shortly after, the second-most powerful man in Venezuela, Diosdado Cabello, announced that the station would remain in the hands of its employees) and warning that the government will not make it to the 2019 presidential election.
Henrique Capriles, a well-known opposition leader and governor of Miranda State, appears in a video where he rails against the chavistas, making a slightly vulgar gesture — raising his arms and then drawing them into his sides. "Whenever you see them yelling, insulting you or trying to scare you, do that," Capriles tells the shrieking crowd.
In his letter, Castro praised the revolutionary Simón Bolívar, who liberated Latin America from Spanish control and whose name is part of Venezuela’s official name, and Chávez. He also went into a diatribe against the United States, with which Venezuela, too, has had a conflict-ridden relationship for decades.
“Cuban revolutionaries — just a few miles away from the United States, which always dreamt of getting a hold of Cuba in order to turn it into a casino and brothel hybrid,” wrote Casto, “will never renounce their full independence and the total respect of their dignity.”
Karla Zabludovsky is the Mexico bureau chief and Latin America correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Mexico City.
Contact Karla Zabludovsky at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.