Venezuela's ruling party has reportedly won a majority of governorships throughout the country in a recent election that was denounced as fradulent by opposition groups. But the real winner of the controversial vote seems to be organized crime, as the current administration has both supported and received support from criminal elements to which it is closely tied.
President Nicolás Maduro's ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela - PSUV) won 17 of 23 state governorships on October 15, Venezuela's National Electoral Council announced.
The opposition alliance known as the Democratic Unity Roundtable (Mesa de Unidad Democrática - MUD) claimed widespread fraud in the latest electoral process and rejected the results. MUD spokesperson Gerardo Blyde called on Venezuelans to take to the streets once again after months of successive anti-government protests from that have left at least 125 dead.
Independent experts also cast doubt the government-reported election results. David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), wrote in a blog post that the reported tally "strains credulity."
"Indeed, for this result to be correct, the same pollsters that accurately predicted turnout, completely missed voter intention. Hard to believe," he added.
Several media outlets reported irregularities in the voting process, including official candidates campaigning until the closing of the polls; last-minute decisions to move hundreds of offices to new locations, allegedly for security reasons; and hundreds of thousands of electors being registered in new polling offices without sufficient notice.
Reports also surfaced of the army standing by as electors were coerced into voting for the PSUV by "colectivos," a term that refers to militant groups supportive of Maduro's government, many of which are well-armed and deeply involved in crime.
InSight Crime Analysis
Many critics of the Maduro government believe that the suspicious results of the gubernatorial elections were intended to consolidate the power of the president's PSUV party at the national level. There has been speculation that the questionable outcome could feed into pressure for further sanctions by international actors, but past sanctions have had little impact on the Maduro administration's continued survival.
It is likely that as long as Maduro and his allies continue to hold power, so too will the criminal elements with ties to the government. A number of high-ranking officials have been accused of various crimes, including involvement in drug trafficking with the help of corrupted members of the military known as the Cartel of the Suns. And recent reports indicate that colectivos continue to act with impunity, engaging not only in political intimidation but also in a whole range of other criminal activities.
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The country's deteriorating economic and security conditions have been pushing many Venezuelans to flee the country, providing crime groups around the region with an influx of cheap labor as well as fueling contraband and human smuggling. This dynamic is perhaps most visible on the Colombian border. The sheer flux of individuals crossing over either to buy goods or to migrate has spurred significant smuggling and extortion opportunities, while the lucrative trade in contraband gasoline is also booming, a recent El País investigation showed.