Venezuela One Step Closer To Referendum To Vote Out President Nicolas Maduro…Hunger Still Looms

On Friday, Venezuelan opposition announced its victory in gathering enough petition signatures to approve referendum that could overturn the decision to elect President Nicolas Maduro, according to a release by the Havana Times. After a week of validating signatures, opposition leader, Henrique Capriles reported that the opposition, which required almost 196,000 votes or one percent electoral rolls in each of the 24 regions to call for the referendum, exceeded the goal with a total of 409,313 voters.

“The national validation total, despite the obstacles and the excluded, is 409,313 signatures. The recall vote will be in 2016.”

In Venezuela, citizens rely on fingerprinting for validation. As of Friday, thousands gave their fingerprints to electoral authorities to help with progression towards a recall vote against their President. Capriles stated that a large portion of over 1.35 million voters that signed the petition did not validate their signatures because the opposition had already reached the minimum requirement.

“Despite all the obstacles and everything that happened and all the people left outside still waiting, we more than doubled the figure required by the National Electoral Council (CNE)…This is what those of us who want a peaceful, democratic and electoral change in Venezuela have to deal with. Nevertheless, we overcame the obstacles [put forth by the CNE]…We decided to move forward despite all this because we do not fear the people. We know we have the strength to move forward. More than twice the required signatures were achieved in all states. The figure achieved is well above what is required.”

The CNE is now tasked to formalize the numbers and authorize the new collection of signatures within 20 days. This second petition phase requires four million, or 20 percent of the regions’ registered voters to sign in favor of the referendum.

“Twenty percent are four million signatures across the country. In the 20 percent there is no possibility to exclude anyone because it is direct with the machine,” Capriles said regarding the country’s validation via machines that capture fingerprints.

Jesus Torrealba, executive secretary of the opposition alliance formally known as Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), pointed out the civic nature of the validation process.

“This has been a huge popular victory. We surpassed one percent throughout Venezuela, and the extras were a strategic reserve for the validation of signatures.”

This is a victory after Venezuelans have accused Maduro of moving the oil-rich country towards economic collapse. Decreasing oil prices shocked the OPEC nation’s economic model and lead to rising blackouts and low access to basic goods available. Things came to a head last week when the areas shortage of food caused hunger-stricken people to loot for food after standing in long lines outside of foreign owned grocery shops for hours.

Farmer, Manuel Araque, of Barlovento, said Maduro was “humiliating” Venezuelans in an interview with Al Jazeera.

“The government, the police and the national guard are the first ones stealing the food. If this government continues in power, they will ruin us.”

With at least five killed and over 400 arrested after the deadly looting erupted last week, the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence stated that more than 10 incidents of looting were occurring daily across the nation that is home to nearly 30 million people.

The country’s opposition groups blame President Maduro and predecessor Hugo Chavez for failed socialist economic policies. They note Venezuela’s economy is at a breaking point and hosts the world’s highest inflation rate in spite of declines in oil production – the country’s primary source of revenue.

Although the citizens have taken action to remove him, President Maduro has rejected the recall referendum stating it is “an option, not an obligation.” Instead of conceding, he claims he will file several lawsuits against MUD because the group falsified 600,000 signatures that were invalidated by the CNE.

[Image via The Photographer | Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and Resized | CC0 1.0]