CARACAS, VENEZUELA — Rallies and marches are filling the streets and graffiti is covering the capital city’s walls as a deeply divided Venezuela approaches this year’s key legislative elections. When nearly 20 million Venezuelans go to the polls on December 6, the control of the National Assembly will hang in the balance, and tensions have been on the rise. If the ruling Socialist Party loses its majority, President Nicolas Maduro will be constrained in furthering his progressive agenda — much like the U.S.’ GOP-controlled Congress has blocked many of President Obama’s policies and nominees.
“If we lose these elections, we lose everything,” Socialist Party volunteer Zulay Castillo told ThinkProgress. “We’ll only have a paper president, because where does everything really get decided? In the National Assembly.”
Castillo lives in the hillside town of Mariche just outside Caracas, in one of the thousands of free apartments built by the administration of former President Hugo Chavez. She calls it “a dignified home that our commander gave me,” and holds it up as one example of what the Socialist Party has done for millions of people like her.
“[Chavez] liberated us,” she said, peering out from under a baseball cap emblazoned with the tri-color Venezuelan flag. “Since then we’ve achieved so much, especially the defenseless people, like us elderly grandparents. We now have free medicine, free education, free, dignified housing, subsidized food for us humble people. Before it was all privatized. Before, if you didn’t have a bunch of money, you couldn’t enroll in a university. The poor, the marginalized could not enter. That’s why we want to keep supporting this party that has helped us so much.”
At a rally in Caracas on Monday, President Maduro warned these changes could be rolled back if his party loses on Sunday. “What is the plan of the rotten right-wing?” he asked. “End the social missions, end the pensions and send old people to work…Privatize education…Bring the International Monetary Fund (IMF) here and give them our oil wealth.”
Yet the coalition of right-wing opposition parties, which goes by the acronym MUD in Spanish, have mobilized support across the country, highlighting the out-of-control inflation and food shortages that have worsened during the Maduro Administration, as well as ongoing human rights concerns including excessive police violence.
While slogans defending the Socialist government are scrawled on the sides of the city’s poorest slums, graffiti on the walls of Caracas’ wealthier neighborhoods denounce the current government — “Maduro is an assassin. Maduro is a coward” — and call for the return of former Defense Minister and opposition leader Raúl Baduel. “Baduel, rescue Venezuela.”
“There is a lot of tension,” Deceree Castillo, a technician with the Socialist Party, told ThinkProgress. “So many people want change, but so many other people wants to ratify what we’ve already achieved.”
The U.S. and Venezuela have not had full diplomatic relations since 2008, when Chavez expelled then-U.S. ambassador Patrick Duddy. While relations between the nations have somewhat improved since then, heated rhetoric remains on both sides.
Maximilien Sánchez Arveláiz, who now serves as Venezuela’s ambassador-delegate in Washington told ThinkProgress and other reporters Tuesday that he often feels the portrayal of his country in the U.S. media is like “a bad episode of Homeland.”
“There are sectors here and in Venezuela who have a Cold War ideology and want to paint us a rogue state, a narco state,” he said. “But that’s simply false. We have very strong institutions.”
Arveláiz acknowledges that it is possible the opposition will gain seats in the National Assembly or even win the majority, but he played down the stakes of that outcome. “It’s going to be another moment in our political history, but not the end of the world,” he said. “We’ve lost some governors’ and mayors’ seats over the past few years and we accepted the results. I know that if that happens, Maduro will use everything in the Constitution to make sure all the rights people gained in the Bolivarian Revolution will be maintained.”
Despite a struggling economy dragged down by low oil prices, a thriving black market that charges two to three times the government rate for basic goods, and high levels of crime and gun violence, the Socialist Party still enjoys widespread support in both urban and rural areas. Standing outside the station of a public gondola system built by the Chavez Administration, Castillo said her conversations with voters over the past few weeks have convinced her a Socialist Party victory is in the works. “We are confident the people have decided to keep defending what Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias left us,” she said. “Because he opened our eyes and prepared us for this moment.”