CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela’s socialist government, stung by nationwide protests against interim leader Nicolas Maduro’s razor-thin win in Sunday’s presidential election, on Tuesday blamed opposition leader Henrique Capriles for the disturbances and for violence that officials say has left at least seven people dead.
Attorney General Luisa Ortega said the dead and injured came from the working class, hinting that the opposition was responsible for the casualties. Maduro and other government figures also accused Capriles and other adversaries of the government of resorting to Nazi-like tactics, although they provided few details to substantiate the charge.
Foreign Minister Elias Jaua likened the pot-banging protests and clashes with National Guard troops to Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom targeting Jews and synagogues in 1938. “This was Venezuela’s Night of the Broken Glass,” he said in a long monologue in which he accused the opposition of working to destabilize the government.
The heated rhetoric came two days after the country’s National Electoral Council announced that Maduro had squeaked to victory over Capriles in a snap election called after the country’s bombastic populist leader, Hugo Chavez, died of cancer in a military hospital here.
The Capriles campaign says that according to its calculations, the 40-year-old opposition leader won and the electoral council is obliged to permit a hand count of paper ballots. In his Sunday night victory speech, Maduro said, “We’ll do it. We are not afraid.” But on Monday, the government said there would be no audit and the electoral council proclaimed Maduro the winner.
That has brought out into the streets people such as Shadai Colmenares, 24, who, like others, banged on a pot with a utensil as she shouted for a recount late Monday.
“I think what happened was a fraud, and they didn’t even provide the chance to count the vote and check to see if they won,” Colmenares said. “What are they afraid of?”
The government, though, said the protests amounted to a plot to topple the government. Maduro said that the Obama administration financed and orchestrated the unrest and that he would use “a hard hand” against protesters. He also vowed not to let demonstrators into the center of Caracas on Wednesday, as the opposition had planned.
“I’ve said that the march will not get to Caracas, and that’s the way it’s going to be,” said Maduro, who is to be inaugurated Friday. “If this violence continues, this revolution will radicalize.”
Soon after, Capriles told reporters that the march had been canceled to avoid violence. But he also said that Maduro’s government was illegitimate and accused officials of causing the violence.
“The government wants to use the violence so that we don’t talk about the issue that brings us here,” Capriles said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, referring to a recount of the votes.
The political crisis prompted Venezuelan bonds to plunge, the biggest decline since October 2008, Bloomberg News reported.
In a surreal public relations exercise, government officials switched between televised events in which they lauded their departed leader, Chavez, and speeches in which members of the Maduro inner circle characterized the protests as violent, hate-fueled uprisings that posed a challenge to the vast majority of Venezuelans.
“You’re fascists, fascists and killers,” Diosdado Cabello, the powerful president of the National Assembly, told opposition lawmakers.
But Capriles said Maduro’s inner circle has not wanted to recognize that the turmoil in the streets stems from anger at the government. “I think they haven’t wanted to read Sunday’s results,” he said.
The opposition appeared to have few options open to it. The electoral council is dominated by Maduro allies and has refused to permit a recount. And the Supreme Court is stacked with Chavez-era appointees.
Countries across the region have warmly congratulated Maduro. At the State Department in Washington on Tuesday, a spokesman reiterated earlier comments that a recount was warranted while appearing reluctant to take a strong stand on the certification of the vote.
“Our position is that resolving these irregularities would have engendered more confidence in the Venezuelan people and the quality of this vote,” Patrick Ventrell told reporters. “But in terms of where we go forward, I just don’t have anything more for you today.”
Asked whether the United States was “prepared to congratulate Mr. Maduro on his victory,” Ventrell said, “We’re not there.” He noted that both the Organization of American States and the European Union have raised concerns about certification of the election and said that the administration would “consult with key partners . . . as we examine this.”
“We’re not making a judgment one way or the other,” Ventrell said.
Emilia Diaz-Struck in Caracas and Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.
© The Washington Post, 2013