April 20, 2013 -- Nicolás Maduro was inaugurated as Venezuela's president on Friday, in a ceremony that was attended by more than a dozen heads of state.
The new Venezuelan president gave a two hour-long speech in which he talked about "deepening" Venezuela's socialist revolution and managing a government that will perform "miracles."
But Maduro is a pretty weak president. Much of the country is still wondering whether he actually won the election, as he was declared the winner by less than 300,000 votes. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles still does not recognize Maduro's victory, and has obtained a promise from election officials that there will be an audit of Sunday's votes.
Faced with these challenges, Maduro and his new government, have gone on an aggressive, and sometimes surreal attack against their critics and against those who have put the election result in doubt. Here are some of the the most drastic actions that the Maduro government has taken thus far.
1. Depicting Critics as the National Enemy
Throughout this week Maduro portrayed opposition leaders, who were arguing for a vote recount as "fascists" who wanted to destabilize the country with the help of the U.S.
Maduro accused opposition leaders of masterminding attacks against at least a dozen health clinics, which were allegedly burnt down in what was supposed to be an effort to terrorize Venezuela's population. Some clinics where in fact approached by opposition supporters who suspected that the government was hiding ballot boxes in those sites. But in many cases local newspapers checked out the clinics which the goverment said had been burnt douwn and found that nothing had happened in those locations at all.
On Wednesday Twitter user @felixfarias01 took this picture of a health clinic in Caracas' Baruta district which seemed to be fine. The previous day government officilas had accused opposition supperters of destroying this building.
The government also blamed seven murders that apparently happened during post-election protest on Capriles, without waiting for investigations to be carried out. Maduro attended the funeral of one of these victims which was broadcast live on public TV. He gave a medal of honor to the dead man's family, and issued a vitriolic speech against Venezuela's "fascist bourgeoisie." In the meantime the state-run TV channel VTV ran this caption, which said that the deceased man "was a victim of Capriles' violence, and had six kids."
2. Repressing Protesters
More than 150 young people who participated in election protests were detained this week, according to Venezuelan Human Rights NGO Foro Penal. Venezuela's Attorney General threatened to prosecute these detainees for "instigation of hate," and "civil rebellion," crimes which carry hefty prison sentences, but said nothing about policemen who apparently shot tear gas canisters at protesters at point blank range. Seventeen protesters were released on Thursday, but many others are still in jail, as videos continue to criculate online of the Venezuelan National Guard's brutality against protesters earlier this week.
Meanwhile, Maduro himself threatened to use force against protesters who planned to march to downtown Caracas on Wednesday to demand a recount of votes. He accused the opposition of trying to use this march to incite violence and stage a coup.
"I will not permit this march to downtown Caracas, you will not go downtown" Maduro said in a speech that had to be broadcast by all channels in the country on Tuesday. He added that the would apply a "firm hand," against "fascism and intolerance."
3. Threatening Opposition Legislators
Another public official who regularly calls opposition leaders "fascists," is Diosdado Cabello, the president of Venezuela's National Assembly. On Tuesday he took things a step further after he screamed at opposition legislators from his podium and told them that if they did not recognize Maduro as president, they would no longer have the right to speak in the National Assembly. "Tho one who contained us in this revolution was Hugo Chavez" an irate, Cabello said. "Don't mess with fire…you assassinated seven Venezuelans yesterday, following the orders of the facist candidate Henrique Capriles," he goes on to say in this shocking video([see min. 1:38.)
4. Hunting for Opposition Supporters in Government Agencies
Numerous reports have arisen on social media and in the local press of government agencies threatening to fire public servants who did not vote for Maduro. El Universal for example claims that 47 workers of the Vargas State Government had been fired by Thursday, because they were suspected of having voted for the opposition. One of the state's PR officers for example, was allegedly fired because she posted on her facebook page a picture of a Capriles protest, according to El Universal, while the computers of other employees were being revised by socialist officers, who searched for any pictures or files that suggested sympathies with the opposition.
An even more dramatic case occurred in Zulia state, where the director of that state's Sports Institute reportedly met with employees, and told them in person that he would fire those who had voted for Capriles.
"We know how to identify you and we will kick you out," a noticeably angry man says in this recording which allegedly captures the voice of the sports director. "And you know why? Because out there, we have a thousand revolutionaries, who love this regime, and are struggling, [without jobs]" the voice says.
Even some Chavistas acknowledge that this sort of political threats exists in government agencies. "My sister works in the CLEZ [the state legislature] and they're asking her to bring a picture that demonstrates she voted for Maduro, what a disaster," tweeted Carla Davila, a rank and file member of Venezuela's Socialist Party in Zulia State. The message resonated on social media with more than 1,800 retweets.
What this means
Enio Cardozo a political scientist from Venezuela's Central University, says that Maduro's strategy right now, seems to be based on discrediting the opposition.
"The government is throwing smokescreens, to veer attention way from the election [vote counting] dispute," Cardozo said, "and make it look like the opposition is trying to destabilize the country."
Cardozo argued that Maduro and his supporters are using propaganda tactics that were first developed in the 1930s by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister. Such tricks include simplifying the enemy –in this case labeling the opposition as fascists and sellouts—and turning small anecdotes into big threats, or in this case, accusing the opposition of having a plan to burn down health clinics across the country, after incidents which opposition leaders may not have even been involved in happened in a couple clinics.
We don't know if the Venezuelan government is actually copying Nazi propaganda tactics. But if Maduro manages to survive the upcoming election audit, he will have to start governing Venezuela. And in that event, conspiracy theories, or attacks against the opposition will probably not be enough to make people forget about problems like high crime rates, food shortages and power cuts, which seem to be getting worse every week. At some point, Maduro will have to come up with answers for these issues.