April 22, 2013 -- A political group that works for the Venezuelan government tried to scare thousands of people into voting for Nicolas Maduro on April 14th by telling them that if they backed the opposition candidate their social benefits would be taken away, an investigation by El Nuevo Herald suggests.
The Miami-based Spanish language newspaper -- which shares offices and staff with the Miami Herald -- says that it got it information from an internal campaign strategy document written by the Francisco de Miranda Front, (FFM). FFM is a political organization that is made up of government workers and volunteers and helps to staff hundreds of social programs in Venezuela.
The document leaked to newspaper was written by the FFM's national director. It talks about a national strategy to secure ten million votes for Maduro. About 2.3 million of these votes were supposed to come from beneficiaries of social programs known in Venezuela as "missions." This group had low voter turnout in a previous election in 2012, the document said.
"We have built a follow-up mechanism that will allow us to reach this population, in order to encourage them to participate in the coming elections and back Chavez's candidate, Nicolas Maduro," the document - written in Spanish - reads according to El Nuevo Herald.
According to El Nuevo Herald, beneficiaries of social programs were contacted over the phone and in person by members of the FFM, who did not just encourage them to vote for Maduro, but told them that if they did not vote for him, housing benefits, and access to things like education programs, would be taken away.
The article published by El Nuevo Herald does not provide a link to the document which outlines this political strategy. It also doesn't contain specific examples of beneficiaries of social programs who were told their benefits would be taken away from them if they voted for the opposition.
But the claims made by El Nuevo Herald do seem to fit in with other claims made against Maduro's broader campaign strategy.
During the days leading up to the April 14 presidential vote, Maduro persistently said in his speeches, that housing programs, and subsidized food markets would be "eliminated" by opposition candidate Henrique Capriles if he won the election. Capriles said numerous times that no such thing would happen, but government officials repeatedly accused him of having a secret "neoliberal plan" to slash government spending and leave Venezuelans without benefits.
Meanwhile, complaints that the government also tried to force public servants to vote for Maduro continue to grow in Venezuela.
On Friday, Venezuelan opposition leaders launched a helpline for government employees who have been threatened with getting fired, or who have already been fired because they voted for Capriles or because they participated in post-election protests.
More than a hundred people called in less than 24 hours, according to Delsa Solorzano, a congresswoman for Venezuela's opposition.
El Nuevo Herald also talked to an employee of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, PDVSA, who said that he was called three times on election day by his employers because he had not yet gone to vote.
"They called me at noon. It was my supervisor asking me why I had not gone to vote. They called me two hours later. After the third call, I went, (to vote)" said the PDVSA employee, who did not reveal his name because he feared losing his job.
Maduro won the April 14 election by a margin of less than 300,000 votes.
But opposition candidate Henrique Capriles did not accept the result, claiming that thousands of irregularities occurred on election day. Capriles has obtained a promise from election officials that the vote tally will be audited.