Food for votes:
Venezuela is falling apart. Inflation may reach 13,000 percent this
year. Few people have enough food, and infants are dying of starvation.
President Nicolás Maduro is deeply unpopular.
But he’s still expected to win Sunday’s election. I observed how the
authoritarian leader is manipulating voters and sidelining his
Access to food is a powerful motivator in a country where only 10
percent of people can afford enough to eat. Many stores shelves are
empty, and a month’s pay for a minimum-wage worker buys just three bags
Government food boxes are a lifeline for the hungry. Critics accuse the
government of manipulating Venezuelans by threatening to take away
rations if they don’t vote or show up at rallies.
Maria Yolanda Godoy Valecillos worries she will lose her food rations
if the opposition wins. “They say to me: ‘But are you blind? Look what
is happening to the country,’ ” she said. “But I keep voting for him.”
Pimping out Miss Venezuela:
It was perhaps only a matter of time before the country’s beauty-queen
industry, its mythmaking machine, broke down. This spring, the Miss
Venezuela Organization temporarily suspended pageant operations after
accusations that organizers had procured young women as sexual
companions for wealthy sponsors, including officials at the highest
levels of President Nicolás Maduro’s government.
Since the country’s golden years in the 1970s, when the oil wealth was
pouring in, Miss Venezuela has been a source of national pride, an
export once thought to be insulated from the flux and corruption of
politics. Its swift unraveling is the latest indignity for a country in
economic collapse, where hyperinflation has plunged millions into
poverty and hunger. On Sunday, elections are being held, though Mr.
Maduro has jailed his most popular opponents or barred them from
running. The vote is widely seen as the latest effort by a strongman to
consolidate power as the trappings of democracy fall away.
In November, the Venezuelan news website Efecto Cocuyo published a
series of investigative reports into the pageant abuses.
Shortly after, the Spanish newspaper El País reported on a
money-laundering scheme involving officials in the Venezuelan
state-owned oil company and their associates, one of whom was linked to
a former pageant contestant and a $1 million deposit she made in an
This led to a backlash on social media, in which many former
contestants accused one another of complicity in the corruption for
having received cash, apartments and other gifts from men in or close
to the Maduro regime. Other contestants, most of whom competed in the
last five to 10 years, began giving interviews about their experiences
of harassment and worse.