Threats and arrests were made. Government workers lost their jobs. Free chickens were handed out. An all-encompassing mass media campaign against President Barack Obama took over Venezuelan state airwaves, where President Nicolás Maduro vowed to hand Obama a 10-million-signature petition against his recent sanctions on Venezuela. Yet, when the time came to show President Obama– and the American public– those signatures, Maduro came up empty-handed.
President Maduro began an all-hands-on-deck campaign in March to collect ten million Venezuelan signatures against an executive order by President Obama calling Venezuela a “national security threat” and placing sanctions on heads of Venezuela’s various police forces. Maduro vowed to collect the signatures and hand them to President Obama personally at the Summit of the Americas, which took place this weekend.
A number of state employees reported to non-governmental organizations that they were threatened with losing their job should they not sign the petition, and some actually did. Others reported being offered perks like free chickens and a prime spot on one of Venezuela’s legendary supermarket ration lines in exchange for their signature. Even children were forced to write hate mail to President Obama— though “drawings against Obama” were also deemed acceptable, according to a school document published by Argentine outlet Infobae.
President Maduro and President Obama had a ten-minute conversation at the Summit of the Americas this weekend, in which Maduro allegedly did request that President Obama remove the sanctions on his state police and military officials. The signatures were nowhere in sight– instead of showing them, President Maduro claimed he had collected 11 million. “I respect him, but I don’t trust him,” Maduro later said of Obama after the encounter.
There is no concrete proof that the 11 million signatures exist, and the fact that Maduro claimed on April 10, a day before the encounter with Obama, that he had collected more than 13 million signatures raises some questions as to the veracity of his claim. On that day, Maduro claimed he would extend the signature-collecting campaign to April 30, and on that day send President Obama “certified” signatures.
In a television appearance the day before, however, Maduro claimed President Obama would never see the signatures at all, instead stating that he had ordered the head of the petition campaign, Jorge Rodríguez, to send the signatures to Venezuela’s historical archives for preservation. “I have given the order to Jorge Rodríguez that all the signatures collected, and those that will be collected by April 30, will be handed to the historic archives… so that they will be there as a testimony of the history of what we were capable of doing.”
It was not clear from his statements whether the petition would be publicly displayed. If not, there would be no way to verify that they exist in the archives.
Despite the humiliation of not just failing to deliver on a promise on the global stage, but issuing multiple excuses for why the signatures were not in President Obama’s hand this Saturday, President Maduro has called his campaign a success. At the Summit, President Obama himself walked back the text of the executive order calling Venezuela– a state with long-standing ties to the Iranian terrorist group Hezbollah— a “national security threat.” “Venezuela is not a threat to the U.S. and the U.S. is not a threat to Venezuela,” Obama told Spanish newswire EFE at the summit. “This rectification of vocabulary means a lot and it was possible thanks to the help we received from other Latin American governments and the entire world,” Maduro told a crowd upon his return to Venezuela.