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Political waters untouched in Venezuela despite drug bust involving president's relatives

Despite the government’s tight stranglehold on the country's media, Venezuelans of all social strata have heard about the arrest of two nephews of President Nicolas Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores in Haiti a couple of weeks ago, allegedly planning to smuggle nearly 1,700 pounds of drugs into the U.S.

And yet analysts say none of it is likely to impact the independent vote ahead of the Dec. 6 legislative election, deemed critical for the opposition’s goal of regaining a majority in the National Assembly.

“We haven’t measured the exact impact, but you can sense that people are starting to lose interest in the news, even more after the judge postponed the next hearing until December,” said political analyst Jesus Seguias, referring to the criminal case against Francisco Flores and Efraín Campos, who are being held without bail in New York. They both pleaded not guilty.

“Their lawyer’s strategy right now seems to be to delay the process until after the elections,” Seguias told Fox News Latino.

Two weeks after news of the scandal broke, none of the polling companies in the country has released any survey showing how, or if, the arrests will impact the election.

But the independent voters' top concerns appear to remain unchanged — shortages, ballooning inflation and crime rather than the cousins’ fate and its connection to the Presidential Palace.

In a random survey by Fox News Latino of a dozen people in downtown Caracas, most knew of the massive drug bust in Haiti but didn’t see how it would affect their daily lives and therefore their vote.

“I don’t pay much attention to that, there are many lies surrounding that issue,” said Ana Aguirre, a resident in San Martin, a key battleground area in Caracas. “What really matters is the trouble to find food and the long lines that you have to do to buy it. That’s why I am voting on Dec. 6,” she added.

Half of those surveyed had a similar opinion.

“I heard about the news, but I don’t really care. I am voting against the government because of the economic problems,” said Kevin Song, who stopped by a National Electoral Council booth set up at Bolivar’s Square seeking information on how to vote.

The remaining half of those questioned by FNL either criticized the government or defended it, giving the drug bust case a higher priority.

These are what Edgard Gutierrez, an expert in political communication and manager of political research firm Venebarometro, calls “voters with a preconceived opinion.”

“This is important and confirms my vote against the government. It is proof of the bad practices they incur into,” said Nelson Moreno, who lives in the suburb of Maracay.

“This situation harms the country’s reputation around the world. The first few days [government officials] didn’t said anything about it, which I think proves that they are guilty,” said a young woman from Caracas who asked to remain anonymous.

But there is also the people who unfailingly defend the government and are now echoing President Maduro’s claim that the arrest is part of a U.S. plan to bring down Chavismo.

“This is a political issue to hurt the government before the elections, but we will win on Dec 6. despite all that,” Edgar Arrioja told FNL.

One of the corners of Bolivar’s Square was occupied by a campaign tent set up by the PSUV, the ruling party, where Daniel Camacaro stood arguing that Flores and Campos aren’t really relatives of President Maduro but his wife’s.

“It’s all a lie. They think they can manipulate us, but they are wrong,” he said, surrounded by colorful ads featuring Maduro’s and PSUV’s candidate for Caracas’ second district. “We will explain that to anyone who comes here,” he added.

According to Seguias, Chavismo’s reaction is understandable.

“They are speaking to their base [trying] to keep them calm and avoid further loss of votes,” the analyst said.

A source close to the U.S. Department of State denied rampant rumors in Venezuela about an imminent release of Flores and Campos, saying that American authorities have enough evidence against the two to keep them locked up for a while.

The next scheduled hearing was moved from Nov. 18 to Dec. 2, four days before Election Day.  

Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.

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